Wednesday, November 05, 2008

A few healing thoughts on the morning after.

This blog is read by roughly 1000 people on a good day, and I tend to think they're usually the same thousand people. Point being, I don't think too many veteran SHAMbloggers were anti-Obama; that also seems clear in the general comment skew. So today, on this historic morning, I'm going to do something I almost never do. I'm going to take the rather presumptuous step of asking regular readers to forward this post to folks you know who were on the other side.

My goal is to take what I see as the strongest lingering objections to our president-elect and make an earnest plea for cooperation and healing.

To wit:

He's unqualified.
First of all, I'm not even sure we know what that means anymore, but for the sake of argument, let's concede the point: Barack Obama does not have the background we expect, or at least like to see, in our presidents.


The man is flat-out brilliant, probably the best pure "mind" we've had anywhere in the upper echelons of American government in my lifetime. He is a phenomenally quick study who has shown a lifelong ability to assimilate the knowledge he needs, regardless of setting or genre. He knows all the names and gets all the issues, and not in that faux, Sarah Palin, I-memorized-a-few-soundbites way. This guy can do the math, at a level that runs rings around any five political lifers you know. He also appears to have a grasp of human nature and the core-level issues of human interdynamics that...well, just open his book, The Audacity of Hope, to some random chapter and start reading. Finally, he's cool under fire. Man, is he ever.

Having watched Obama over the past year, do you still feel he's not up to the job? Do you really think there's anything he can't handle, especially if he surrounds himself (as he will) with a top-notch cast of advisers?

Maybe the presidency doesn't lend itself to OJT for most people. But this guy? No sweat.

He has a secret agenda.
Like what? Seriously. What's he going to do, or try? And please don't tell me this man doesn't like America. He is the classic American success story and he knows it. Yeah, he has some reservations about America and the way it's headed, maybe even some serious ones; I'd think that anyone in Obama's shoes, with his intellect and perspicacity, straddling several cultures and ideologies, would have to have reservations. And by the way, he's got lots of company in that, if you count the surveys consistently showing that more than two-thirds of us "think the country is headed in the wrong direction."

Beyond that, what is it you worry about? Trust me, he did not secretly clone Karl Marx from some old hairs found on a brush somewhere for the purpose of sneaking a Commie crew into the White House overnight. Which brings us to:

I don't care what he said on the campaign trail, he's going to raise my taxes and redistribute the wealth.
Relax; ain't gonna happen. First of all, even if Obama wanted to do that, he can't do it by himself. He needs a lot of cooperation from Congress. And before you say what you're going to say next, just consider: Obama and the Dems who swept into power along with him bet on middle-class angst this time around: tapping into the disillusionment of Working America, which is to say, the real Joe (and Jane) the Plumber. That is, people with jobs and houses and college tuition to pay or plan for. One of the many unique and astonishing things about the rise of Barack Obama is that the pot-stirring demagogues who typically line up behind black candidates (and to whom those black candidates are then beholden) played a remarkably small role in the ascendancy of this one. Obama is not a creature of the Jesse Jacksons or Al Sharptons. This guy was mainstream all the way. The mainstream, however, comes with its own set of strings. Notwithstanding the broad support that Obama now seems to enjoy, if it becomes apparent that he actually wants to take his buddy Warren Buffet's money and give it to the Panthers or just the inner-city poorwhich I think is what many of his opponents are really afraid ofhis own party will turn on him in a heartbeat, because they know that's not the mandate he was given. He said "95 percent of you will not have your taxes raised"said it again and again and again in the closing weeks. Even if he's forced by circumstances to backtrack a little bit, he's basically going to have to sink or swim on that promise. After all, the members of Congress would like to be reelected someday.

Notwithstanding the significance of his momentous achievement, this president must be wary of the acts he takes early on, and the symbolism thereof. If Barack Obama sends the wrong signals, not only will he be unable to get anything done, but he'll lose his power basefastand become a one-termer. (Can you say "President Palin"?)

OK, but no matter how you slice it, he's still black.
I'm addressing this to white racists*, and I'm not going to try to talk you out of your racism. I'm going to talk to you on your terms. So let's just look at a few facts. First of all, I ask you: Is this really the black dude you worry about? Come on, be honest. Listen to him; look at him. Look at his family. Hell, look at his genetics. His Mom, whom he adored, is white, as are (or were) the two strongest daily influences on him as he came of age: his grandfather and his beloved, recently deceased grandmother, "Toot," whom he went to visit in Hawaii a few weeks back. To be blunt, this is not the black guy who loots TV stores during power outages or who pulls your sister into an alley.

Barack Obama adores his children, and unless every single thing about him is a liein which case, as noted, he won't be in office long, and won't be able to do much while he's therehe wants desperately to leave them the right legacy. He wants his girls to grow up happy and safe and successful and accepted. He's not out to lord his blackness over you. (Has he shown any signs of that? Do you really think that's how he's raising his girls...that he's just pretending to be a good guy now and he's suddenly going to start dressing them in Malcolm X tee-shirts or teaching them to raise a closed fist during the playing of the National Anthem?) He knows that his girls are going to be under the microscope 24/7, and regardless of what you'll hear from his old Chicago power base about his "ambition," he wouldn't put them through that scrutiny if he didn't think he could guarantee them a better life as a result. An honest, upstanding, mainstream life.

