Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Obama is the new Lincoln; Sorry JFK

Got an email from a friend I met in Trader Joe's who is "wary" of Obama's candidacy. "I just don't feel I can trust Obama..," she writes. She referenced a piece by David Brooks in yesterday's New York Times, "Where’s the Landslide?" which implies there should be one by now with Obama trouncing McCain in the polls. Couple of Brooks's notions:

His age probably has something to do with it. So does his race. But the polls and focus groups suggest that people aren’t dismissive of Obama or hostile to him....the root of it is probably this: Obama has been a sojourner.

Brooks is making a case of Obama being "removed" from the battle, an observer who is interested but not affected. My friend from Trader Joe's has a "funny" feeling and Brooks's piece struck a chord.

I don't know how it's possible for me to remember the 1960 election since I was 10 years old at the time, and I have trouble remembering the names of several of the members of my immediate family. But I remember clearly that John F. Kennedy was perceived as a neophyte, with little experience against the towering figure of 8 years Vice President Nixon, who was now going to slide into the office after his boss, Eisenhower, was done. That's how my family, friends, and schoolmates saw the process back then. Yet both Kennedy and Nixon were young, just like Obama. And the ultimate winner then was no proven entity any more than Obama is now. And then as now, Kennedy and Obama both make amazing, rallying, and inspiring speeches.

Brooks can write all he wants about the experience and back ground and whatever else about Obama, but I will let you in on a little secret--about American society, and elections, and human nature--the Obama doubts center on one thing and one thing only, and that is the inherent inability of my fellow citizens to overcome their natural instinct for prejudice and bigotry. "Sojourner" my ass -- Obama doesn't fit the comfortable mold of any one's mindset.

There was another candidate for President of the US who had a varied back ground and didn't seem fit for the job:

His family was forced out of their home.
He had to work to support them.
Failed in business
Ran for state legislature - lost
Also lost his job - wanted to go to law school but couldn't get in.
Borrowed some money from a friend to begin a business and by the end of the year he was bankrupt. He spends the next 17 years of his life paying off his debt.
Ran for state legislature again - won.
Was engaged to be married, sweetheart died and his heart was broken.
Had a total nervous breakdown and was in bed for six months.
Sought to become speaker of the state legislature - defeated.
Sought to become elector - defeated.
Ran for Congress - lost.
Ran for Congress again - this time he won - went to Washington and did a good job.
Ran for re-election to Congress - lost.
Sought the job of land officer in his home state - rejected.
Ran for Senate of the United States - lost.
Sought the Vice-Presidential nomination at his party's national convention - got less than 100 votes.
Ran for U.S. Senate again - again he lost.
Elected president of the United States.

Abraham Lincoln. But you knew that. He was a young guy, with a weird sense of humor, prone to bipolar attacks of depression, visions, and not handsome to boot. But he was a wonderful speech writer, regardless of how he sounded when he gave the speech--and that seems to be a big plus in esteem and popularity: Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt, JFK, Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy, Reagan, and now Obama. Anyway, any thing's better than the criminal dolt who's in there now, or the absent-minded dufus who wants to take his place. They can't configure a sentence that's coherent.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

A Renegade from Roots

Last week I had lunch in Boston for the first time since I left 30 years ago. I was having one of those political discussions with my 23 year old nephew where everyone agrees about the issues and values, and everyone is arguing about the details and methodology. This young man is brilliant, a recent graduate of Brown, and 4 years ago in high school he wrote what I consider to be a defining treatise on the back ground, development, and deployment of the Patriot Act, which essay is perpetually clickable on the left side of this blog.

I mentioned that my friend, Chris Dickey, was in the southern US preparing a piece on the South and the upcoming elections for his venue, Newsweek Magazine. My nephew proceeded to explain to me how bigoted and racist all those southern rednecks are, and how bad the whole business is compared to us sophisticated and tolerant native northerners.

Au contraire, my dear nephew--people are the same everywhere, specifically in regards to human nature, which based on the term itself assumes a rhetorical universality. I decided that a personal story of my last residence in Boston would best prove my point. I worked selling yearbook portrait contracts for high schools, and during that time, a court ruling ordered that a certain percentage of students in schools had to be white and African American. So one day, a program began of busing students from one area of the city to another in order to get the percentages right.

The day Boston school-busing integration began, I went to Charlestown High School, which is situated next to Bunker Hill, on top of which stands a huge obelisk similar to the Washington Monument in our capitol, in commemoration of the battle of Bunker Hill during the Revolutionary War. Even though the British won that battle, the cry of colonial patriotism that rang from that event was used in propaganda of the day to light the fire against the British and keep the cause of independence alive. Reminds you of that document with the words, "All men are created equal..."

As I parked my car on the incline and got ready to make my familiar trek into the hallowed hallways of this aging edifice--my company already had the contract for this school's business so I visited there often--I noticed some very unfamiliar trappings. There were overtly obvious police snipers lying in prone positions with rifles armed at the shoulder on the rooftop of the building, and instead of walking directly into the entrance, I had to stop and go through an airport-style archway of metal detector. There had been threats of violence and at least knife-wielding students, due to the disagreement with the court-ordered busing for integration purposes.

Later that day, I also had to be detoured in my car because police were setting up a tear-gas barrier at another intersection across town, where other unhappy and protesting Bostonians were expressing their opinions against integration.

Southern rednecks got nothing on north easterners when it comes to making your feelings known about whites and blacks being schooled side by side. That's the story I told my nephew, and even though it happened 30 years ago, I know not much has changed because I hear the degrading terms and tones used in daily conversation toward all sorts of ehtnic and national groups by all sorts of other groups, no matter where I go in our great land. I wrote a book about racism in America several years ago, which hasn't been published yet, but the title is the message about human nature and the issue: "Pardon My Prejudice -- America's Excuse for Bigotry."

Meanwhile, Chris's article is the cover story in this week's Newsweek, and Editor John Meecham eloquently expressed what to me is the cornerstone of Chris's in-depth interviews and experiences while he combed the route of Sherman's Civil-War march to the sea:

"The American South, to borrow a phrase from the caricature cupboard, just ain't that different anymore. It was once, but the Civil War is the exception that proves the rule that the South tends not to contradict but to exemplify, if sometimes in an exaggerated way, what much of the nation thinks and feels. Understanding America's politics, then, requires understanding the South's..."

As I wrote to my friend, Chris, I will state here--every school child in this country should read his article. And as for me, as a student of people and history and politics, I'm really glad I did!