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Saturday, September 25, 2010

Angry, not stupid

Life "below the canal" in the First State of Delaware is very different, I'm told. It's even more different in the lower, slower part of Delaware - further away from the canal and closer to the ocean and bay.

One way you can tell is by looking at the political advertisements along the road. For example, there are not a lot of campaign ads for Christine O'Donnell around Wilmington and Newark, which is New Castle County. It starts to change around Dover, as as you go through Kent County. In Sussex County, the largest county in the state -  which is where I live - you practically trip over signs for O'Donnell.

There are probably lots of reasons for that which are not necessarily indicators of support so much as they indicate a market base potential. Or, at least one that is anticipated by the O'Donnell Campaign.

Judging by the conversations I'm having with my neighbors and overhearing in the supermarkets, coffee shops, gas stations and convenience stores, the O'Donnell folks are in for a huge surprise on November 2.

I think we're all miscalculating the power of the internet to communicate information better than FOX, CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS or the BBC - and the intelligence of people to seek out their own education on the political candidates.

Just the other day, one of the folks at the supermarket was talking about a website he had found, "Think Progress". Said they had gathered up all the things Ms. O'Donnell had said over the years and posted them, citing the original source of the comment.

"Well," he said, "some of the things I agree with. You know, I think we should hold up a standard for sex inside of marriage. Don't mean everybody's gonna uphold that standard - God knows, I didn't (and wipe that smile off your face Vernon, cuz you know the same is true about you) - but you can't argue that it's a good standard."

Everyone giggled at his joke, but agreed with his premise.

"But," he continued, "this little lady carries things to an extreme. She says that allowing kids to have condoms is like legalizing drunk driving. And, that distributing condoms to folks in Africa is only going to spread AIDS."

He cleared his throat and said, "Now, you could argue that kids ought not have condoms because of some study or another about the harmful effects of having sex too soon. And, you could argue that condoms are not a 100% guarantee against preventing AIDS or the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS - or, for that matter, pregnancy. We got facts and figures that prove that."

"This woman doesn't seem to care about facts. Seems to me she just wants to stir up the people and grab a headline or two. Well, she's doing that, but she ain't got my vote. We got to send HER a message that we are angry, but we're not stupid."

I went over to Think Progress and found the page he was referencing. It's called "The Old Adventures of New Christine". I understood exactly what he meant.

A former parishioner sent me an essay written by Peggy Noonan who writes for the Washington Post. She called it "The Enraged vs. The Exhausted" which was her political rift on a comment made by an African American woman to the President during a CNN "Town Hall" meeting last Monday.

The woman, named Velma Hart, "lobbed a grenade" when she said,
"I'm a mother. I'm a wife. I'm an American veteran, and I'm one of your middle-class Americans. And quite frankly I'm exhausted. I'm exhausted of defending you, defending your administration, defending the mantle of change that I voted for, and deeply disappointed with where we are." She said, "The financial recession has taken an enormous toll on my family." She said, "My husband and I have joked for years that we thought we were well beyond the hot-dogs-and-beans era of our lives. But, quite frankly, it is starting to knock on our door and ring true that that might be where we are headed."
Ms. Noonan, like a shark who smells blood on the water, moves in for the kill:
"What a testimony. And this is the president's base. He got that look public figures adopt when they know they just took one right in the chops on national TV and cannot show their dismay. He could have responded with an engagement and conviction equal to the moment. But this was our president—calm, detached, even-keeled to the point of insensate. He offered a recital of his administration's achievements: tuition assistance, health care. It seemed so off point. Like his first two years.

But it was the word Mrs. Hart used that captured everything: "exhausted." From what I see, that's how a lot of Democrats feel. They've turned silent, too, like people who witnessed a car crash and can't talk anymore about the reasons for the accident or how many were injured.

This election is more and more shaping up into a contest between the Exhausted and the Enraged.
The other fascinating part of her essay is her take on the emerging role of (Republican) women in our political life in general and this political campaign in particular. She quotes Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee who reports that at tea party events in the past 18 months, she started to notice "60% of the crowd is women."

Ms. Noonan continues:
The media called 1994 "the year of the angry white male." That was the year of the Republican wave that yielded a GOP House for the first time in 40 years. "I look at this year as the Rage of the Bill-Paying Moms," Ms. Blackburn says. "They are saying 'How dare you, in your arrogance, cap the opportunities my child will have? You'll burden them with so much debt they won't be able to buy a house—all because you can't balance the budget.'"
And, with that, Ms. Blackburn has effectively moved us from 'anger' to 'rage', which I think comes closer to the truth. Images of an angry Momma bear guarding her cubs at the entrance to the cave begin to emerge for me. 

