To Everything There Is A Season...
I had something else in mind in my dealing with this subject again—this indelicate matter of loose and insensitive words about the spectre of assassination that hovers over the Presidential campaign of Barack Obama.
The focus was going to be on the macabre little bit of snuff humor snarked out at an NRA convention late last week by the alleged GOP wordsmith par excellence, Mike Huckabee. It was to be a rumination on comedy and how said craft is really best left to the professionals. There was going to be a tie-in of Randi Rhodes' odious statements while amateurishly prowling a stand-up stage in San Francisco. There was to be a treatise on the meaning of words and context, and how professionals whose stocks in trade are words should know better.
It was going to be titled “Comedy Is Not Pretty”, borrowing from the old Steve Martin-ism. I even had a plan to explain in detail why playing around with that subject (assassination of Blacks who would dare ascend to power) is a dangerous game when you consider recent (in my lifetime) American history and its sorry record of using violence to silence Black folks who are on the verge of making a difference.
And yes...I was going to refer to the piece written here post-the sea-changing Iowa Democratic primary results, “Pride and Palpitations”, where I opined how on that politically startling night, my thoughts and the thoughts of many African Americans turned to fearful musings on the safety of the then-nascent candidate Barack Obama.
The plan was to have a little bit fun at ol' Huckabee's expense while highlighting the serious nature of his gallows humor over the subject that is discussed in hushed tones 'round the Beltway and in the pundit circles. But...today intruded. There will be little whimsy here as today's unfortunate verbal diarrhea spew just crowds humor into a corner and then kicks at it with hob-nailed boots.
In fact, let's go back a few months ago to the aforementioned “Pride” piece for a little foreshadowing on today's “events” shall we?
Let's go there...
I watched the end of Obama's speech—still sniper-checking a bit, and silently imploring him to “move around a little...make it difficult for 'em”. But then, it was done. The crowd roared, he hugged Michelle, confetti fell, and I imagine upstairs in their suite McFadden and Whitehead's “Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now” was heard at least once.
I relaxed for the first time in many minutes, finishing my drink and looking at the post-speech coverage of Olbermann trying not to laugh at the shit-scared White man writ large, Chris Matthews sitting next to him, all darting eyes and afraid of what is on the horizon. My wife rolled over and said simply “Whew! He made it. Thank God. Mmmmmkay, g'night.”
Which was the signal for me to leave for the front room.
And as I walked there, I reviewed my emotions of the night. Shock. Disbelief. Pride...and then muscle-tensing fear when I realized where this was all headed...now. I sat down to watch the continuing coverage and saw the Washington Post's Eugene Robinson review Obama's speech glowingly, and then...he cited the feeling he had when watching the hopeful, ”new day” swelling of popularity when Bobby Kennedy was running, and he was almost aglow when he mentioned that campaign. But then, he brought it down a bit in the next breath—quickly, and probably because he'd just thought of exactly what I'd thought right after he mentioned it.
Namely, how RFK's campaign tragically ended. (New 5/23/08 emphasis, mine—LM)
Now, let me close by saying that I don't mean to be a killjoy about what last night may have meant. In spite of my having not formally chosen a candidate I really feel strongly positive about, I'll be damned if I didn't feel something soul-deep special when they announced that Obama had won Iowa handily, and at that moment he geared up to speak, things did seem for a time like the climax to a crazy, pre-waking lottery-hit dream. I felt deliriously good about progressives in general when they gave the voting numbers for the caucus—Dems doubling the turnout damn near from '04, and tripling the GOP's mouth breathers in-state.
But I want you to understand what that nervousness and yes, I'll say it—fear was about as Barack Obama thanked his supporters and urged them onward. I don't know if you'll ever really understand it and why it comes so quickly to the fore for Black folks. I guess, you need only to look at not distant, but recent American history and how deadly cruel it has been to Black people on the cusp of busting a door wide open. In my lifetime, Malcolm X was cut down. Medgar Evers was blown away. Martin Luther King's flame was sniper's bullet snuffed. Never mind all the back-room, black-bag shit the U.S. government ran on folks who stood tough locally like Chicago's Fred Hampton and others.
We have developed an unfortunate Pavlovian response to the repeated sight of our best and brightest being blown away like so many dandelion bits in the wind.
