“There's a thin li-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-innnnneee...”
As a kid, I remember these cool, old IBM-sponsored commercials that ran during NFL football games, showing a slo-mo replay of a controversial moment in a game—some borderline-ish play that could be ruled one of two different ways, testing the layman viewer's knowledge of the sometimes arcane rules of pro ball. The bombastic NFL Films announcer John Facenda would diagram the dramatically scored play, freeze it at that pivotal moment and then boom from the TV “You...Make The Call!” You'd have some thirty seconds during which the sponsor's message would run until he'd return with his sonorously intoned, correct answer.
I've been thinking about those old spots a lot lately after all the idiotic faux-furor over President Obama's address to schoolkids not too long ago. You can almost hear the paraphrased voice-over about the aggrieved parties, “Idiots or Racists? You...make...THE CALL!” President Obama's message was a simple one, really—'Stay in school, pursue your dreams, achieve, achieve, achieve, and all that sort of usual Tuesday Assembly Day yadda-yadda, but the flaming-haired freakout among certain circles over the very idea of a message that innocuous is something we should take a good, long look at.
There were parents—ostensibly adults, so terribly aghast at the President's tapioca-ish words possibly getting to their children that they threatened their local school boards and mounted a goofball campaign to pull their kids from school for that period, and even more draconian-ly from school for the entire day in protest.
Their reasoning? Well there was the whole 'I don't want my kids exposed to his socialist / communist / anti-West-Bumfuck-Church-Of-The-Holy-Spirit-And-Lindsey-Graham's-Lip-Gloss propaganda' angle. Then there was the almost canny “Concerned Harper Valley PTA” member shpiel about curriculum protocols and the suddenly convenient 'Thar is rulez 'bout this kinda stuff, y'know. 'Spit-tooeeey!' obstructionist folderol. Best of all was the one uttered by Grade-Z Kansas City talk show host Chris Stigall, who railed “I wouldn’t let my next-door neighbor talk to my kid alone; I’m sure as hell not letting Barack Obama talk to him alone.”
Running the classic “child molester” standard up the ol' flagpole is always a nice touch, isn't it?
The state of Texas, home of playful truck-dragging to one's death, President George W. Bush (whenever he'd drunkenly misplace his whale-print pants and have to miss those Kennebunkport kegger weekends) and 'Dixie's Dr. Kinsey'—Sen. John “Box Turtle” Cornyn, surprised no one with its vehement shunning of the broadcast. People down there were quite literally howling and crying to anyone with a microphone about this “Gasp!” dastardly intrusion into the psyche of their little ones. Mike Lupica of the NY Daily News actually kind of surprised me with his unequivocal analysis of the phenomenon.
“If you want to get a sense of just how haywire the country has gone lately, in less than eight months of the Obama presidency, start here. Start with the crazy people you saw on television this weekend, women actually crying that Obama's plan is really to brainwash her children, like he's invading her kid's middle school because some other President already invaded Iraq.
Of course. Who would want to put their children at risk this way, listening to a success story like this President's, listening to him describe the possibilities of both education and America, talking to them about hard work? But then so much of this comes from the same mouth-breathers who look at a health care plan as some sort of Socialist manifesto, and see opposition to it as a call to arms.
Only in this kind of climate could a traditional speech like this, to be delivered on C-SPAN and via the White House Web site, be seen as a controversy, actually get parents to think they are putting their children at risk by sending them to school tomorrow.”
Now, the news media beyond Lupica for the most part has been pretty reluctant to look this stuff straight in the eye and call it for what it is, preferring to take the false equivocation / Sgt. Joe Friday “Just the facts...even if one side's 'facts' are clearly made-up bullshit” tack to cover their asses against I suppose...a Limbaugh-led boycott of sponsors...or some such nonsense.
They don't want to point out the big, scarlet-necked, angry elephant tearing the Goddamned room apart with its wild charges into the walls.
We have no such timidity here.
The overwhelming majority of these people are sore-loser, racist wingnuts. Plain and simple. They are still smarting badly over the fact that not only did a Republican not win last year's Presidential election, and not only did a Democrat actually win, but the kind of Democrat (ie. Dusky, Darkie, Ding-Dong-Dammit, He's Black!) they have been indoctrinated to believe would bring the end of the ever-lovin' world as they knew it won. The ones most up in arms are the direct ideological descendants of the original target audience of Richard Nixon's fabled and divisive “Southern Strategy”. So-called “Rule of Law” lovin', Black-hating, educat-urbanophobes'. The folks Barack Obama not-so-ironically caught holy hell over for noting their narrow-minded “bitterness” during the primary season. Fear and loathing has been the fuel for their electoral triumphs for decades, and heaven forbid when they don't win...for there is no exhaust for that powerful and dangerous engine of mischief. It comes apart violently with shrapnel flying every-which-way. This wacky outburst over the school speech is one such flaming chunk of that machine's having come undone.
