Saturday, August 13, 2011

Right Man, Bad Time?

Hello. my name is Vonnie, and I come from a long line of racists. Some of the things that have been said to me by members of my family (both sides) still embarrass me, though no one but me heard some of them. My mother, who grew up in rural Arkansas, remembers Jim Crow. In fact, he was a neighbor, and a deacon at her brother's church. One thing I knew from a very young age is that people are afraid of what they are not exposed to. They make up stories so that they can justify their fears. I've heard this from other points of view-Jewish vs. Christian, Christian vs. Muslim, America vs. USSR. Fear is what keeps us ignorant of each other, and ignorance keeps us afraid and apart. I've told the story before of a woman I used to know who worked at a convenience store that was robbed by a black man. She said to me later, "Now, every time a black man walks in the store, I get scared." I guess her family must have told her, as mine did, that all blacks look alike. When I hear comments like that, I think in terms of statistics-how many black men are there in this country? How many of them robbed you? How many would NEVER rob anyone? Which number is larger? I don't just apply this to race questions-I have the same gut reaction when someone tells me at the age of twenty-five that they are terrified of all dogs because a dog bit them as a child. I have a tough time with that one, being the dog lover that I am, because I know that many times a little education of children would keep them safe from dog bites. But I go through that equation in my head, how many dogs in the world? How many bit you? Etc.

I remember in 2007, when President Obama was campaigning, and people commented on his cool, calm demeanor. I don't remember now who explained it, but someone said that he very consciously disciplined himself because he is aware that many white people are still afraid of black people, and often see black men with a bit of trepidation, because black men are so often angry and hostile. This is precisely how he has conducted his presidency. He is the president who has tried harder than I have ever seen to get a contentious congress to come together to solve problems. He tries to ameliorate conflicts between black professors and white police officers with "beer summits." He plays golf with his staunchest opponents from the opposing party. He is trying to bridge the race gap in this country by showing that we are not that different from each other after all. He has a wonderful family-the statistical American family; lovely, educated wife, two precious daughters, a big black and white dog. He is the perfect person to be the first black president of the United States. He is the one who will make white people less afraid to vote for a black man from now on because he is showing that not all black men are angry and hostile, and they have good American family values. He is a faithful husband who adores his wife. Now that we have seen that it can happen, it will not be a big deal next time a black person runs for president. Of course, there is a subset of white Americans, to some of whom I am related, I'm afraid, who will never accept a black person in any role of leadership in this country. They will have to die off-they will never be changed. Hopefully their children have been exposed enough to the truth and will reject their parents lies about the differences between the races.

The problem, however, is that "No Drama Obama" became president at a time of great peril. The great recession actually began in 2007. One of the two wars we are currently fighting started in 2001, the other in 2003. We are going on our tenth year at war, and we are bombing Libya, Pakistan and Yemen (secretly.) The world economy began to sink in 2008, and has not been able to claw itself back into solvency yet. It is getting worse-especially for working people, who seem to be an easy target for people with lots of money who want to limit worker's rights. Not that it matters; many of those "job creators" are only creating jobs in other countries. There are divisions between the American people that keep us from even having civil conversations with each other. Forget civil-we don't even seem to have honest conversations with each other.

In the budget debate, and the health care debate, and in the midst of every piece of legislation that has been proposed by the Obama administration, there have been loud criticisms that the president has not been "leading," he has not strong-armed the congress to get things done that the American people both need and want. And it is true-that is not the type of leader he is. There is not a single person in the United States who ever knew that Barack Obama existed before he was elected president who should be surprised by this. He is the "Conciliator in Chief," the "Arbitrator in Chief." He does not strong arm people, he tries to get everyone to "just get along." This is not a bad thing. We do need to get along-we have big problems to solve. Problems that are leading the United States to decline. If we don't learn from history, the next step will be trying to make deals with barbarian armies, who then decide they don't want to share the US, they want to own us. I'm referring to the fall of Rome-not accusing any other countries today of being barbarian-I hope no one misinterprets me. But we also need a leader who is rational, which President Obama is, but can do a bit of Lyndon Johnson-style strong arming to get smart things done to turn around our economic situation, and to get us out of all our bellicose actions overseas. He needs to have a spine of steel to stand up to the anti-environment positions of  his opponents, and to support the working people of America.

Although I did not vote for Obama in the primary in 2008, I did vote for him as president, and I will again. Quite frankly, I think he is absolute perfect choice to be the first black president of the United States. He is not someone that white people should ever logically fear, no matter what they might have been told by their racist relatives. But I will cast my vote with trepidation, because in order to get some things done to fight Wall Street and the Koch brothers, and get this country back to work, we need a president that his opponents fear.

Recommended reading: The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Robert Caro