We have our moments of pride, and then...then, those uncontrollable palpitations. Worrying about when the ax will fall. Or the grenade. Or the bullet's sharp crack, the diving security and guests, and the inevitable cut to a shocked newsroom.
Dave Chappelle used to have segment on his show featuring Paul Mooney called “Ask a Black Dude”. Well, I won't wait for you to ask, I'm just telling you what goes on. What went on...in my house, and I would assume hundreds of thousands of households like mine, where recent history's bloody spectre hovers in a tattered 60's sack-cut suit and skinny tie. He hovers and points at today's goings on.
“There”, he moans. “There,” as his dusty hand notes the television and all the happiness on the screen. He doesn't smile. he doesn't blink. He just says “There,” as he crooks a bony finger. And up Black America's collective spine, goes his chill.
He was there in Iowa too. I know Barack and Michelle saw him. But maybe the kids didn't. And I'm guessing that Barack and Michelle fought like hell to push him out of sight eventually.
Dropped balloons and confetti on him. Drowned his “There.” out with McFadden and Whitehead, or Curtis' “Move On Up” or some such blaring counter to that hollow moan.
I hope to God they did. 'Cause that'll make them the lucky ones. Unlike the rest of us.
There were a few pats on the back for that post—and more than a few “How dare you mention so horrible a thing and taint so glorious a moment!” comments here and at other sites that linked to it.
Why indeed, would I dare resurrect history's “bloody spectre” of the coward's ultimate weapon against upsetting change—cold blooded murder? Because you will note in the original piece, I was dealing with an emotional response—one keyed into my African American DNA almost as deeply as my shade of brown or kink in hair. Belittle it if you wish (and you'd be a snake to do so, but hey...), that response, that reaction...that fear is well founded. In my lifetime, Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and Fred Hampton were all snuffed out like candles a hurricane has touched, just at the moments they were on the verges of coming into their own as leaders—as human beings—bent on contributing to the world in ways beyond what they had been. It isn't a thing to be joked about by insensitive people playing to crowds stocked with people who would have no problem with murderous violence as a solution to politics that perturb them. Mike Huckabee's groan-inducing, anti-comedy stylings before the blunderbuss bunch was sickening. The sort of thing that were I to cross paths with him, I'd have to fight spitting on him.
Why? Well, let's ask a different question and a more probing one—“Why the goof about Obama in particular getting shot? A man who was a thousand miles away—literally and position-wise from that assemblage of over-compensating man-children?
Because the idea of Obama's physical safety's being in jeopardy is NOT just something Black folk who've been around a while talk about. You can bet your bottom dollar that it's something folks in the beltway set and media chattering classes discuss sotto vocé behind closed doors, because of the obvious similarities in tensions and personalities to America's last time of great upheaval when you consider the historical perspective. What Huckabee did however had as much to do with an earnest discussion of the situation as a visit to a brothel has to do with a search for true and everlasting love. He was bringing an ugly tale, not discussed flippantly among decent folk, and tried to make a crowd-pleasing joke about it...and in so doing bombed like the Bikini Atoll, circa 1945. The “joke“ (while giving a speech before the NRA, Huckabee and the assembled heard a loud noise from backstage, prompting Huckabee to crack wise that the loud bang was Barack Obama diving to the floor because of a brandished weapon) was in exceptionally poor taste, considering a.) the reactionary “Yahoo element” he was playing to (and who he felt comfortable enough with to chuckle about that with), and b.) because of the known-to-everyone brutal and frightening history of what he was joking about could NEVER BE FUNNY coming from the likes of him. It was a thunderclap and lightning strike into an oil refinery level of “gaffe”, and in spite of his apology, the idea that he would joke thusly gave us all a peek into the soul of this so-called “Man of God”—where we found spiders, vermin and a dank, rotten sociopathic core.
And let's be clear—joking about this country's recent history of “quick-lynching” Black folks who scan as being “on the move” is just that—sociopathic behavior. It's not a taboo subject to discuss...but again, as with everything, context IS everything. When I wrote about it here in February, it was in terms of an emotional response to eerily familiar visuals and an equally eerie vibe about the personalities involved. It was a gut reading., based on a community's collective pain. And it was painful to lay out there—but, it was cathartic in a way. A release of demons that haunted me and so many others. That's what that discussion was about. A sharing, and a release. Nothing more to it.
