Sunday, September 13, 2009

Déjà vu

was spot on in suggesting Joe Wilson’s outburst was racial, especially
as seen in the context of the “birther” and other trash heard on talk radio and in rallies in the past two months. 
My son was right in pointing out that Wilson was “provoked” by the
thought that a penny of our money might land in the hands of immigrants.  He claimed to be talking the illegal
kind, but I’m not so sure.  When
Barack Obama was elected many of us naively, or at least hopefully, thought the
country had turned a new leaf.  For
the most part, it probably has – no it definitely has.  But Wilson, a son of a certain kind of
South, left me with an eerie sense of déjà vu, a sickening feeling in the pit of
my stomach.

Part of where we are bespeaks the culture of rage about which I wrote
on August 19, but this goes much deeper. 
The Republicans have been particularly deft at branding and slogan
making.  The Democrats still have
trouble with both.  As someone who
has spent decades helping clients invent or reposition themselves with labels
and words, I know something about this subject.  Some brands are stronger than others, and some companies can
change their name and still be thought of as who they were not who they are or
would like to be.  Altria is still
Philip Morris, the reigning riding cowboy of tobacco land.  Much of the Republican Party we know
today can proclaim itself “of Lincoln” all they want, but we know they remain
the Dixiecrats who ran Strum in 48 and (while not under that banner) George in
68.  Lyndon Johnson famously lost
these folks in signing the Civil Rights Act and the GOP gained them, dooming
all but the last whimper of Rockefellerism in their ranks.  Obama of Illinois is of Lincoln, the
newly infamous Joe Wilson and his ilk are not.

But let’s not put too much focus or blame on the messenger.  That outburst on the Floor and others
like it, many much worse, are giving us a message.  A fear of “the other” whether it’s of a different skin
color, a different sex orientation, a different belief system (include
atheists) or  a different (and funny) accent is alive and sick both here
and, for that matter, around the world. 
“That fella over there just ain’t like us – he don’t belong where he
is.”  Indeed, Dowd contends that
the fear and anger of the “other” is particularly heightened when it’s perceived
as being the “uppity N” kind, though she didn’t use those words.  It isn’t so much the audacity of hope,
but the audacity of being equal or, worse, better.  She summarized it best in quoting Don Fowler who remembers
his father’s dictum, “Boy, don’t get above your raising”.  The bounds of "raising" are just seen differently by many of us.

Part of the racist’s tool is to use fear.  Not merely fear of the other, but instilling the fear of
retribution in anyone who stands in their way.  That may explain the moral silence, the absent sense of
outrage, which is so audible in land.  The
few Republicans who still cling to some kind of center shy away from voicing
their opinions, or voting their conscience (if one remains), for fear of being
taken down in the next primary. 
Perhaps that’s why we don’t hear much about this growing problem from
any Republican “leaders”, those same people who proclaim themselves the
protectors of “values”.  But we
also aren’t hearing that much from those on the other side of the aisle.  Everyone is running scared, a fear that
can be our undoing – déjà vu!

I’ve asked it before and, sadly, must repeat it again.  Where are the religious leaders in all of  this and, for that matter, where are the captains of academia, industry and the professions?  Frank Rich complains, and appropriately
so, that the President has let too much go unanswered since taking office.  I agree, but what concerns me more is
what my father spoke of 46 years ago at the March on Washington – that “nation
of onlookers”, which is exactly what we are.  It isn’t enough to elect someone seen as an “other”
President.  The business isn’t
finished, but only begun…if that.

Hate, and that’s what we’re talking about, can grow and become
viral.   History suggests that
when “good people” sit on the sideline silently looking on, the potential of that
happening only increases.  The
Southern strategy put Republicans in power.  The thing about Reagan Democrats is that they remained in
play.  Nixon’s legacy is that he
turned over the store to what has become an increasingly entrenched and narrow group
of people who see anyone with whom they disagree as “the other”.  In that context, bi-partisan is as foreign a term as is
illegal alien.

Let’s not lose sight of the fact that a disproportionate number of
those without healthcare coverage are of color or talk with one of those funny
accents.  As the Republicans stand
together in shouting and voting their NO, one has to consider what may lie not
so far below the surface.  Surely
not all Republicans think or feel that way but I find it harder to say of them,
“forgive them father, for they know not what they do.”  They know.  Ironically, liar is the tamest of
words, and indeed is only a word. 
What lies behind its utterance, well that’s déjà vu.

1 comment:

  1. Congressman Wilson (mis)represents my district in SC. He was impulsively way out of line. However, things aren't entirely as they may appear from a distance. A good friend of my family headed up his constituent service office here in Columbia (she retired before his outburst). [Background about me: my father escaped Germany in 1937--sound familiar?] Wilson's district includes part of Richland County (which voted for Obama over McCain and Kerry over Bush) and all of Lexington County (right-wing dominated). Majority Whip Clyburn covers the rest of Richland County. There are plenty of progressives in Columbia. Additional info: Wilson is addicted to "NO-DOZ" and was wired when he yelled out. He is not a bright man--and I think he (mistakenly) thought he was right about the provisions in the health-reform bill. Does he have racist leanings? Maybe, but I doubt that fully explains his behavior. I know we look for simplistic characterizations of complex human situations, which makes us feel better, but we may not capture the whole process. Nonetheless--I will work hard to get him knocked out of office!