Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Dishonest and Deceptive

I don't know if you heard Obama's speech yesterday. You can read the whole thing here. I think it's better to read it than to hear it as it is easy to get caught up in the spoken emotion of the performance rather than the words on the screen.

As a piece of political rhetoric I thought it was very well done. The media certainly loved it. However, I also thought the speech was dishonest, deceptive and emotionally manipulative, even a touch sinister. In the speech I find at least 4 dishonesties and deceptions.

1) Sure, Wright said some things. Obama addressed some of the statements by Rev. Wright.
"Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely - just as I'm sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed."
"They weren't simply a religious leader's effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country -
a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with
America above all that we know is right with America..."
He acknowledged that Wright's sermons were "divisive" and "racially charged".

But this, as harsh as this may seem, is a sugar-coating of some of Wright's charges. Wright said on a DVD sold by the church itself, "The government lied about inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color." This is not merely divisive or racially charged. This is the worst kind of paranoid delusion. Wright accused the white-controlled government of waging biological warfare against blacks by inventing a fatal disease. Wright stood in a church and accused the government of essentially Nazi behavior; he accused the government of unspeakable evil. To call this divisive is not enough.

Likewise Wright said that FDR let the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor to justify an imperial war in the Pacific. Again, not only is this factually wrong, it defames a man millions of Americans consider to be a hero. This kind of accusation is not merely criticism of US foreign policy, as Obama describes it. This is an extremist conspiracy delusion and an insult to a great American, someone who held the very office Obama is running to occupy.

2) But he's done a lot of good. Obama defended Wright by saying that despite his lunatic ravings he has done much good as pastor of the church.
"He is a man who served his country as a U.S. Marine; who has studied and lectured at some of the finest universities and seminaries in the country, and who for over thirty years led a church that serves the community by doing God's work here on Earth - by housing the homeless, ministering to the needy, providing day care services and scholarships and prison ministries, and reaching out to those suffering from HIV/AIDS."

All this may be true. But the he-was-wrong-but-has-done-much-good excuse doesn't seem to work for other people. Obama called for Don Imus to resign after a racially charge incident, despite the fact that Imus had entertained and informed people for 20 years on his radio show and used his fame and fortune to start and fund many charities including a camp for disabled children. Obama called for him to be fired, plain and simple. Or take the case of Michael Richards, who played Kramer on Seinfeld. The man was a talented and entertaining comic for 25 years, who entertained millions around the globe. He had a meltdown with a heckler one evening and was essentially banished from the entertainment world. These were not prepared remarks, mind you, but off the cuff insults during a moment of stress (unlike Wright he didn't put them on video and sell it for profit). Yet he did not get to use the I've-done-much-good-excuse.

Think back. Who else gets to scream in public like Wright and then excuse themselves because they've helped some other people? Please. I seriously doubt Obama would apply this standard to a white hate-monger. "David Duke is okay because he volunteers at the hospital." If I work at a soup kitchen do I get to use the word "nigger" in public? Not if I value my job and my teeth. Lots of evil men through history have started charities and orphanages, sponsored the arts, and helped their fellow men, even as they worked to fulfill their nefarious plans. Life is not a balanced ledger. You don't get to buy off your wrong-doings by helping people.

3) Hey man, blacks are angry. Oh, and whites too.
"That anger may not get expressed in public, in front of white co-workers or white friends. But it does find voice in the barbershop or around the kitchen table. ... And occasionally it finds voice in the church on Sunday morning, in the pulpit and in the pews. ... But the anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races."
Obama then shifts to white anger.
"In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most
working- and middle-class white Americans don't feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. ... So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they're told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time."

