So let me tell you about a run-in I had early one morning in Maine. I went to the local general store to get some of their yummy coffee and, as I exited and headed towards my car, an elderly gentleman approached me. Pointing to the Obama/Biden bumper sticker on my car, he said he just wanted to know how I felt about President Obama now that he has been in office for over a year.
Flashing lights, bells and whistles went off in my head. My mistake was not to heed them. I answered the gent that I was even more impressed with Mr. Obama now that he had spent some time in office. I mentioned his historical health care legislation, financial reform and astute appointments to the Supreme Court. This man’s only response, as he was chomping at the bit for me to stop talking, was, “Do you like his socialistic policies?” I fell for his taunting and my ire and dander were activated. I responded to his accusations of socialism by citing that 60 years ago, many Americans felt that Social Security, Medicare and civil rights were also socialistic. I went on to tell him that the top 2% of American earners must contribute more to provide a safety net for all. He then twisted my thoughts by asking if the upper 2% of earners should pay for ALL of America’s needs. I told him he misconstrued my ideas by his gross exaggeration.
Then he asked me why I was getting upset, as that was not his intention. I again turned to face him directly and told him that indeed, that WAS in fact his only intention. His party, the GOP, is totally void of any platform except to instill fear of our President into the hearts and minds of struggling Americans. This was exactly the tack that the Nazi party instituted: it used the Jews as scapegoats to explain away the dire economic straits in which Germany found itself in the 1920’s and 1930’s. For this seemingly harmless man to play dumb at my reaction to his calm accusations was just another example of people not willing to help provide a safety net for all Americans, of caving in to their elitism, selfishness and exceptionalism. Then I said to this supposed sane man, “You lost, we won. Of course you meant to upset me. With the GOP’s empty platform, that is the only strategy left to you.” I turned around, got into my car and left.
Here is what I SHOULD have said to this fear mongering sore loser. I should have asked him if he was on Medicare. The answer clearly would have been in the affirmative. Then, I should have questioned him if he thought that program was also an example of socialism. Why should he be entitled to government sponsored health care but other Americans, often children and the poor, are not? Surely he did not believe that the deductions taken from his paychecks years ago for Medicare and social security were paying his way in his retirement. He must know that today’s younger generations are footing the bill for his retirement benefits. That is the way our government works. That is the practice of a constitutional republic. I should have stuck to rational policy. However, a man like him would have found another way to raise my hackles, because that was all he had left. Desperation, especially economic failure, can lead to unholy ends, such as prejudice and turmoil.
There is no doubt in my mind that the President’s opposition, namely the GOP and even some of his own fellow Democrats, are using the “culture wars” to sabotage his presidency. That’s all they have. In so doing though, they are roiling up the masses, based on fear and bigotry, and ignoring our constitutional rights. The ground zero mosque, which is neither at ground zero nor a mosque, is a classic example of redirecting our country from issues that need immediate attention, such as climate control and immigration reform. Is every single YMCA vetted as to its geographical placement? When re-enactments of the Civil War, our deadliest war ever, are totally acceptable (including the “Rebel Yell”) and the placing of a Muslim community center (yes, with a prayer room) is taboo, it becomes obvious that the underlying principles are distorted to promote exclusiveness, not inclusiveness. That my friends, is against the law of the land, not to mention human rights and humane practices.
The current controversy is whether or not President Obama is behaving appropriately. He unfailingly tries to absent himself from these cultural issues in order to stay on message about the necessary legislation we need. His opposition is furious that they cannot actively engage him in these “side” issues. Nevertheless, they keep on trying to derail him. Likewise, the liberals and progressives are also frustrated with the President because they feel he has not delivered on the changes he promised.
President Obama’s favorability ratings continue to decline. Should he be concerned with those numbers? Should he put his allies’ electability ahead of his long-term plans? The President is caught between a rock and a hard place. Above all, know that the race issue permeates all of the debate. This is not meant as an excuse or a sympathy plea for President Obama; it is just the truth. Should he heed his mother’s strict upbringing and openly, even gloatingly celebrate his heritage and abilities, or should he bury those personal elements in order to promote a better understanding of his policies?
