Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Unrequited love? Say it ain't so!

Dear Mr. President,

I fell in love with you almost two years ago. I'd heard about you, of course, although I missed your speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention. I had heard how brilliant it was, how inspired and enthusiastic, and of course heard all the predictions that you would be a Presidential contender "some day." But you didn't really enter my conscious space until 2008, when I began to listen and read, when I began to look for someone who could lead this great nation out of the mess George W. Bush and his friends had created.

I looked at John Edwards.

I looked at Hillary Clinton.

I looked at Barack Obama - and I liked what I saw and what I heard. I began to fall in love. Oh, I'm almost old enough to be your mother, so it wasn't a romantic love; but it was love nonetheless. You had a fire in your belly. You had people around you who admired you, trusted you, spoke well of you. You had a youthfulness and energy that appealed to me and lots of others like me. I came out of my self-imposed exile from all things political to make phone calls, knock on doors, and donate a few dollars on your behalf. I had conversations about you and your campaign, and told many people - and it was true - that I hadn't felt this inspired by a candidate since John Kennedy ran in 1960.

Your history as a community organizer appealed to me. I used to work extensively with volunteers and know the special kind of work that is and how difficult it can be. I liked it that you spoke of bringing people together across political lines. I, too, am a conciliator and prefer it to bluster, bribery, threats, or force. And, yes, as a woman who traces her ancestry through generations of white Southerners, I was thrilled that you are African-American. So it's pretty easy to see why I fell in love.

Today, I confess, I'm feeling some strain in our relationship.

As I've watched the past few months (and defended you over and over, even while writing several emails to ask you why you don't seem to care anymore), you've put on your cloak of Harvard-professordom and been very lawyerly and professional-appearing when you've spoken to the American people. You've ignored the lies, the insults, the outright flaming from the Republicans. Now, I don't expect you to be someone other than who you are, but, dammit, Mr. President, I know the fire is there and you're banking it instead of allowing it to burn and purify!

I remember one of your televised rallies during the campaign. You and the folks attending the rally started a little back-and-forth, saying "Yes, we can!" You said it, they said it, you said it again, they said it again... you were getting into a rhythm, I was getting ready to channel my long-dead granny and shout "Amen!" Then you appeared to realize what you were doing - concerned that it would seem too "ethnic," maybe - and you cut it off. But for a minute there, I saw the fire.

Mr. President, don't you ever want to tell Dick Cheney or Rush Limbaugh to just shut the fuck up? I mean, really, how much of their crap can you take without letting them have it with both barrels? Tell them to get their fat asses out of the way and let the Democrats do the work We, the People elected you to do.

I can even imagine that sometimes - not often, I know - but sometimes your mother-in-law goes out in the evening and Michelle decides to turn in early and says something like, "Barry, keep an ear out for the girls. Make sure they get their baths and get to bed on time." And there you are, maybe reading up on tomorrow's news and all of a sudden you hear, "Give me that! It's mine!" "Make me!" Now I know you're a good daddy, but sometimes don't you just want to go in their room and lay it on the line? Say, "Cut it out, you two. You've been raised better than this, and I'm tired of the fighting." (I know they fight because I have a  sister, so don't pretend they don't.) And I know you're human and you get tired of the same battles between the girls, and having to say the same thing over and over. I know that, just as I know that sometimes you have to take a tough stance with them for their own good. You can't just let them get away with stuff because you're a nice guy and don't want to upset them. You have a responsibility to them, to raise them to take their places as responsible people.So sometimes, even though you're a nice, understanding kind of guy - one who really doesn't like confrontation - you have to do the things you don't really like to do. In the name of the greater good.

Well, Mr. President, We the People need to see that side of you, and we need it pretty darn fast. We believed your dual messages of Hope and Change, we even believed you wanted us to prod you when you got off course. But somehow our prodding isn't getting through. Have the people around you managed to isolate you from what we're saying? Or - and I hope this isn't it - were you just leading us on? Were we just a hot date for you, and now that you have what you wanted you're ignoring our messages and refusing our phone calls? Because, honestly, Mr. President, it kinda seems that way right now, and we're not going to be strung along until you need us again. Yesterday's loss in Massachusetts - Ted Kennedy's seat, for Pete's sake! - well, that was our daddy collaring you and asking what your intentions are, exactly. Should we go ahead with the plans for 2012 or start looking now for someone who really cares and won't lead us down that Primrose Path?