True enough. You're angry, I'm angry, everybody's angry. Despite the eloquence, to say this is to say nothing. Anger is part of the human condition in a fallen world. Thanks for the insight, genius. Again though, Obama is using his well-written and well-delivered text to gloss over the fundamental problem. White anger is very rarely vented in public and certainly not in church. I'll give Obama's campaign $100 for every DVD the campaign can produce from a mainstream church where a white preacher screams about "lazy stupid niggers" or something similar. (Remember, Trinity is not some fringe group. It's the largest black church in Chicago with something like 8000 or 10000 members.) But the campaign won't find any such video from this century. Any white preacher at mainstream church who acted in a way remotely comparable to Wright would be dismissed. People would walk out. Some would shout back. Over the past generation whites have learned to be very careful with their anger in public. Obama is correct in that whites are angry but this anger is only expressed in the most controlled, most private settings. (Please, don't send me emails about lunatic local churches where some marginal preacher rambles in front of a dozen people. Wright preached in front of thousands and gave several services to SRO crowds on Sundays. Obama's campaign said Wright was one of the 10 most influential black preachers in America. Not marginal and not on the fringe.)

This issue is not about black anger. It's about the expression of that anger against whites in general expressed in church before thousands of applauding people. Wright spoke of "greedy whites" who "control the culture" "giving drugs" to blacks. This is more than anger. It's bigotry and if you're being intellectually honest, it's racism. Anger is acceptable. Racism isn't. What Obama seems to be saying, in a subtle way, is that it's okay for blacks to scream sheer racism in church because, well, they're black. So much for judging people by the content of their character. We've moved beyond that. Let's just judge them on the color of their skin.

4) We can't blame Wright because your white grandmother is a bigot. To me this is the worst kind of emotional extortion. This is where the speech derails and crashes. This is where someone should have heckled him.
"I can no more disown him [Wright] than I can my white grandmother - a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who
loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more
than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe."

There simply no comparison. None. Zero. His grandmother said she was afraid of black men on the street. Hey pal, Chris Rock said he was afraid of black men at the ATM. Jesse Jackson said he was relieved when the two men who came up behind him at night were white. Are these racist statements or merely honest expressions of real fears?

Moreover, private statements of bigotry by one's elderly relatives from 30 years ago cannot compare to public expressions of bigotry before thousands of people last year (recorded and sold by the church itself). Not. Comparable. This white woman helped raise him after his African father had abandoned his family and fled the freaking country and he compares her to a hate-filled spastic, gesticulating wildly on stage before an audience who applauds his racist paranoia? Maybe I romanticize my grandparents. Maybe I'm sentimental by nature but my jaw dropped when I read that. The implication of course is that we all have elderly relatives who have said bigoted things over the years so we can't sit in judgment of Wright. Well, I can and I will. Moreover, to imply that my relatives are in some way comparable to a race-baiting simpleton parading as a religious figure who thinks his malignant weekly ravings pass as sermons is profoundly insulting. Fuck you Barack.

No doubt this speech contains many more dodges and slights of hand but those are the ones that most appalled me.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Change, Hope, Unity. And Blank-ness

Today's edition of Change, Hope and Unity focuses on Unity, by any means necessary.
African-American superdelegates are being targeted, harassed and threatened,” said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II (D-Mo.), a superdelegate who has supported Clinton since August. Cleaver said black superdelegates are receiving “nasty letters, phone calls, threats they’ll get an opponent, being called an Uncle Tom.

This is the politics of the 1950s,” he complained. “A lot of members are experiencing a lot of ugly stuff. They’re not going to talk about it, but it’s happening.” [snip]...
Cleaver questioned why white superdelegates such as Massachusetts Sens. Edward M. Kennedy and John F. Kerry weren’t being targeted to support Clinton after she carried their state.

If white people were being harassed and threatened because they were not supporting a white candidate, we’d see headlines,” he said.

Obama as Borg. You will be assimilated. New Obama slogan: Unity - You Will Join Us. Dissent Is Not an Option. But I thought dissent was the highest form of patriotism? (I read that on a bumper sticker.) Wrong. Dissent from Hope can only be Despair. And despite all my efforts the Politics of Despair ain't selling. (Note to self: re-double effort.)

And on the pop culture front, here's a preview of the mass idiocy which will dominate American pop culture during the Obama Administration:
Is Fred Armisen, who is not African American, "black enough" to embody Obama on "Saturday Night Live"?
Debate over that question has been pinging around the Internet since Armisen, a veteran cast member, donned darker makeup to portray the Democratic candidate for the first time Saturday. [snip] ...
Maureen Ryan of the Chicago Tribune put the question bluntly: "Call me crazy, but shouldn't 'Saturday Night Live's' fictional Sen. Barack Obama be played by an African-American?" (ed: Okay, you're batshit crazy.) Ryan went on to conclude: "I find 'SNL's' choice inexplicable. Obama's candidacy gives us solid proof of the progress that African-Americans have made in this country. I guess 'SNL' still has further to go on that front."