Jeff, your editorial today, struck a nerve. I ruminated about your thoughts for hours trying to figure out why I felt you were correct and find a rationale for why it is that our president seems besieged. He seems like the heavy burden of the presidency was not what he envisioned. It seems in his eyes that he is serious, even angry and that he is not free. He is not free? The president of the United States is not FREE? The presidents you mentioned Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy, Clinton and Reagan had, despite the terrific burdens, an eternal flame in their soul and a twinkle in their eye despite the grueling weight of the office. Why does this man whom I thought fate had determined would save our nation from its national nightmares look weighed down, sad, serious and dare I say scared?
The presidents you mentioned were white. Yes, of course, I will talk about race. I believe while President Obama had that gleam once it became dissolved in a sea of anger, rancid race baiting and an incredulousness at the epithets he hears, sees, and reads about every single day of his life. It has been said he has received more death threats in one week than any other president has received during their entire tenure. Have you seen the signs? Have you seen him portrayed as something less than human, as an animal this man who graduated Harvard Law School? Could it be that this man who attained the highest office in the land by sheer determination and grit to become the first black man to ever occupy the US presidency feels the weight of the office oppressive?
Yet, he is only HALF black but it does not matter that the other half is white. White is not in his presidential description. Have you heard the reports from reputable sources that white supremacist groups are larger now than at any other time in our history with the exception of the Civil War era? Our president is under constant attack. Maybe he is under attack like Lincoln? Did the pictures and descriptions of Lincoln say he was lighthearted? No, I think not. Lincoln looked serious and under siege because he was under siege.
The anger, the hatred, the vitriol and the threat of violence against our president has been of Herculean proportions. He is threatened, black members of Congress are spat upon, his birth is relentlessly challenged and he is hunted by the extremist right like an animal of prey. How would YOU feel if you were he? How would YOU feel if you could jump into his black skin? I suspect you might think it difficult to “lighten up.”
How light would we feel if every minute of every day we had to hear a Jewish epithet hurled at us like a weapon? How did our brethren feel as they were hunted down like dogs because of who they were? I suspect, to a degree, it is how our president feels. He feels hunted, hated, tormented by an economy he did not make or wage wars he did not begin and if that were not enough his words “This is not a black America. This is not a white America. This is the United States of America. We are one people … ” ring hollow. Oh really, we are one America? Tell that to the man who carries a shotgun within yards of the president — this president — this one half black president who after 300 years of racial hatred, I suspect still does not feel free. Lighten up, Mr. President? That’s easy for you to say, Jeff. You are white!
Before anyone criticizes our President for his lack of rhetorical fire, walk a mile in his shoes. I must admit that I am giggling a bit at the use of the term “lighten up”: probably just an honest use of that idiom, but the double entendre does not escape me. And if Jacoby thinks the President’s job is such a cake-walk, perhaps he should get his head examined.
Furthermore, I can almost guarantee that should President Obama “lighten up”, he will immediately and summarily be lambasted for not taking his job seriously enough. When the real, underlying issue is not his performance but his personal make-up, there will be constant assassination of his character. Look: this is President Obama’s show. It is his gamble at his own hefty risk, not to mention that of his family. He has got a huge job description to fill, and if he chooses to keep his own personal history and beliefs out of the formula for the benefit of the greater good, so be it. He is way too smart, focused and confident to let his personal statistics become the issue.
As for the rabble-rousers who decry any and all of the President’s actions, let them look into themselves to seek and discover their own inadequacies that force them to destroy others. The problem, America, is not with our President. The problem lies within each and every one of us. While Barack Obama is just another fallible human being, he is also a competent and caring leader. Just as individuals can be inadequate personalities, so too can institutions be ruled by their inadequacies. President Obama is aware of this aberrant pathology. He will not take the bait. He will not play their destructive, empty game.
So my morning in Maine provided much food for thought on the political dynamics of today’s America. I know I am getting smarter as I age, but damn, there still is so much “woulda, coulda, shoulda”. So much more to learn.