Which leads us to Senator Clinton's little discussion before the Sioux Falls Argus Leader editorial board from yesterday.
Here's the video of that, via TPM:
Now, aside from the extreme, poor-mouth exaggeration and favor-currying spin of her “People have been trying to push me out of this since Iowa” schtick, there is the truly disturbing self-aggrandizement that's got tongues a' wagging—namely her invocation of the tragic and abrupt ending of Robert F. Kennedy's 1968 primary run late in the campaign season as a reasoning for the dogged continuance of her own campaign here some forty years later.
It's not the first time she's mounted that ghost horse of a reason—on at least two other occasions in recent months, she's re-conjured that awful time, albeit in less gut-punch wording—as a reason for the campaign to push into the summer.
But timing and context is everything. Keith Olbermann noted last night that in the previous incantations of this mantra, the language was softened—the campaign's sudden end noted, without the hard word “assassination” being thrown out there. At those times, the election math was ugly, but nowhere near as dire as now. Again, context is everything. Things one may say while sitting in a coffee shop sipping away while nibbling biscotti, are going to come out and probably scan one way. They may be frank. Perhaps off-the-cuff. But even with that, there may be a veneer of earnestness in a more relaxed atmosphere allows for a generous reading and granting of a benefit of the doubt. But the things that same person may say while hanging on for dear life from a steep cliff by a small branch over the side, are probably going to sound more than a bit different. The language may be ramped up because of the emotion of the moment. Impending doom is a powerful catalyst. People have been known to move two-ton cars with their bare hands to save a life, or cut off their own trapped limb to escape a certain death. Desperation is a metamorphic force. And, I said this about it too:
“Desperation is the flashing, trembling hand that snatches away the veil of false propriety.”
If you think for so much as a second that Senator Clinton's campaign is NOT in a desperation mode, you either can't do math, or still wait for reindeer hoofbeats on your roof on Christmas Eve. You've heard the delegate news, and hear of the daily padding of super-delegates onto the Obama side of the ledger, lead-bricking the scale further his way. You've also heard the reasoning mounted (occasionally by her own campaign staff) that her side is holding out for “something big and unexpected to happen” to blunt the Obama momentum that'd allow her to swoop in and claim the nomination.
I want you to roll that last statement around in your head for a second, and then roll around yesterday's words from the Senator again.
And one more time, please.
Now, this isn't a Huckabee situation, where he's making a malicious joke about tragedy. For all his supposed affability, he was reveling in being a mean-spirited, hollow-hearted jerk. Sen. Clinton's comment was something else. Not outright malice in an open hoping for tragedy that would allow her to claim a long-sought prize, but an unveiling of an indisputable, craven opportunism that does little else but lower her. When it is known that you're basically waiting around for trouble to befall your opponent and you then speak of the worst of the worst possible scenarios occurring—a tragedy so freighted with historical baggage that you would benefit from—I. Do. Not. Care. How. You. Slice. It...
Don't spin me with after-the-fact ass-covering about how it was “about the month and calendar”, and not the incident itself. The assassination of RFK—which I am old enough to remember it's soul-numbing effect so close on the heels of MLK's murder—isn't about a Goddamned date. It's about one of the nails in the casket of hope. It's about a reaction to in-country upheaval. It's a major signpost along a highway of evil, America-altering deeds. And don't piss on our legs and tell us it's morning dew with the canard about this being about duty and safeguarding the party should unforseen problems arise. This isn't 1865 when news sometimes took weeks or months to reach people and quick decisions in tragic times were truly difficult. This isn't even 1968, when as far as we'd come, it was still difficult to turn on a dime when problems arose. It's the height of disingenuousness to play as some final bulwark against democracy's fall when one is being so obviously self-serving. Where was Senator Clinton in the real fight for democracy during the 2000 recount? Or the recent FISA battles for Americans rights to privacy? Where pray tell was she in these fights that did not serve to directly benefit her? Now we're supposed to take at face value a faux-courageous stand as the super-ultra-mega country-saving fallback should things fall apart in a primary election? A primary election she's fought tooth, nail and molecule for?
