The following are two articles about our presidential candidates, printed in the University of Vermont’s “alternative” (meaning, around here, not taken as seriously) newspaper. Although far from wonderful, they’re interesting (whether you agree or disagree). The first is also interesting from an English (or Language) standpoint given the late reference to word connotation, especially in context to background or decent.
The Neo-Conservative Assault on the American Psyche
I do not believe John McCain is a racist. He is an arrogant, out-of-touch, psychologically-addled half wit, but he’s no racist. Furthermore, despite his negative and, frankly, stupid campaigning, he ought to be commended for avoiding the backward, race-based attacks that many of his supporters employ against Senator Obama.
That said, at a McCain-Palin “Town Hall Meeting” last week, an old woman with frazzled white hair stood up to ask a question. “I can’t…I can’t trust Obama,” she declared. Her voice rang with sheer terror. The old woman continued, strangely, “He’s…I’ve read about him…he—he’s an Arab.” Woah, man. While failing to mention that Arab ancestry in no way implies inferior moral composition, John McCain assured the woman that she was mistaken, and called Obama a “decent family-man.” The old woman looked bewildered and sat down, just as ignorant as when she stood up.
I know very little about human psychology, but even I can tell that the fruits of a decade of fear and propaganda exposed themselves in that exchange. From the day Barack Obama first announced his candidacy for President all the way up to today, there’s been a silent scream of panic in the back of the collective American psyche. He’s black. The same color as Martin Luther King, Booker T. Washington, and Cornell West yes, but also the same color as 50 Cent and both DC snipers.
It is my firm belief that those who claim to not see race are either blind or liars. We all see race, and it speaks certain things to us.
Let us take our University as a case study. At UVM a striking percentage of us are some variety of Caucasian. Most of us are white and wealthy, we were almost all raised in households and societies where tolerance was labeled a virtue, and hate crimes on the University are next to unheard of.
To the discriminating eye (no pun intended) it becomes obvious that, in addition to genuine goodwill and respect for one another, a great deal of the hyper-multiculturalism promoted on the campus is the product of thinly veiled white guilt. What’s unfortunate, I fear, is that this is a controversial statement, solely because it’s not sugarcoated in euphemisms. The enigmatic thing about the average Caucasian-American’s view of African-Americans or other minorities is that, in our generation at least, it is a conflict of emotions. We’ve been told explicitly not to be racist and to be open minded, but implicitly, by the media and in many cases, our elders, we’ve been told to be skeptical, to keep our distance.
Unfortunately, this did not escape the neocon activists who run McCain’s hate campaign. Soon after Obama began his campaign, they realized that blackness would not be enough to keep Obama out of office. Conservatives began to understand that a combination of white guilt and a growing open-mindedness in the younger generation could very well turn white votes to Obama.
These unnamed propaganda experts know that open racism towards black people is no longer socially acceptable. It is however very acceptable, and sometimes encouraged, to hate Arabs. To many Americans, Arab means one thing—terrorist. So if blackness ain’t the silver bullet, being a terrorist will be. Senator Barack Obama, the first black editor of the Harvard Law Review, turned into Barack Hussein Obama, the Jihadist leftist who “pals around with terrorists.”
Let it be noted that the “terrorist” whom Sarah Palin accused Obama of “pal-ing around with” is William Ayers, an anti-Vietnam activist from Chicago. But what the conservatives understand is that none of these facts matter to the American people. Where the terms “black” and “delinquent” used to be interchangeable, today the terms “Arab,” “Muslim,” and “terrorist” may as well be one in the same for a frighteningly huge percentage of people. In Vermont, one of the whitest states in the Union and apparently the self-proclaimed diversity capital of the World, it’s easy to lose sight of what the reality is in many Caucasian-American psyches. It remains in many people’s minds that Barack Obama = Barack Hussein Obama = Arab = Terrorist = Danger = Fear.
Oh, Bama! How You’ve Changed
When Barack Obama is elected president, the heavens will open up and a choir of angels will descend from the sky in a beam of divine light, lifting President Obama onto his Chariot of Change upon which he will storm across the nation, eradicating partisan gridlock, fixing our broken economy and ensuring that God continues to bless America from Sea to Shining Sea, happily ever after.
Or maybe not. Barack Obama had a dream when he announced his candidacy for president over twenty months ago. His dream was a new America – a United States that had moved beyond the old trappings of prejudice and partisanship. It was vague and fuzzy around the edges, but warm and comforting all the same. The perfect antidote to eight sickening years of Bush policies and politics. He shared that dream with whomever would listen, and he called it Change.
We listened. College students were among the first to identify with Change, and we became Obama’s earliest and most enthusiastic supporters. The vast majority of us have loyally remained behind him, hanging his signs in our dorm windows, adorning our cars with his bumper stickers, and mobbing his rallies.
Somewhere along the way, our overwhelming enthusiasm became an impediment. The raucous campus rallies that had been the first indicators of his exceptional potential became the poster image of Barack Obama’s celebrity – and inexperienced darling of a youthful mob.
So nowadays, we’re more likely to see Senator Obama with an unbuttoned shirt and rolled-up sleeves talking to “real” Americans in heartland small towns than basking in thunderous applause at stadium-size rallies. We don’t hear too much of the old Change stuff that got us hooked. The old fiery “America is ready for a new day” and “Change happens from the bottom up” lines have been replaced by cool and subdued discussions of detailed policy. The unconditional pledge to get out of Iraq in sixteen months is now laden with cautious qualifiers and conditions. He now speaks openly about support for tax cuts, opposition to gay marriage, and devotion to God (Jesus Christ, that is).
Granted, this message-refining happens in every presidential campaign, especially among Democratic candidates. The United States is a right-leaning nation, so Democrats tend to move closer to the center once they win the primaries in order to accommodate for the electorate at large. Also, this month’s economic nosedive has forced both candidates to re-evaluate their priorities.
But hopefully Senator Obama will remember in the next two weeks before Election Day that his college base is not fired up by cautious policy and calculated remarks. We miss hearing about Iraq, and are concerned that the pullout will take a back seat in an Obama administration. There are still plenty of True Believers who believe that President Obama will single-handedly turn America into the land of rainbows and ponies. These unconditional supporters have already picked out what they’re going to wear to the voting booth. But for the rest of us, Obama may be headed for yawn territory – enough for our notoriously flaky demographic to make better plans on Election Day.
In the almost two years since Obama opened his campaign, we’ve learned a lot about the man. But we’ve also learned that this whole Change thing isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. Obama has demonstrated that while he is indeed an inspirational character, he is also a politician who is willing to take whatever steps necessary to win an election. We now know that Change means compromise After an administration that didn’t know the meaning of compromise, that may not be such a bad thing. And while he is certainly a better pick than Grandpa McCain, left-leaning college students shouldn’t expect President Obama to take cues from the young Senator who coined “Change We Need.”