This is primal stuff, folks, emerging from the reptilian brain found at the base of the skull, which emerges from the spinal column. The basic ruling emotions of love, hate, fear, lust, and contentment emanate from this first stage of the brain. Over millions of years of evolution, layers of more sophisticated reasoning have been added upon this foundation. It's our intellectual capacity for complex rational thought which has made us theoretically smarter than the rest of the animal kingdom.

Allow me, please, to put emphasis on the "theoretically" part of the "smarter".

I'm betting Ms. Blackburn does not believe in evolution. Like Ms. O'Donnell, she probably believes that,
". . .too many people are blindly accepting evolution as fact. But when you get down to the hard evidence, it’s merely a theory. … Well, creationism, in essence, is believing that the world began as the Bible in Genesis says, that God created the Earth in six days, six 24-hour periods. And there is just as much, if not more, evidence supporting that.” [New York Magazine, 9/15/10].
That's not exactly reptilian brain stuff, but it's down there, right next to it, fueling the rage and blocking the more sophisticated ability for complex reasoning.

I like Peggy Noonan. She's a good writer. I disagree with about 97% of what flows out of her laptop, but I can't deny that she's a very good writer.  Sometimes, even she disagrees with herself - which she has done about her initial writing about Sarah Palin - which is another reason I like her. We may disagree, by she has integrity.

While I'm sure there are some elements of her thesis that are correct, I think she confuses the exhaustion we all feel about the grinding realities of the recession with the weariness many of us are experiencing of  the relentless message of the doomsday, apocalyptic, fear-based, anxiety-driven nay-sayers of the "Just Say No" Republican political base.

It's rather like watching weary parents in a grocery store stand by as their two year old have a tantrum in the aisle because they can't get what they want. 

I think Ms. Noonan and her conservative Republican friends seriously - perhaps, hopefully - underestimate the energy that is aroused in people across the board when folk feel their intelligence is being insulted.

Many people were "exhausted" by 30 years of Reganomics which came to the ludicrous, painful conclusion in the Bush Administration. These were the same people who were "energized" by the Obama Campaign and its slogan, "Yes We Can" and voted him into office.

Many of those people saw Obama as a messiah of sorts - come to swoop down and magically cure all the ills and problems this country was facing - two immoral wars, an economic system that was starting to implode itself after a pig-fest of greed and corruption, an educational system that excelled in mediocrity, a health care system that was dis-eased. I could go on and on and on.

That was wrong, too, of course.  Childish hope, like childish rage, can lead to childish expectations and behaviors.  Didn't Obama say, "We are the ones we've been waiting for"?

Not "me".  "We".

There are people who are so blinded by their anger and rage, they allow the radical, fundamentalist Christian sects in this country to promote the movement to "take back our country" and make it, once again, dominated by white, straight affluent men who are blinded by their own ambitions of power.

We have our own Christian Taliban with our very own Mullahs, Muezzin, Sahibs, Ayatollahs and Muftis. Just turn to Fox News to catch a few of those who inspire poor, benighted people like the pastor in Florida who inspired others to burn the sacred texts of another religion as an expression of being a "real" American.

We have misguided, angry modern-day "Nimrods" like Jim DeMint of South Carolina - a member of "The Family" on C-Street in DC - who want to avenge their grandfathers by building modern-day Towers of Babel as a way to create monuments to their own power and not God's.

There are other people whose anger has opened their eyes wide to these realities. We're weary of it all, but, Ms. Noonan's assertions notwithstanding, we are not exhausted.

We may be angry, but we're not stupid.  And, we're registered voters.

When given the options put up by "King Markers" like Jim DeMint and Sarah Palin, we'll show up at the polls and vote - just like we did when the options were McCain and Palin.

If we don't, we'll get what we deserve: a government led by anger and rage, which never insures "liberty and justice for all." It will be, instead, a government of "just us" - white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants - whose idea of liberty is all bound up with images of an angry, punitive, judging God.

Anger and extremism have their role and function in society. Anger can be a force for energy, which is needed to break the stronghold of apathy that's had its grip on this country for so long.   Anger can serve to be a "shofar" - blowing the trumpet to call the community to be awake and aware.

Circle Tuesday, November 2nd on your calendar.  Do it right now. You have nothing more important on your calendar to do that day than to vote. Trust me on this.

Between now and then, get angry enough to open your eyes and educate yourself about the issues and the candidates.

Because, as my friend in the grocery store says, "We're angry, but we're not stupid."


Shannon said...

Does O'Donnell LOOK like Palin? Or is that just my paranoia showing?

susankay said...

From your mouth to God's ears.

In my incredibly poor county in Colorado, folks vote Republican because they have been persuaded that the "evils" of gay rights and womens right to choose WAY outweigh policies that continue their economic disenfranchisement