Today, finally, the voters of Penn’s Woods go to the polls. But methinks tomorrow we will be no closer to having a Democratic presidential nominee. The recent debate was a travesty. Once again, I had no idea it was coming until after it was over. And now I can’t even use the “had no TV” excuse. I finally got the cable hooked up and I would have been happy to sit down and watch the candidates debate in superfine HD, but despite the vast amounts of media content I consume on a daily basis, I was entirely unaware that there would be such a contest until it was all over. I swear, there is a subtle campaign to NOT get people to watch these things. From what I read, the only people satisfied with the thing were the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal, who were happy to watch Obama squirm in the face of irrelevant questions about his minister and former acquaintance who later became a terrorist. Does anyone seriously believe that Obama, installed in the White House, will unleash a mass campaign of racism and terror a la the Cultural Revolution? The best summary of the event was in the New Yorker. I highly recommend that you read this short piece in its entirety, but here is a quick quote:
Charles Gibson asked Clinton and Obama to “pledge now” that whichever of them wins the Presidential nomination take the runner-up as his or her running mate. ABC put on the screen a solemn quote from the Constitution (they were at the National Constitution Center, get it?)—the bit where it says, “In every Case, after the Choice of the President, the Person having the greatest Number of Votes of the Electors shall be the Vice President.” It happens that this part of the Constitution was scrapped after the election of 1800. It should no more be cited as evidence of the framers’ wisdom than should the equally defunct passage calling for “three fifths of all other Persons”—i.e., slaves—to count toward congressional apportionment. It also happens that Gibson’s question was not only premised on nonsense but also profoundly unhelpful, because the only answers it could elicit would be both predictable and substance-free. And so they were.
Later, Stephanopoulos actually asked Obama this question: “Number one, do you think Reverend Wright loves America as much as you do?” Was he serious? Yes, he was, because he followed it up with this gem: “But you do believe he’s as patriotic as you are?” This is how we elicit intelligent commentary from our presidential candidates about their vision for the country?
Everyone is racist (or, Tribalism is in our genes)
Say you were over at a friend’s house for dinner. A longtime friend whom you had shared many experiences with and whom you trusted and loved. And during the dinner party, composed of all close friends, that person told a few wildly inappropriate racial jokes. Would you leave the party? Would you denounce your friend and sever the relationship? No, you wouldn’t. And neither would I (nor have I). Because the truth is, when we’re among friends or when we’re alone, when we’re deeply private and honest with ourselves, we’re all a little racist sometimes. We’re not proud of it. But neither can we deny it. This country is slowly getting over racism, but we’re not there yet. Be honest, people! When Obama didn’t throw his Reverend under the bus, the young people of this country thought, finally someone who isn’t going to sacrifice his friends for the sake of power. Obama’s race speech was honest and it made people look inside themselves. Nothing Hillary or McCain has said on race has ever made anyone do that. I remember a clip of Hillary at an event with a primarily African-American audience where she had the gall to say the Republicans had been running the House “like a plantation, and you know what I’m talking about.” Is that cool? So I was glad to see Obama stand up for his friend, even though the guy has been peddling some pretty outlandish and weird bullshit. I’m willing to forgive Reverend Wright, because the guy is saying this stuff inside his church, which I see as basically a private party for your close friends (the black churches are like this, not the white ones I’ve been to, where only the superannuated know anyone else in the audience). His words were not the kind of inflammatory bombast that is meant to incite people to riot or takeover the government (which would be a crime, and rightly so) – they were the sometimes bitter language of his community, spoken in private. And yes, we are bitter. We’re tired of not being paid any attention. When the media talks about a divide in the country, they always mean the red/blue divide. But the truth is that the greatest division in America is the yawning rift between public belief and public policy. There is great agreement in this country that everyone should have proper healthcare and education, and that we should stop wasting so much money on weapons and war. But those topics don’t come up in high-level political debates hosted by corporate giants. And those problems, the real problems, don’t get solved by showing up and pulling your lever on election day. It takes a lot more than that.