I'm also kind of surprised that few have noted the phraseology these losers are tossing about in their venom towards President Obama. The cries...no...shrieks really—of “Commie” and “Socialist” are just retreads of the same, old silly “Duck and Cover” era fear-speak they threw at Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. back in the day when his mere presence on the public scene worried warm effluence down their legs. These words were the more polite way for the racially aggrieved to shout “nigger” without all those hard and angry “g's” in the word snagging on everything and pointing out what hateful lunatics they were. Barack Obama most certainly is not a Dr.King—but as a (in their minds) 'n*gg*r of influence that too many people respect', he might as well be. And as we've seen in recent years, as near-to-now as this last election cycle, this mind-locked crew really has nothing else to go to as they wore that “CommieHitlerFascistRadical” shpiel so threadbare that to call it a “throwback” would mean there was a shred of something left in their hands to throw—which there wasn't. 'One Trick Elephants', our wingnut pals are these days—put one pachydermic foot on the Fox News step-box, raise their trunks high and bellow...while taking a massive and messy dump all over the circus floor. First time's a shocker. Second and third time's maybe good for a scat-humor hoot.
It's gotten old quick, though.
What's unhinged them to where they've gone into 'Stage 3 Bigo-tourrette's Syndrome' is fear.
Fear...that this particular electoral choice for America means the end of the centuries-long, taboo-to-cite, skin-color privilege gravy train that has benefited them for just as long.
Fear...of justice / retribution—for the slights and injustices inflicted as that gravy train's wheels rolled over and sliced people of color into little, second-class citizen bits.
And the worst fear of all, and oddly enough—the one that actually makes a great deal of sense if you consider its sociological weight—is that their kids, their annoyingly-open-to-all-manner-of-richly-multicultural-things-anathema-to-NeHi-Mom-and-Nacsar-Dad, oh-so-impressionable kids—might possibly see this reasonable-seeming Black man on TV, who actually is the duly elected President of their United States, and having seen and heard what he has to say...possibly in that said annoying openness, not have the visceral, pathological problem with him that they the parents do. The steady watering-down of rabid, knee-jerk racism would hit a tipping point then, effectively time-locking those petrified, previous generations in a capsule welded shut with their own racial animus. It would relegate them and the four-hundred-plus years of awful, unjust ways they cherish to—if not the dustbin of history, at the very least, swept much closer to the base of it. Their own children being the harbinger of that change is so ironically devastating that it cannot be risked. Thus, the attempt to shut them away from the words of the President, a furtive and feeble trip down dat ol' river of De-nial.
So...you make the call. Are they idiots or racists?
Wait—before you answer that, add to this roux of insipid intolerance that wackadocious Republican representative from the proud, semi-Confederate state of South Carolina, (Insert rueful, syrupy Shelby Foote voice-over here: 'It seems some folks never have come back into the United States after our tragic mid-19th century internal conflict. Tsk-tsk”.) Joe Wilson. He of the braying, intemperate, down-home style j'accuse “You Lie!” on the night of President Obama's health care address to Congress. We've seen moments of partisan pissitude during State of The Union addresses and the like before. Grumbling. Overplayed silence. That sort of thing. But not since the incendiary congressional scenes from D.W. Griffiths' “Birth Of A Nation” have we seen so naked a public break with the well-known collegiality of the Congress during a Presdential address. It's all “Robert's Rules Of Order”—on steroids when you deal in the legislative arenas of Congress. In the back rooms? Well, that's a different story. You lean on (sometimes literally), you cajole, you pressure, you sometimes threaten, you deal-cut and horse-trade. But in public? “The distinguished gentleman / woman from blah-blah-blah”, “May I cede my minutes to the Senator from yadda-yadda?”, and “The floor will recognize Rep. Joe Blow” from the great state of I don't know.”
You get the picture.
Wilson, that sorry-assed clown—decided to simply freak the fuck out and scream at the President during his address. He knew Goddamned well it was wrong<, but he inexplicably did it anyway.
No. Hold on. That tantrum was explicable. Very explicable.