And remember: Barack Obama is not just the "first black president." He is also, equally, the 44th white one.

Give the guy a chance. I mean, let's get real: Can he possibly be any worse than the white guy now in office?


One final election note, apropos of my question a while back about gay marriage. The vote is still very, very close, but it appears that California's Prop 8 will carry, thus writing a ban on gay marriage into the state constitution and, among other things, throwing the August 16 nuptials between Ellen Degeneres and longtime companion Portia de Rossi into limbo. California, of all places, is going to do this. I say again, I still don't get it.

* and regular readers know that I think there are also many black racists, and that they helped elect Barack Obama.


roger o'keefe said...

So this is a plea for healing but you still have to take your swipes at Sarah Palin, I see. Too bad you couldn't be as gracious in victory as my guy was in defeat.

RevRon's Rants said...

Roger - If Obama did screw up, it would not be beyond the realm of possibility for the Republican base to push her through at the top of the ticket. Such a cynical act of political manipulation would be worrisome to anyone who places the well-being of the country above loyalty to a party. And this discussion - with a few notable exceptions - is based in folks' desire for the former.

Anonymous said...

As long as we're speaking plainly here I think another effect we're going to see from this election is that it takes away the excuses. Sup-performing blacks used to blame everything on oppression, the racial ceiling and the like. With a black man in the White House and carrying so many of the so-called white states, what are they going to say now when they fail to measure up? Clearly the opportunity is there for anyone who wants to work at it.

I think that is good news to many right-thinking black voices like Shelby Steele and not so good news to many of the demagogues as you say, and the apologists. Unless blacks have their heads on straight they're going to find that having "one of their own" in the White House isn't going to make things as easy on them as they might have expected. I actually think we'll see a lot less acceptance of programs like affirmative action now.

sassy sasha said...

all i can say is GOBAMA, i never thot i'd see this, i thot my age group wouldnt be enough to overcome entrenched racism, that something weird would happen at the last minute. wow what a night! what a speech! what a prez!!

Anonymous said...

Steve: I am a black man. I have read your blog on and off and I understand your feelings about race. I do sometimes wonder if they're motivated by the honest intellectual purity you claim, or whether, perhaps, an instinctive sense of "watching it all slip away", if you get my drift. But I've read some of your previous posts and also read some of your work in traditional media, where you turn Dr. King's line about "content of character" around and use it as an argument for why blacks shouldn't specifically support black candidates. In a purely logical and detached sense I hear where you're coming from.

I can only say this in rebuttal: Can you please allow us our moment? I don't think that's too much to ask on this historic occasion, as even you describe it. Then we can begin the process of moving on to your vision of a post-racial America in earnest. We as a people have been down in this country since we arrived here in the bowels of slave ships over 300 years ago. It is only fair for us to be able to enjoy a guiltless moment of euphoria about being up, for just this once.

Elizabeth said...

Anon at 11:37: amen, brother. :)

Steve Salerno said...

Anon 11:37 and Eliz: My wife said basically the same thing to me this morning, as she watched black supporters watching Obama with tears in their eyes (and hers): "Oh will you please get off your damn philosophical soap-box for once and recognize the simple human need to be inspired by someone?!"

I shall consider myself chastened. For today at least.

Elizabeth said...

Kathy is a wise woman, Steve. :) You should listen to her more often. (Seriously.)

I'm glad you consider yourself chastened, if only for today (y'know, sometimes I think you fall victim to your own logic... :)

But fear not, I'm still writing a response on racism to your last night's comments. ;)

P.S. I too teared up last night when we watched, breathlessly, the votes come it and then Barack's speech -- and McCain's great concession speech, yes (if only he ran his campaign in the similar vein...). I woke up this morn awed (not an exaggeration) by the momentousness (sp?) of this time. It's unbelievable. And if nothing else that's good happened from this day on -- say, the world would end today, for example -- the fact that we, Americans, elected Obama last night restores our standing in the world (among other equally important things). Even Eliz Hasselbeck agrees. :) We can exhale, for a moment at least.

Chad Hogg said...

I would not presume that someone agrees with you just because they have been a regular reader. I happen to in this case and many others, but there have been posts with which I have strongly disagreed. If 95% of readers are people who do not comment, my guess would be that a fair number of them are also in this situation.

Steve Salerno said...

It's a good and valid point, Chad, and I apologize. The last thing I ever want to do here is to make anyone feel disenfranchised, or--as I've said before--that this board has an "authorized point of view." I may have certain POVs--how can I not?--but the board as a whole doesn't. I consider myself just one of many many dozens of regular and part-time contributors.

Anonymous said...

What juxtaposition last night! I am in the “blue” state of California and I cannot believe Prop 8 is winning. It would seem we can have a “black” president, but we still cannot have “rights” for everyone. It is all bittersweet.

Steve Salerno said...

