Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Hey, What's the Deal With That Elephant on Your Couch?

A New Albany resident was recently quoted, in the Chicago Tribune, to say he would not vote for Barack Obama "mainly because he's black." His candor has highlighted an obvious subtext for this presidential election. I don't believe most people are blatantly racist, but racism still flows through our society and every so often it percolates to the surface. Our antique dealer happened to bring it out into the open. For that ingenuosness, he is being held up as a poster child for atavistic rubes, hicks and lowlifes. If John McCain had a crack at him, perhaps he'd call him Joe the Antique Dealer.

This man's essential Joe-ness, spread throughout the land, is the reason why the presidential race has maintained some semblance of a real contest. On paper, Barack Obama outclasses McCain in organization, ideas, inspiration, character and vision for the country. McCain carries the genuine banner of failure, a handoff from the generally recognized holder of the title "Worst President in the History of the United States". He also carries the counterfeit banner of Maverick.

* Obama lives in a stable marriage. McCain dumped his wife when an automobile accident left her scarred and less attractive than she had been on their wedding day.

* Obama and his wife, in just the last several years, paid off their student loans. Cindy McCain recently ran up a $750,000 (that's correct, seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars) bill on her American Express account IN ONE MONTH. Her daughter, the piker (not a Palin child) ran up a $150,000 Amex bill.

* Obama had an outrageous pastor and served on a board with a sixties radical. McCain's vice, Sarah Palin, spoke to an Alaskan secessionist group which did and still does advocate the violent expulsion of the U.S. government from Alaska, Palin's husband was a member of the Alaska Independence Party; the motive of the group is to retain all the vast wealth of the state for the Alaskans themselves.

Many more of these couplets could be laid out to show the superiority of Obama over McCain, and yet the race remains tight. The wild woman from Minnesota had to be brought back to earth by McCain himself because she thought Obama was "an Arab". Some of Joe the Antique Dealer's less reserved brethren have shouted such bon mots as "traitor", "terrorist" and "kill him" when Obama's name is mentioned at McCain/Palin rallies. Why is it so hard to believe that a hapless antique dealer in New Albany, Indiana would be moved to say that he isn't voting for Obama, "mainly because he's black"? Would it be better if he weren't voting for him because he's a "terrorist", or a "traitor"? Is he not measurably more civilized then the dimwit who shouted "kill him", or the poetic dimwit who shouted "off with his head"?

The McCain campaign has set its sights on winning the presidency in the worst way. The campaign finds it necessary to distract, dissemble and divide in order to peel away voters whose interests are more naturally aligned with Democratic orthodoxy, from Obama and leave them in play for McCain. They can't do it on qualifications. They need a wedge. Obama, by his very existence, offers the biggest, meanest, most heinous wedge in the American electoral repertoire: his race; unfortunately, none dare speak the name openly. Better to be a stupid hick who confuses Obama and Osama, better to label, as Michelle Bachman did, liberals as un-American than to say you aren't going to vote for Obama because he's black. The modern-day Republican playbook has been discussed in Thomas Frank's "What's the Matter With Kansas?" Frank points out that on issue after issue Democrats offer real solutions of real benefit to the Joe's of the world and yet, at the national level especially, Republicans continue to rack up victories because, on gut-level, visceral issues such as abortion and gay marriage, voters say "they share my values"; translation: they are more like me. The reality is that the candidate who lives by the wedge issue almost never delivers the voter from the supposed plague the wedge signifies.

How many times have we heard that "my grandfather came here and he made it without any affirmative action", or words to that effect? How many times have we heard hateful words thrown out to describe people not like ourselves? How do we even decide which non-shared trait will be the one deserving our mocking, derision or hate? I'm sure Joe the Antique Dealer's prejudice does not actually reflect hatred of black people. I say that having never met the man. And yet the sentiment that he won't vote for Obama because, "mainly he's black" offend. They offend the ear, they offend people he has never met, they offend the very concept of this nation.

But wait, the very concept of this nation is founded on inequality. The Constitution allowed slavery. Black slaves were counted as "three fifths" of a white citizen when doling out congressional seats. The Civil War was our crucible from which a new nation of equality was supposed to emerge. Look around. It didn't happen. This presidential race is the most potent ammunition we have to push racism further out on the fringe of society. Obama's presidency will be many things, but one of them will be a lesson that we have wasted far too many lives through bigotry and narrow horizons. I hope Joe the Antique Dealer is open to learning.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Faith, Love and...

