Saturday, April 12, 2008

Here's What's Wrong with This Country

"You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them," Obama said. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush Administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."

- Barack Obama (by way of Mayhill Fowler)

Apparently, despite the fact Obama spoke the truth, what he said is offensive and wrong. And the fact that his statement is controversial is an example of what's wrong with this country.

I agree with Catherine Crier's assessment. But I do have more to add, cause the problem goes beyond the way that giving voters everything they want regarding social issues will not change their economic situations . . . or society for that matter. Gay couples will still hold hands in public; people will still feel no one has a legitimate need for a semi-automatic weapon; not everyone will accept Christ. Period. That's the way life is.

Now, I'm disappointed by Senator John McCain, but his criticism was to be expected:

"It shows an elitism and condescension towards hardworking Americans that is nothing short of breathtaking...It is hard to imagine someone running for president who is more out of touch with average Americans."

McCain, for all his war heroics, is being awfully elitist and condescending by supporting a political system that takes people's financial security and gives them guns and Jesus instead. Someone actually said something like that much better than I did, but I can't recall the exact quote.

But I am disturbed by Hillary Clinton's criticism:

"Well, that is not my experience," she said. "As I travel around Pennsylvania I meet people who are resilient, optimistic, positive...If we start acting like Americans," she said, "and role up our sleeves, we can make sure that America's best years are ahead of us."

Bosnia aside, this is why I'm loathe to vote for her in November, as president or vice president. I, like many millions of others, are tired of this old-style manipulative politics.

But back to Obama's comments and the general criticism. Supposedly, he's being criticized for appearing to dismiss people's faith and culture as sources of false security in the face of economic uncertainty as opposed to accepting people's faith and culture as genuine.

Here's the problem with that analysis: historically, people world-wide have always turned to faith and culture as sources of false security in the face of economic uncertainty. This is human nature and nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about. Think through American history. Lynchings spiked during the Depression. Xenophobia grew anytime the economy slowed. Whenever the economy turned badly, Americans turned on each other or immigrants or whoever happened to be available at the time to unleash their frustrations on.

And think back to recent history. After the upheaval of the 60s, white Americans clung to the suburbs and "tradition." After 9/11, many Americans sought out caricatures of manly men and helpless women and thus the myth of Jessica Lynch. In fact, if it weren't for "clinging" to the past and the myth of American infallibility, Ronald Reagan would've never been elected president and certainly not twice.

And I don't know what "faith" Clinton is talking about - "The people of faith I know don't 'cling' to religion because they're bitter. People embrace faith not because they are materially poor, but because they are spiritually rich," she said. I'm a person of faith, but I don't protest women's right to make their own reproductive choices; I don't judge people whose sexual orientation differs from my own; I don't decry the lack of "prayer in school" or the teaching of evolution. What many Americans are clinging to isn't faith, but certainty and control. Just because this "certainty" can disguise itself religion doesn't make it so. What it makes is for a religion that is rigid and intolerant. A religion that has propelled home schooling and charter schools into mainstream politics. A religion that has even infested our education and healthcare as many young people catch sexual diseases and become pregnant because adults clung to abstinence and didn't talk about safe sex. A religion that has infested our foreign policy leading to the deaths of many because AIDS isn't properly prevented, or women don't have access to reproductive care.

Now, I'm not as current on various issues surrounding gun rights, Update: Come to think of it, I am fairly aware of several gun rights issues. There is a case before the Supreme Court challenging the limits on ownership rights in DC. Here's the problem with many who "cling" to their guns - what lawful need does anyone have for a semi-automatic weapon; aren't there some limits to individual rights when public safety is at risk; what's the problem with law officers being able to track guns that have been used in crimes; and, do you really need to have the gun shows where anyone with enough money can buy what they want? Are you not clinging to something with your attitude towards guns? but I do know immigration wouldn't be such a concern if there were enough good-paying jobs to go around. I do know immigration wouldn't be so rampant if NAFTA hadn't been passed. What's more, I absolutely have no doubts that often "cultural issues" stands in for anti-black/brown racism, so the fact that McCain and Clinton so readily criticize Obama for stating the truth troubles me.

What all Americans should be troubled by is the arrogance and condescension of Hillary Clinton and John McCain. Unemployment has been rising. Cost of living has been rising. Wages, on the other hand, have been in decline, and our nation's healthcare is no better and sometimes worse than many third-world countries. The number of deaths in Iraq have been rising. Anti-American sentiment around the world has been rising. Meanwhile, our ability to secure ourselves, our infrastructure, our military have all been in decline. This current administration has eroded civil liberties and disregarded the Constitution. Innocent people were preyed upon with predatory lending; but, instead of helping out American people-citizens, our government chose to bail out Bear Sterns, a "corporation" citizen. What person, in small-town or big-city America is not, or should not, be bitter about the current state of the union.

But here's the silver lining. It's also human nature that along with bitterness about the present there is hope about the future. Hope that as bad as things are, I as an individual have it within my power to make things better. This bitterness and hope is part of what fueled the hallowed Revolution - "patriots" were bitter about taxation without representation. It fueled the women's suffrage movement and the Black Freedom Movement. Bitterness and hope is what fuels change - when people become "sick and tired of being sick and tired" and are finally ready for change. Why didn't McCain and Clinton say that? Why didn't they tell Americans that it's okay if they're bitter, that they, McCain and Clinton, want to work to make things better.

If you can't empathize with Americans' bitterness, than what and who exactly are you going to fight for, Mrs. Clinton? If giving voice to Americans' bitterness is "elitism and arrogance," exactly who will you be speaking for, Mr. McCain?

But really, this whole "controversy" over "bitterness" is merely an example of what's wrong with this country. The problem is this country's inability to face the truth about itself. Yes, we're still a country and culture steeped in white-supremacy ideology. Yes, we're still a country steeped in misogyny and patriarchal control. Yes, we're wreaking havoc around the world, not just with our military misadventures, but with our economic policy. And yes, many Americans, myself included, are bitter about our current state. Unless and until we can face these truths, we will never change. Unless and until we can face these truths, so long as we're more afraid of the truth than the effects of 47 million uninsured and millions more under insured Americans, there's not much reason to hope. So long as we Americans allow ourselves to be manipulated into wars and an economy that only benefits the top 5% or so of us, there's not much reason to hope. But because there are so many of us who refuse the status quo, who refuse the gilded cage, I think there is sufficient cause for hope. As for the rest of you, stop being blinded and get on the bus!

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This isn't too complicated. If you disagree with me, I'm more than happy to have an honest discussion. I'm quite open to learning new facts and ideas. I'm dying for a conservative to explain their ideas in a sensible way.

But, I do have rules, and they also apply to those who agree with me. They just get the benefit of my already knowing the fact they'll be referring to.

So, here're the comment thread rules:

1 - Use facts.
2 - Refer to policy.
3 - Don't rely on theories and conjectures. Show me how, for example, a public health insurance option will lead to "rationing" of health care.
4 - No unfounded attacks on any entity.

If you break those rules, I will edit your comment to my own whimsical satisfaction.

Lastly, perhaps most importantly, I'm not going to entertain too much pro-white/racism-denying discussion. I want this to be a space to discuss strategies to fight racism, not space where I have to fight racism. I want anti-racists to be able to come here for a mental respite. If what you're interested in doing is attempting to demonstrate the fallacy of anti-racism by repeating the same ole comments and questions and accusations we hear all the time, please do that somewhere else.

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But Don't Jack My Genuis