Anon 2:00: My point exactly. I don't get it. One of the most liberal, forward-looking states in the union...and yet.

Steve Salerno said...

In my various readings of the plot-lines to emerge from Obama's victory, someone observed that if anything, the election probably strengthened the cultural position of Rush Limbaugh, who will now see his Job 1 as helping America's conservatives lick their wounds from 2008 and plot strategy for 2012. Presumably conservatives will also delight in the daily shots he takes at the new Obama administration. But the bigger point, and I do mean bigger, is something the article mentioned in passing, which is that Limbaugh in July signed a new eight-year deal with Clear Channel radio worth--ready for this?--$400 million. Including a $100 million signing bonus. (I'd link the clip but tinyurl is overwhelmed at the moment.)

I don't know how I missed that...but WOW. Four-hundred mill. And I thought A-Rod made good money.

Elizabeth said...

Yeah, that's some serious dough (Rush L.), for spewing bigotry and hatred. It's a lucrative business with a steady (though I hope dwindling now) flow of customers.

Anonymous said...

I was choked-up before Obama won by the lines of people waiting to vote. I am just so happy people participated in our (US) government. That makes me cry. There have been dwindling voting numbers for years, but no lack of complainers. I hope this trend continues and is a sign of the future. Real change comes when we participate in the form of government we "say" we believe in.

Elizabeth said...

For a bit of comic relief, see this What To Do When It Finally Hits You And Your Mind Explodes: A Safety Guide, recommended for both Obama and McCain supporters ;):

Steve Salerno said...

I apologize if I'm duping material that is contained in some of the URLs folks are sending through, but it was just reported on FOX that Sarah Palin didn't realize that Africa was a continent unto itself. She thought it was "just a string of countries." This info, courtesy of (if that's the expression) McCain aides who are now going public with the frustrations that have dogged them all along.

I'm sure we'll be hearing more and more of this in the weeks to come.

Anonymous said...

Can't blame Sarah, Steve, she cannot see Africa from her porch, so how could she know?

the hermit said...

I live in Australia, and like it or not, we have very strong links to your country in many different ways. So it comes as both a relief and cause for hope that change is going to come to your country and to the world. Despite the difference in location what happens where you are affects where I am, one only has to look at the impact of the Financial Crisis to see that I'm right. The thing I want to point out is that you elected not only the 44th Persident of the United States, but also a world leader, and if there is anything that is really missing in the world today its quality leadership. I only hope that Barack Obama can live up to the high expectations that were generated from the elections. And I guess all thats left to do is see how things pan out over the next four years and beyond.

weston said...


One thing in your post really jumped out at me

"The man is flat-out brilliant,"

I agree wholeheartedly that the man is in fact brilliant. I strongly disagree with the implication that intelligence is any predictor of how good a president someone will be.

Putting aside my own political opinions I think Reagan was the most effective President we've had since I reached voting age (many, many moons ago). I think Clinton was an extremely close second. I think Reagan was barely more than an amiable dunce. I think Clinton is brilliant. I think both the worst (Nixon) and least effective (Carter) presidents we had during that time period were both extremely intelligent men (although certainly not in Obama or Clinton's league). I believe Carter got elected at least in part due to a widespread perception that Ford (a man who graduated in the top quarter of Yale Law School) was dumb.
I've known quite a few people that I believe were far more brilliant then Barack Obama (the faculty of the law school I attended was filled with former Harvard, Yale and University Chicago graduates who had graduated in the top 3% of their class). I wouldn't trust most of them to run anything besides their classrooms.

I know I pulled one short phase out of a rather long post and have loaded my comments with anecdotal evidence, but the older I get, the more I believe that intelligence has little to do with Presidential effectiveness, or the ability to learn how to do an effective job. Not sure why that is so, but I believe it to be so.

Don't get me started on trying to figure out why our two greatest war time presidents never served in the military

Steve Salerno said...

Weston: Thanks for weighing in. I agree with you--that intelligence is not necessarily a predictor of one's presidential effectiveness. As someone who has worked for many years (on and off) in academic circles, I am well aware that intelligence has little to do with real-world living skills. And it certainly has almost nothing to do with one's ability to motivate, or even get along with, other people.

You're probably new here, but I've commented in prior discussions about one of my greatest regrets as a voter: my support for Carter. In fact, I--like, I think, many Americans--voted for Reagan primarily as a repudiation of Carter. At that point, with the embarrassment of the hostage situation never very far in the background, I wanted someone who seemed "strong" and "had vision for America" (rather than someone who suffered from Carter's nagging analysis-paralysis). And I think a similar phenomenon (though in an inverse manner) is a large part of Obama's appeal today--that his brilliance represents a swipe at Bush's simple-minded way of looking at life and the world.

I do think that Obama's intellect is balanced and enriched by his grasp of life as it's actually lived. His book ("Audacity") encourages me in that regard. I hope I'm right. The nation desperately needs quality leadership.

Anonymous said...

One thing I really like about Obama is the fact he is a constitutional attorney and taught constitutional law for ten years. He could have been on the Supreme Court himself. This makes his choices, I believe he will have a few, very interesting and most likely informed ones.