Friday, November 07, 2008

Somerby is Right

In the Krugman column I cited in the immediately previous post, he began it by disparaging anyone who didn't get all choked up over seeingObama win, "If the election of our first African-American president didn’t stir you, if it didn’t leave you teary-eyed and proud of your country, there’s something wrong with you."

That pissed me off for reasons I couldn't fully explain, until I read the Incomparable One, Bob Somerby, and he captured my thoughts (my emphasis):

Sign us up for “something wrong,” we said after reading Krugman

If those are the rules of the current game, sign us up for “something wrong with you.”

Were we stirred Tuesday night? We’re not quite sure. Teary-eyed? No, although moist at times. And we very much admired Obama when he took the hand of Biden’s mother and led her to the front of the stage. It made us think of Bill Clinton, on Inaugural Day, when he stopped to talk to a man who may have been homeless—and addressed him as “sir.” In each case, we were pleased to have a president who had such excellent judgment. ...

Should we have been “proud of our country” because of “the election of our first African-American president?” Many African-American citizens have reacted to this week’s events with deep emotion; for just one (second-hand) example, read the letter from Donald Graul in this morning’s Post. This week,we’ve often recalled the professor who wrote, earlier this year, about her elderly parents in Mississippi; the professor said she was thrilled that her parents had lived long enough to see Obama’s campaign. For ourselves, if that professor pays travel and lodging, we’ll go down to Mississippi ourselves and carry her parents around on a chair. But when it comes to this part of the question, our own thumb largely comes down on a different part of the scale.

First, we’re not surprised that the country elected Obama, who was in most ways (not necessarily all) the clearly superior candidate. And we don’t plan to pretend we’re surprised, as many big pundits have done (not Krugman). Duh. We recall the way pundits stood in line in 1995, urging Colin Powell to run. And we recall the November 1996 exit polls: Had Powell been the GOP candidate, voters said they would have elected him—said so by a wide margin. (Powell 48, Clinton 36, Perot 8. Just click here.) To heighten the drama, pundits pretend that Tuesday’s election was something no one ever imagined. When they do so, some are lying again, as they do with such endless aplomb.

So no, we actually weren’t surprised to see Obama elected. Nor are we “proud” when voters do sensible things; as in the days when we taught fifth-graders, we expect sensible conduct. Beyond that, our thumb comes down on the part of the scale which says that Barack Obama should get to be Barack Obama, without having the mountain of race hoisted up on his back. It has been a very long time since any white person had to bear the burden of his ethnicity, which was never as big a mountain as race; we’re tired of seeing white folk insist on making Obama be the black guy. Rather than get all excited and proud about “our first African-American president,” we’d like to see people put their focus on having our first recent successful president.

By the way: Many children will not be able picture themselves as president of the United States, though that’s a separate question.

Should we be “proud of our country” for electing Obama? In most ways, he was the clearly superior candidate; why exactly should we be “proud” when voters make such a choice? Frankly, we think our standards have been dumbed way down when we clap ourselves on the back for such conduct.

Beyond that, we think we might to revisit the context in which this decision occurred.

Should we be proud of Tuesday’s outcome? ... How could anyone be “proud” of a country whose structures have conspired, for such a long time, to support these grisly elites in such gruesome, gong-show behavior? Guess what? Your political culture is a screaming disgrace. But so what? Even your smartest, most superlative columnist is saying that you should be proud of the country whose elites refuse to stop behaving that way. Whose elites agree not to tattle. ...

Let’s be clear: Our lack of pride had nothing to do with the conduct of American voters. To our ear, that caller’s decency spoke for itself—and she didn’t even vote the way we did! But why on earth would any sane person be proud of a country of Riches and Dowds—of Milbanks, Joe Kleins, Beinarts and Chaits? People like Talk of the Nation’s caller live inside a culture of clowns—and very few career players are willing to tell them. We’ll praise her decency to the skies. But “proud of our country?” Please.

What kind of country do you live in? Last night, Chris Matthews clowned for the full hour about Sarah Palin, pretending that anonymous claims about her dumbness are somehow plainly accurate. He has no idea if these claims are true—but he’s pimping the world your way now. You see, he wants to run for the Senate—as a Dem. So last night, he kept pimping your novels.

Your country? A hall of mirrors, staffed by clowns. Proud of it? Sorry—we’re not. We’ll proudly sign our name on this list: “Something wrong with us.”


I am pleased to see that the Republicans are out of power. I am pleased to see someone who isn't white elected as president. Then again, as Somerby points out, the nation happily would have elected Colin Powell as president 12 years ago. I think this election gave a lot of people reason to pat themselves on the back for something that does not deserve commendation. I do not think this says something good about "us".

Obama won because he was the media darling (and, BTD, you were right, I was wrong, on the ultimate importance of that condition), not because of his positions, his conduct, or his capabilities. He won on a tide of misogyny, homophobia and crude intimidation. He is already trying to weasel his way out of the high expectations he encouraged people to have of his ability to make things change.