You sit there and tell me what made him think it was okay to go off like that in front of the eyes of not just his congressional colleagues, but the millions of people watching the event that night? What makes President Barack Obama so different from the presidents who've preceded him, that a deep-fried, “Dixie”-warbling nut log like Wilson was perfectly comfortable in shattering the debate / disagreement protocols that have otherwise been recognized for like...forever?
We broke it down not too long ago in the post “Res-pect Mah Authori-taaaaaayyyyh!”
And at that confluence is a vehement and open hatred of what I will call “American Otherness”—in essence, if you do not look anywheres like the powder-wigged, silk legging-ed founding fathers in the old image of the signing of The Declaration Of Independence, your rights—and any authority you may have through an Alger-esque climb through the ranks, or election to office by the people can simply be denied by those who do resemble our rouge-cheeked founding fathers.
As bad as things were for Bill and Hillary Clinton during their brief, but brutal first-term run at health care reform (and they caught hell, make no mistake), there was still enough respect for the legislative process (pre-Lewinsky scandal, of course) where a stunt like Wilson's would have been considered far beyond the...well...far beyond the pale. Bill could still deflect fire with his “Bubba” shield of down-home bonhomie. At any given moment, he could still kind of, sort of be “one of them”, and that carried a lot of weight. Obama however, has no such shield or camouflage to dilute the bitter wine of irrational hatred—especially from supposed colleagues in government. And because of this, they have no problem with acting out as broadly as their hate allows. There is no subtlety, no wit or brain...no nuance at all to their disagreeing. Just raw, bulging-veined rage.
Mixed with a touch of the glee of the ignorantly evil to boot.
Witness the almost dancing-in-the-streets happiness of much of the right over Chicago's losing out in the 2016 Olympics sweepstakes. Never mind the fact that in a way it's probably a good thing the U.S. lost out bid-wise when you consider the money toilet Summer Olympiads have been, but even the mainstream press noted the over-the-topness of the celebration of the “defeat” by the right wing.
'It's gonna be in Chicago? The place that gave us the accursed Obama? We hate it! Obama's lobbying for it? We really hate it! The IOC (International Olympic Committee) said “no” to Obama's Chicago? Yay! We love it! We LOVE it! WE LOVE IT! U--S-A—um...Obama loses! O-ba-ma LOSES!'
Question: What is the opposite of a “smart mob”? A “dumb” mob of course. And these folks are exactly that. The same sorts of mobs in our history who were known to celebrate with a smile the uncelebrate-able. Negativity. Ignorance. And yes, even worse...
How bent is this bunch? I can say this without fear—that there are many among them who would actually cheer a major terrorist attack on our soil, and would hope for at the least, 2978 American deaths—exactly one more than we suffered on September 11th under George W. Bush—just to have something to horrifically, desperately and most contrived-ly scream on Obama over. I sooooo wish I was wrong about that gut feeling, but I know I'm not. And if you truly consider the lunatic behavior of allegedly fellow Americans in fits of spiteful, hateful pique since last january 20th, I seriously doubt you'll feel much differently.
So, welcome to the full-tilt reality-show-ization of American political discourse, people. We were hanging at the Richard Hatch / Survivor-style for a good while. Fun little cliffhangers and gripping, if still contrived drama. But now? Politics' “Big Three Network Decorum” has been tossed aside for the raw, rancid meat of cable crazy post-January 20th 2009. 'I will embarrass myself for attention and spite. I shall stuff my ears, throw my own excrement AND SHOUT YOU DOWN! SHOUT YOU DOWN!' SHOUT YOU DOWN!''
Why are we here? Here, now?
What is so damned different than before?
Well...let's take a literal look...
History it turns out, is just as brilliant a teacher as it is a cruel one.
The defenders of Wilson, our country's non-Olympics celebrants, and those poor, myopic fools who lost their cookies and kept little Ethan and Kayla (Or Hunter and Brittany...Tyler and Caitlin...who-the-hell-ever...) on the day of the President's address will say nothing worse than maybe, just maybe these people are just a touch “misguided”. “Misinformed”, perhaps. Others more directly confronting the looniness but wishing still to not touch the third rail this hate train barrels along on will extend the diagnosis to include “inane” or “stupid”.
Which is a canny dodge for what the real deal is. Because it is simply far more palatable in America to be called an idiot...than a racist.
Bringing us back to the question up at the top. “You make the call. Are they idiots or racists?
It's a choice you don't really have to make. So, let's remove the sting of possibly being wrong...by being fair and equivocal then, shall we?