People who support Senator Clinton have of late taken Keith Olbermann to task for his hard words toward her when she has transgressed. I've noted his hard line too, and as a regular viewer, I remember when it came into stark relief. It was when she began playing the “fear card” in the Bushian manner as a reason to consider her for the office of Commander-In-Chief. It unleashed something in him, and rightfully so. For the better part of six years we have all railed against the flashing of that card by President Bush, Vice-President Cheney and their various mindless talking-head minions as a way of cowing and bending the populace to their self-benefiting way of thinking. To see Hillary Clinton resort to that same awful manipulation is borderline heart-breaking, and indisputably maddening. It set Olbermann off—and a large swath of people who otherwise respected her. Include me in that group who the “fear card” antagonizes.
This “Remembering what happened to RFK is why you shouldn't look past me” talking point is more “fear card” playing. And the extra-juicy tossing about of the “assassination” language is just jaw-droppingly insensitive, considering again the particulars involved. Add in the supremely weak defense in her “apology” and by her supporters about the statement being more about the Kennedys than an unnamed other candidate and we descend lower still. You would think that the Kennedy family probably has enough heartache on their collective plates right now with the sad anniversaries of RFK's murder and JFK Jr.'s untimely death looming, and the real-time pain from the dire prognosis of the family's patriarch Sen. Ted Kennedy that second-hand flogging of the family's tragic history wouldn't be something to worry about from a friend. But sure as hell, it unfortunately is. And it's a disgusting and insulting dodge from what the words were really about...
Spare me the talk about fatigue. I've let slide other ill-formed and ill-thought out statements that offended before. Same with the debilitating rigors of “the trail”—both candidates are busting their asses, and it seems that the one who'll supposedly be ready for the all-important “3 a.m. call” is the one constantly goofing up because of a lack of rest. I have been fair, and forgiving about a lot here, but this is a line-step I will not forgive. Senator Clinton has spent the better part of two decades as a player on the world stage, and is no neophyte in the talking point game. You want to say that message command and control has broken down as the campaign is floundering? Okay. Say it. Let the distracted surrogates take the heat for their verbal gaffes. But these words still came from her mouth. Her mind. The mouth and mind of the person trying to get elected president, and no one else. A smart person. A savvy person. A person who should know better and I think did. Desperate times call for desperate measure, and the inside voice that roars within but common sense suppresses got free and said its piece for all to hear. I don't think for a second that her words were a call to the lunatic / hyper-activist fringe to “clear the way” for her.
What it was, was an ugly play for votes based on an appeal to people's darkest internal fears about America's shameful legacy of political violence. And using the obvious target—Obama—as a stalking horse for stoking that fear is such a prestige diminishing act that I almost pity her as much as I'm incensed at her over it.
I wrote on the subject based on emotion. She conjured the subject based on raw opportunism. If you can see the difference between the two, you can understand the anger and disgust she's rightfully engendered. While politics isn't “beanbag”, it shouldn't be the ear scene in “Reservoir Dogs” either, especially if you want to call yourself a progressive. “To everything there is a season”, the Bible says. This was NOT the season for those words. She rubbed raw a scar on our collective soul as Americans that hasn't yet healed—and she didn't do it to inform or examine. She did it to justify her present personal ambition.
“To justify her present personal ambition.”
As “off-the-chain” as this world is these days, the last thing needed is people we supposedly trust to be level-headed to dump gasoline over the fires of crazy—especially if it has nothing to do with principle or belief, and everything to do with furthering their own selfish desires. This campaign is ending on a wave of sludge-topped ugliness and it is frankly depressing. Its “bitter end” has been written about here twice in recent days. And every time I think a few days have gone by where we might see a glimmer of a light of decency at the end of the tunnel, a side valve opens up and in pours more festering sewage.
This was sewage.
No. Let me re-phrase that. It was not sewage. It was just plain, old shit.
Senator Clinton knew what it was when she haltingly said it, and even moreso in her ashen-faced faux-apology, delivered ironically in the liquor aisle of a South Dakota store. MSNBC analyst Chuck Todd noted her demeanor as she spoke, saying:
“She looked pained, like someone who realized she may have just destroyed all the goodwill she spent so long trying to build up.”
He was right. And here's a picture from moments after her “thousand-yard-stare” mea culpa-lite:
(AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
It's quite telling, really. Almost funereal, and rightfully so. In battling so hard to stave off an ending she had every right within reason as a candidate to delay, she may well have hastened it with her own unthinking, selfish and frankly ghoulish words. That sad picture looks an awful lot like one of a person with palpitations...and no pride left to speak of.