Hannah Pool, a writer for the Guardian newspaper in Great Britain, suggested the whole setup had "minstrel" overtones.
"Casting a black actor wouldn't have guaranteed the quality of the sketch, but it would have made the whole thing a lot less shoddy," Pool wrote. "Let's get one thing straight. The moment anyone starts reaching for 'blackface,' they are on extremely dodgy territory. Anyone who thinks it's either necessary or, for that matter, remotely funny to black-up needs to have the gauge on their moral compass reset."

That sound you hear in the background is Dave Chappelle and Eddie Murphy's heads exploding. Four years of this stuff. I can't wait! Guess I'll stop watching TV. Maybe with all the time saved I can learn to play the piano. See, hope lives.

Thursday's news about Obama's staff telling the Canadians not to worry, that his anti-NAFTA rhetoric was just for show (it fools the rubes in Ohio, don't you know?) has been confirmed. And Canadian TV is naming names:
However, the Obama camp did not respond to repeated questions from CTV on reports that a conversation on this matter was held between Obama's senior economic adviser -- Austan Goolsbee -- and the Canadian Consulate General in Chicago.

Whoosh! Austan Goolsbee, flushed down the Toilet of Hope.

Here's a short collection of misc items to finish the post.
The Times of London:
The problem is that there's a danger that the presidential contest between Mr Obama and Mr McCain will become not a debate but a silly battle of conflicting icons. You can be sure that, in the eyes of the rest of the world, and much of America, if Mr McCain wins it will be not because of his superior experience or the quality of his ideas, but because America is irredeemably racist.
Instead of being the welcome break with America's recent past that he truly is, he will be painted as a continuation of it. Worse, that that, he will have won by vanquishing Hope and Peace. He will be for ever The Man Who Shot Bambi.
New McCain slogan: I'll Crush Bambi. Now that's a bumper sticker

The Chicago Sun-Times:
The next day McCain mocked Obama, ''I have some news. Al-Qaida is in Iraq." Obama fired back, ''I do know that al-Qaida is in Iraq and that's why I have said we should continue to strike al-Qaida targets. But I have some news for John McCain. There was no such thing as al-Qaida in Iraq until George Bush and John McCain decided to invade Iraq."

So what is Obama's Iraq strategy? It seems to be that he knows al-Qaida is in Iraq but he's going to pull out anyway. But if al-Qaida establishes a base in Iraq, he will go back in. Does that sound confused to you? Me, too.
His policy, in a nutshell, seems to be this: Pull troops out of Iraq and hope for the best. And anyway, the real issue is what cowboy Bush and McCain did five years ago.
Obama vs. Angelina Jolie? At least on Iraq:
What we cannot afford, in my view, is to squander the progress that has been made. In fact, we should step up our financial and material assistance. [snip]...
As for the question of whether the surge is working, I can only state what I witnessed: U.N. staff and those of non-governmental organizations seem to feel they have the right set of circumstances to attempt to scale up their programs. And when I asked the troops if they wanted to go home as soon as possible, they said that they miss home but feel invested in Iraq.

But what's Brad's opinion? Do Angelina and George Clooney have political discussions over appletini's while Brad plays with the kids by the pool? And won't somebody please think of poor Jennifer! [insert anguished wail]

On Nightline Hillary Quotes Obama: "Blank Screen"
"I think the best description, actually, is in Barack's own book, the last book he wrote, 'Audacity of Hope,' where he said that he's a blank screen. And people of widely differing views project what they want to believe onto him. And then he went on to say, 'I am bound to disappoint some, if not all of them.'"
I guess he's a leader of the Blank Community. Obama, our first blank president? The jokes write themselves, just put the comic in blank-face. (Whoops. Do I need to have my moral compass reset? I report for reeducation after lunch.)