Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Can We Call Americans Racist and Still Expect to Get Their Vote?




Michelle Obama made a simple statement-- "For the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of this country"–and one would have thought she declared a jihad on America. FOX news, Rush Limbaugh, and the various other Republican conduits have been harping on it for months now, trying to convince the American people that she's hated America all of her life. But the fact is, when Michelle Obama made the above statement she was actually complimenting America.

Conservatives are representing her statement as though she said, "For the first time in my adult lifetime I am proud of my country." That implies that she has never been proud of her country before. But that is not what she said at all. She said, "For the first in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country." When she used the word "really" as a modifier to the word "proud" it means that she is "exceptionally" or "more proud" of her country than she's ever been before.

You'd think I wouldn't have to explain such a simple grammatical construction to professional journalists, but when one decides to invent a story, it often becomes necessary to conveniently overlook facts clearly before one's eyes.

That transparent misrepresentation of the facts not only shows the desperation of the Republican Party, but it also shows how the country has ended up in the shape that we currently find ourselves. For the past thirty years conservative strategy has been based on the assumption that the American people are stupid, and America's reasonable belief that we should be able to trust our institutions has allowed Republicans to play us like a fiddle. But that is a part of the journey that America has embarked upon during this election–a journey towards change.

Due to a confluence of events in this country-- 911, the ineptitude, excesses, and greed of the Bush administration, and the seeming paralysis of the left–the ship of state has drifted into such rough waters that it has served to rouse a sleeping giant--the pragmatic center within the American electorate--and Sen. Obama has been sent as their agent of change.

This previously dormant but huge majority in the American electorate is generally content to maintain national equilibrium by allowing the antipathy between the right and left wings of the electorate to balance one another out, but the nation's fear after 911 has allowed the right wing to indulge its most fascistic tendencies, while the left has been rendered, literally, impotent. So America's sleeping giant has arisen to take over the helm, and as a result, the fringies on both extremes of the political spectrum are screaming bloody murder, and employing every divisive tactic at their command to maintain control.

On the one hand we have those on the right looking beneath every log trying to find a way to smear Barack Obama, and they're being given able assistance by opportunists on the left who can't resist the opportunity to embrace their 15 minutes of fame. Then on the other hand, we have those on the left complaining that Sen. Barack Obama should be standing firm behind those very same opportunists who have chosen this critical moment to wag their finger at America.

It is clear that there is no reasoning with the people on the right. They've had it totally their own way for the past seven years, and they see no reason to change. They've shown throughout the Bush administration that they don't deal in reason. Their weapon of choice is emotion–they deal in hatred, fear and anger, exclusively. In fact, the right has been so successful in playing on our emotions that the left has come perilously close to embracing that very same political philosophy as their own. As a result, political discourse in this country has degenerated into a schoolyard brawl. So at this point, instead of addressing the nation's pertinent issues, both the left and the right are allowing themselves to be distracted by meaningless side issues, which has left the ship of state adrift.

So now the political center has arisen to give Sen. Obama the mandate of bringing some vestige of equilibrium back to the nation, but the left is still fighting yesterday's battle, and arguing that Obama is selling out by resigning from his church and not standing by Rev. Wright. Some are even saying that Obama is deserting black people completely in his pursuit of the presidency. But that's patently ridiculous. Obama is simply being prudent and following his mandate of distancing himself from any, and all, non-productive influences. In fact, he's doing exactly what anyone of common prudence would do in their personal life.

If you were going on an interview for the most important job of your life, as the CEO for a large corporation, for example, would you take along your militant old uncle to tell the board of directors how racist their company has been towards black people? Of course not–that would not only be imprudent, but foolish. Yet, that's exactly what some of us are asking Obama to do.

Others are taking the reverse position, and placing malevolent intent at America's door. They contend that Sen. Obama is being "forced" to distance himself from Rev. Wright due to the country's tendency towards racism. That's patently ridiculous as well, since the nation's frontrunner for president is, indeed, a black man. It is my opinion that many blacks are not placing enough significance on that extremely salient point. That isn't to say that racism no longer exists in America, but the fact that a black man may very well be the next President of the United States makes a very profound and inescapable statement about the American people as a whole.

Thus, while it is true that the senator should have every right to attend the church of his choice, and associate with whomever he chooses, the fact is, he does have that right–but only if he doesn't want to be president. It is important to remember that voters also have rights--and fundamental among them is their absolute right to set the ground rules upon which their vote will be delivered. So while Sen. Obama has the right to associate with whomever he likes, the voter has just as much right to say I'm not going to vote for you because I don't like your associates. And that's neither unfair nor racist–it's politics.

In addition, Rev. Wright brought much of his national disfavor upon himself. While I defended him initially because it wasn't his fault that opponents dug up one of his sermons and presented him in the worse possible light, the issue might have been rendered moot had Wright been content to redefine his image during the Bill Moyers interview. But the good reverend just couldn't resist strutting under the spotlight of the National Press Club. His decision in that regard was not only ill advised and a public relations disaster, but it represented nothing less than a lose cannon propelled by a huge ego in full self-service–and, at the very worse possible moment in American history. So in light of what was on the line, Rev. Wright's behavior was both unconscionable, and indefensible.

So the common-sense question that needs be asked on the left, and by black people in particular, is not whether or not Sen. Obama was forced to dump Rev. Wright, but rather, what kind of fools are we to think that Americans are going to allow us to shake our finger in their face, call them racists, and then expect them to deliver their vote for a black man as president?

We need to wake up.

Eric L. Wattree


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