Until I see what direction this relationship is going to take, I need to take a little time to decide if it's worth pursuing. Let me know real soon, okay?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

How can these people look in the mirror?

A 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit Haiti yesterday. I've only been in one earthquake and it was tiny. Really tiny. The papers on my bulletin board swung back and forth for about 12 seconds - quite possibly the longest 12 seconds of my life. Well, not really, because I didn't realize what was going on for about 5 seconds. But it was scary. The planet is supposed to be stable, after all; that's why we refer to it as terra firma, solid ground. We know, of course, that it's not as solid as was once thought, but we depend on it for the foundations of our homes and businesses, and the roots of our plants. When it moves under our feet, it's scary and disconcerting.

The other major natural catastrophe I've experienced was Hurricane Andrew in Miami in 1992. That was far more devastating than my tiny earthquake. We lost most of our roof and a goodly portion of the interior of our home, along with many thousands of dollars of earthly possessions. Some people lost more than that. It, too, was disconcerting to see what had been considered stable - houses, trees, fences, a US Air Force base - reduced to rubble. Disconcerting is really too mild a word; it was life-changing. It causes a re-evaluation of what's important. That often comes later, though, after the shock of seeing the incredible damage that nature can inflict, and after exhausting and terrifying hours trying to hold your child and yourself in safety, and after more exhausting hours of clearing lumber and timber and shingles and carpet and drywall from your yard and your home. Then you give thanks for your life and the lives of those who love.

Neither of these personal experiences, as profound as they were to me at the time, can hold a candle to what we are hearing about Haiti. Huge buildings - the Presidential Palace, at least one hospital, and God only knows what else - are gone. As are perhaps tens- or hundreds-of-thousands lives. There's no way to prepare for an earthquake, since there's no warning, and precious little you could do about it even if you knew it was going to happen. And Haiti is said to be the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. So here are people who already have nothing and now they have less. They are frightened with horrible aftershocks, many of them earthquake caliber themselves. They are injured, dying, grieving, holding the bodies of those they love, trying to mitigate serious injury in the midst of serious uncertainty and the ever-present fear. They are without power, without running water, without sewers. They will run the risk of infection, of dying from injuries that shouldn't be fatal, and of those who would take advantage of their tragedy.

From across this nation, help is arriving: Doctors Without Borders, Habitat for Humanity, Oxfam, The American Red Cross, and my own Episcopal Church through the Episcopal Relief and Development Fund, are just a few among the many who are sending money, people, supplies, and whatever else is needed in response to this devastation. The goodness of people around the world is being tapped in response to human need and in a spirit of our common humanity.

Into this outpouring of generosity and concern step two men who call themselves "patriots" and/or "Christian."

The first, Pat Robertson, is a man who has spent the past 40 years or so predicting the end of the world and pronouncing that "God did it because..." in the event of both natural and man-made disasters. He linked Hurricane Katrina and the 9/11 attacks to the United States' "ungodliness," blaming abortion rights and homosexuals along the way. Now he proclaims that God is punishing Haiti for entering into a "pact with the Devil" sometime in the 19th Century. Well, I'm sorry, Pat, but the God I know doesn't work that way. If he did, why do you suppose he hasn't just wiped North Korea, China, and a host of other countries engaged in human suffering right off the planet? Is your God only interested in the US? Oh, perhaps he just realized this whole "pact with the devil" thing; I guess that explains it. God's been so busy punishing the USA that Haiti somehow fell through the cracks until now. Or maybe Robertson's just a sick man who takes delight in the suffering of others if it helps to advance his agenda and increase his donations. Unfortunately, there are too many in this nation who actually believe him and will echo his pronouncements.

Next into the fray steps Rush Limbaugh, the advance man for the Republican Party, telling his listeners that "...we've already donated to Haiti. It's called the US Income Tax." Of course, you can't really expect anything else from a man who has no kindness in his heart for the citizens of his own country. A man whose most common response to those who live in poverty, are losing their homes, can't afford health insurance is "get a job." Rush has his, so the rest of the world can just kiss his ass. And a lot of people do. Far too many of them are in the very boat that he's shooting at; but somehow just listening to Rush makes them feel that they, too, can someday have a big house in Florida and take winter vacations in Hawaii. In the meantime, they will subscribe to his narrow-minded and bigoted view of the world.