Indiana sits in an unusual position for this historic election. Its votes are being courted by both parties, and both parties have a viable chance of carrying the state, thus winning Indiana's 11 electoral votes.
While I did not start out as a supporter of Barack Obama, (I held out hope for Al Gore entering the race for an inordinate period of time, even after I had begun to support Obama), I feel his election and the change it promises for this nation is critical. On one level, Obama's election offers some absolution for our nation's Original Sin, slavery. As Lincoln said in his Second Innaugural Address, that we were engaged in the Civil War to unwind the divine plan which might dictate that the war "continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword".
De facto slavery has vanished from the land thanks to the sacrifices of our forefathers. Today the slave master is replaced by corporate hucksters who sell the American Dream, but deliver instead a lifetime of involuntary servitude to debt dealers, health insurance peddlars, fearmongering agents of the Military Industrial Complex Eisenhower warned against, and an unhealthy alliance of commercial interests that add up to serial rapists of the environment.
Despite the plague these parties represent to our nation, as a white American I can take smug comfort in the fact that I am better off financially than the vast majority of black Americans; these citizens made a huge mistake: being born black. The disparities between the two dominant races of our land are striking. Whites, live longer, earn more, have more education, accumulate more wealth, have better access to health coverage and suffer less per capita illness, than Blacks.
Enter, Barack Obama. This man represents the true embodiment of the American Dream. He has played the hand he was dealt and turned it into an example for us all. Regardless of how the election turns out, he has placed racism further out on the fringe of our society. My attention to race is likely a reflection my age. I barely remember legal segregation but I see the continued shadow of inequality today in the disparities mentioned above and as I drive through "black" sections of Louisville and witness who rides the bus and who owns and drives the cars. Those younger than I, came into awareness during a time when race was less an overt factor. Perhaps for them, my observations tend toward fogeyism. But the state of the economy now has knocked us all down, or likely will, a peg. Those farther down the economic ladder are disproportionately affected by the downturn.
Obama's policies offer a brighter day by focusing on a retooling of the economy with an emphasis on green industries. The steps toward a green economy are ones that will, as a matter of course, lead to local jobs spread across the land. A reasonable prescription for economic revival would be a Keynesian infusion of government ivestment into our long-neglected infrastructure. As a nation, are we more likely to find sustainable prosperity in laying track for new railroads to connect cities or tax-cut trickles? Obama is more likely to opt for sustainability. McCain is more likely to funnel money into the building of a fortress and call it economic stimulus.
These are perilous economic times, and God knows I don't have the answers to our problems. Barack Obama has offered some suggestions of how we might get out of this mess. As he has offered solutions, McCain and his on-deck have slung mud. Obama wants a moritorium on forclosures. McCain wants to conjure the cloak of otherness and place it on Obama. Obama offers a break from the policies of Bushism. McCain is simply the third act of the same ridiculous play we've been watching for what seems like the past century or two. Obama has vision and offers a plausible chance of implementing that vision. McCain, deep in his soul, may have the capacity to dream a vision, but his soul was sold back in 2000 in some heinous pact with Bush which resulted in Karl Rove, author of the 2000 attacks against McCain in South Carolina, now joining the McCain campaign to question Obama's legitimacy.
Obama offers hope: Hope for a move into a more colorblind tomorrow, Hope for a return to a world stage where the U.S. can be a force for good rather than simply a force for force, Hope for universal medical coverage that equals the rest of the developed world in its inclusiveness and affordability, Hope for a rebirth of American ingenuity built on the priciples of sustainability, Hope for a foreign policy based on truth not lies, Hope for an economy that recognizes capitalism flows from democracy rather than democracy flowing from capitalism, Hope for government of the people, by the people and for the people, rather than government of the corporation, by the corporation and for the corporation, Hope for a restored balance on the Supreme Court, Hope for a return of constitutional principles abrogated by the Bush regime. Obama offers hope of a brighter tomorrow free of the shadow of fear which is really the only thing Bush has ever brought us.
If you can see the hope Obama offers, don't think you need to wait until Election Day, November 4, between the hours of 6 AM and 6 PM to cast your vote. The best laid plans etc. etc...
You can go to the Floyd County Clerk's office on the second floor of the City/County Building Monday through Friday 8 AM- 4 PM, two Saturdays will also offer early voting, October 25 and November 1, Saturday hours are from 9 AM -3 PM.
This election is too important to pass up. No one has an excuse to miss voting. If you miss it, you're just hopeless.