I am not proud of the way in which people I previously respected in the blogosphere willingly turned themselves into caricatures of the media elite they claimed to oppose and/or who descended to the levels of the violence and paranoia of the rightwing fever swamps. This applies to those who supported Obama and those who opposed him, the poles coming to meet each other at the extremes. I am not proud of an election where someone as intelligent and humane as Jeralyn Merrit transforms herself into a facsimile of a hyena, rabidly peddling misogyny, ageism and paranoia, things she did not have to do to make a case for her candidate, or even to soundly criticize the opposition.

I agree with the Incomparable One that our political culture is screaming disgrace and gladly stand in solidarity with him.



Anonymous said...

A "facsimile of a hyena?" I largely agree with your post, and I agree that after the primaries and the convention JM became quite partisan, but I found that quoted phrase to lack the sort of humane balance I thought you were celebrating. Although I disagreed with it, I respected your choice not to endorse or sanction the results of a flawed and perhaps corrupt nomination process. Others (like JM and Taylor Marsh) felt that way too about the process but went another way because they couldn't stomach the wingnuts having another four years. Is it that choice that you can't respect, or the way they went about it? Too partisan? I'm not taking shots, just trying to understand, because that quoted phrase seemed to demonize or dehumanize someone you disagree with. That seemed very unusual for someone as enlightened and liberal as you are, and it kinda freaked me out as a result. Just saying.

hesperia said...

Even in Canada, I am constantly being urged to act as though people decided NOT to crucify the Christ, but elect him President instead. I was happy to see so many people happy. I wasn't so happy for all the reasons you weren't and aren't. And the extreme and ongoing celebrations and backpatting makes me VERY nervous. Once again, it seems difficult to make these points without being suspected a racist. Or at least a party pooper. What I want to know is, what ISN'T racist about NOT holding an "African American" President-Elect to the same standards we would hold ANY candidate?

Mister Pleasant said...

I have been struggling to understand my own emotional election aftermath, which left me angry on many fronts, yet elated to know that the Bush years are almost behind us. Bob Somerby's column and your follow up comments really helped me understand why I wince when coworkers fawn over Obama's win, or my local media carries a headline with glowing praise about "America's vote for historic change", or the national media refers to Obama's campaign as "the best ever".

The sexist, lying, hateful Spring primary will stick in my craw for many years to come. Obama's implicit permission to oppose gay marriage in California and the resulting vote will forever tarnish my (and my partner's) dream of tying the knot in our own country.

Did the sight of Jesse Jackson Sr. with tears in his eyes cause me to shed a tear too? No. Tears have to be earned, and no one in this campaign came anywhere close the earning them.

I especially appreciate your closing comments. It is time to call out the liberal blogosphere's brethren who caved in to their principles and used party solidarity as justification for allowing previously well-reasoned dialogue to descend into howling witch hunts. TalkLeft is not alone, but one of the most blatant examples.

Yep, Mr. Krugman, there is something wrong here, but it is not me nor those who were unable to shed a tear.

cutepeachpanda said...

I can't be happy for anyone who uses misogyny, homophobia, race-baiting, and classicism to win. Especially when his opponent could have been our first woman president and would have been a better at the job. This moment was stolen from millions of women and Krugman expects us to cry for the person who is responsible? Would people be saying these things if Clinton was elected instead? I doubt it. I never cared about Obama's race more than his character. Maybe that makes me more post-racial than Obama and his supporters.

Nina Miller said...

Thank you. Your comments and Somerby's comments describe what I feel perfectly.

The cynical manipulation of voter anxiety during the last week of the campaign was the icing on the cake.

This election marks a turning point in our political culture - the point at which the Democratic party, including the progressives, fully embraced and embodied the ideas and tactics of authoritarian movements. I hope we see humane, progressive policy changes emerge from this nightmare. But I don't expect we'll see more than cosmetic changes.

I don't have much to add to the discussion, but I'll share this quote from a message I received this morning on a listserve to which I belong - creepy.

"America’s #1 Lesson from the 2008 Campaign: 'Rosa Parks sat so that Dr. King could stand. Dr. King stood so that Obama could run. Obama ran so that our children could fly!' (appropriate for all of us who believe in Hope and the American Dream).

"Until Tuesday night, the greatest moments of my life was when the 1986 Mets came from behind with two outs in the bottom of the 9th to win Game 6 followed by their victory the next night to win the World Series. I thought nothing would ever compare to that euphoria….until now. Now, I know what V-J Day felt like! For all of us who grew up on sports as the only way we could really feel passionate about something other than getting a job or some individual achievement, it’s nice to see that so many of us have found a cause with even more meaning that we can all be part of."

I guess I'm one of the "something wrong with them" crowd too. Glad to see I'm in good company.

Could you imagine if it were a Hillary victory? There would be pundits left and right talking about 'what might have been' and how this is an occasion for "sadness as well as relief."