And, so, here we are: the wealthiest nation in the world. Even our very poor have more than most of those who live in Haiti. We have no real concept of the abject poverty that already exists there, nor can we fully understand what they are now experiencing. Even those in this nation who have experienced major earthquakes could rely on the largesse of our government, on the outpouring of aid from our citizens. Perhaps only those who were manhandled in the aftermath of Katrina could have a glimmer of understanding, but even they were shored up by the outrage of their fellow citizens. Haitians have nothing. And now they have even less.

We have Pat Robertson and Rush Limbaugh.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

When both feet are in your mouth - and you don't notice it

It's been a eventful few weeks in politics.

First, we had the news that Rush Limbaugh was rushed to the hospital while on Christmas holiday in Hawaii with chest pains. As one radio talk show host put it, he apparently wasn't yet "shovel ready," so he made several pronouncements on health care as soon as he got to a microphone.

After directing anyone who has chest pain, "Don't mess with it. Any time you have heart pain or chest pain and you have no idea what it is, and it's something you've never experienced before, turn it over to professionals right off the bat. Don't tough it out. Don't try to make it go away on your own, because it's not worth the risk." Of course, Mr. Limbaugh has excellent health insurance and doesn't have to worry about unpaid hospital bills, or if he'll be able to feed his kids if he misses a few days from work, but, hey, Rush says, just do it! After all, if you don't have health insurance, it's probably your fault anyway.

Next, he was lavish with his praise for the care he received: "Again, the treatment I received here was the best that the world has to offer. Based on what happened to me here, I don't think there's one thing wrong with the American health care system. It's working just fine, just dandy. And I got nothing special. I got no special treatment other than what anybody else that would have called 911 would have gotten had they been brought in with the same kinds of symptoms. The care was extensive, it was personal, and it was complete, and it was very confidence-inspiring. And I never once -- once I got here -- had any fears, because of the manner in which I was treated." He failed to acknowledge the embarassing fact that Hawaii's health care is excruciatingly similar to the "socialized" system he's been excoriating the Democrats for trying to bring about for the entire nation. As noted by Paul Abrams on the Huffington Post (and many others), Hawaii has among the lowest costs for health care in the nation, even though almost every other consumer item costs more. Why? Because it's socialized. And it doesn't affect the quality of care - at least according to Rush's experience.

Why, then, does he rail so loudly and annoyingly against the same high-quality, low-cost care for those who don't have his monetary and societal privilege? Why does he encourage people by lying about what a universal system of care for the nation would mean to all of us - not just the fortunate few? And - this is the important piece - why in hell do so many people believe him?

Of course, Rush's brush with socialized medicine wasn't the only big news over the holidays. We also had the Christmas Day "underpants bomber" who not only failed to blow up a plane (thanks to the passengers), but also failed to become a martyr - although he may well have consigned himself to a particular kind of hell in the afterlife: 72 virgins and he won't have the stuff to enjoy them with.

It didn't take long for Dick Cheney and other Republicans to criticize Pres. Obama for not rushing immediately to the microphones to make a statement. Yes, he waited three days; that's still three days less than it took Pres. Bush to comment on the shoe bomber, but since Rudy Giuliani thinks the shoe bomber and 9/11happened before Bush became President, they apparently don't count.

Nor does Liz Cheney seem to ascribe any terrorism attacks to the Bush Administration. Instead, channeling her father, she chastises Pres. Obama for not going on television sooner to address the attempted Christmas Day bombing attempt. I think both former Vice Pres. Cheney and his daughter are causing more harm to our national security by their continual attempts to characterize Obama as soft on terror. As the junior Senator from Minnesota stated recently, “We are entitled to our own opinions; we are not entitled to our own facts."

Although Sen. Franken was referring to the health care bill currently before Congress, his words certainly ring true in the case of the recent mischaracterizations regarding Obama's policies on terrorism.

The truly unfortunate aspect of all these incidents, however, is that so many on the far Right are accepting the lies and distortions by Limbaugh, Cheney, and Cheney, et al, as the unvarnished truth. In all my years following political arguments, I've never seen so many who are so willing to ignore the truth just to further their own agendas.

This doesn't bode well for the future of our nation, as we move more and more toward grandstanding and historical revision by people who hold the populace in such low regard.