Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Democrats Hiding Our Light Under a Bushel?

(...I wish I could be surprised.)

I admit I haven't talked about the election much. I don't feel bad about that or anything; you can go elsewhere for better, more focused political commentary. In my defense, I provide way better So You Think You Can Dance recaps than Think Progress does.

But I've mostly stayed quiet because...what is there to say? This election is such a no-brainer it's barely worth talking about. Either the last eight years have got you motivated for a change in this country's direction or it hasn't. Either a shitty economy, a war with no end in sight, rock-bottom international relations, shredded human rights, and an arrogantly corrupt regime in Washington has you practucally begging for a new set of leaders -- for a new set of ideas -- or it hasn't. John McCain represents 100 more years of war and four more years of status quo Republican control. If you don't have a problem with that, I can't say anything to sway you. Moreover, if you DO have a problem with that but you're also too busy falling for racist campaign tactics or crying in your beer over Hillary Clinton, I can't say anything to sway you either.

That being said, I watched the salient bits of the Democratic Convention last night, got choked up listening to Ted Kennedy as usual, and watched Michelle Obama do her level best to convince us that she's not a militant black lady with any scary opinions. Don't get me wrong, her speech was fantastic, warm and easy and indicative of the sparkling personality and grace she would bring to the position of First Lady.

But the commentary afterwards put a knot in my stomach. Michelle did a great job presenting herself as a daughter, a wife, and a mother, they said. Michelle was effective in convincing us she loves her country, they said. Michelle did well to avoid any discussion of policy, they said. The only way she fell short was in not making explicit her Christian faith, said Pat Buchannan on MSNBC. I guess so we all don't assume she's a Muslim sleeper agent, eh Pat?

Rather than be happy at the ludicrously low bar Michelle had to clear if these were the objectives of the speech, I got incredibly depressed. This was a speech designed to position Michelle as a wife and mother, not someone with a head for policy. I'm sure that's the politically wise thing to do, which manages to make me even more depressed. Even in a speech where Michelle tipped the metaphorical hat to Hillary for making those 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling, she still needed to convince the country that she's not the crazy black lady. Still needed to convince Americans that by electing Barack Obama, they won't be putting Omarosa in the White House.

I forget who said it, but one of the pundits actually praised Michelle's speech as being a good way to to show the country that the Obamas are indeed Americans. Motherfucker, anybody who doesn't already realize that fact never, ever will.

Here's the thing: Michelle Obama is a total badass, and that's what I like about her. (That's what I liked about Hillary Clinton, too, not that some of the more severely myopic Clinton supporters these days realize that when they're busy slamming Michelle while trying to extract their pitiful little pound of flesh from her husband.) It's my feeling that Democrats aren't going to get anywhere pretending we're something we're not. We're not going to get anywhere pretending our candidate for president isn't a smart man capable of complex thought and with a vision for the future. And we're not going to get anywhere pretending his wife isn't an independent-minded woman with a mind for public policy and spine made out of steel. I don't need to be reminded that she loves her kids. I don't need to be reminded that she loves her country. I need to be reminded that enough people in this country aren't so easily fooled and won't so readily be prey to their prejudices.

And I won't't know that for sure until November. Fingers crossed.


adam k. said...

I actually don't think Michelle is very interested in policy making. She has always said Barack's the candidate, and her priority is motherhood to her girls and having a platform to talk about issues with the public. I don't see any reason why she'd be trying to fake us out. I don't think she's angling for a future political career a la Hillary. But who knows.

Anyway, I love her regardless.

JA said...

Actually, one of the things that most irritates me about the entire Obama campaign is the way they frame Michelle. I don't necesarrily think she's angling for a poliotcal position, but that is a Harvard educated lawyer standing there and they want us to think she has nothing better to do than bake fucking cookies. I mean, she's no nightmare like Cindy McCain is, or god forbid Glazed-Eyes Schoolmarm Laura, but I still find the "Oh, I'm just a wife and mother!" bullshit unbelievably condescending. I mean, I of all people - fierce anti-idealist here! - know that the Obamas need to frame her that way to win some votes from sexist assholes (i.e. the majority), but it makes me just a little less proud of having to cast my vote for them. That is a smart fucking woman standing there, maybe even smarter than her husband, and the constant downplaying of that fact pains me.

Joe Reid said...

Well, the problem was, the let her out of the box a few months ago and all of a sudden everybody was up her ass and around the corner about what a bitch she was. Which is typical but super depressing.

I don't think it's condescending so much as reticent, though the end result is the same.

jessica said...

Joe, you did a wonderful job with this, and mirrored a lot of my thoughts on the subject. I love the Clintons and I love the Obamas and I WANT a smart, savvy, visionary president who believes in leading the people. McCain's (and his supporters') ads infuriate me daily but I've mostly avoided discussing the election because, as you said, you're either already on board or you're not.

My soon-to-be 6yr old saw the news reports this morning as I was getting ready and asked me why someone would want to try to kill Barack Obama. The deep sadness I felt at trying to gently explain to him how some people are very bad, very selfish, and very hateful of anyone different than they are almost overwhelmed me. I pray that we, as a country and as people, can grow beyond those prejudices, but it's moments like these that I fear we never will.

May God keep him and his family safe.

That Bootleg Guy said...

Just fucking on point, Joe.

"Depressing" is pretty much how this whole election soap opera has left me. From the McCain-sanctioned painting of Obama as the scary Black guy to Obama's decision to slog into the muck of negativity to McCain's brazen avoidance of the issues in favor of juvenile attempts to win over Hilary's lemmings to...well, to everything.

Honestly, these days I vote for two reasons: (1) to keep those "if you don't vote, you can't complain" kooks at bay and (2) for the "I Voted" sticker. My kid loves stickers.

dan mac said...

Who's voting for Michelle Obama?

I agree with you that it's depressing that she's compelled to play down her better qualities (intelligence, strong will), but I think it's more depressing that we're encouraged to judge her character at all, as if her presence in the White House is necessarily significant.

Consider: strictly speaking, the Vice President is there to break ties in Congress and understudy for POTUS in case he dies. Beyond that, he has as much or as little real power as the President wants to give him. Likewise the First Lady. Unless and until Barack announces his intention to give Michelle a cabinet position or something, she can do anything short of serial killing in the streets of DC in her spare time and I won't care. So why are we driven to judge and analyze her at all?

It's just more of the noise that pollutes our political process, this family values nonsense and character judgments. Whatever Michelle Obama is, she won't be the one ensuring abortion is still legal in this country in four years, so I really, really can't find the will to care what kind of mother/politician/whatever she is.

Ultimately I'd rather she be badass and free to express it, if I have a choice, but I agree with what you're saying: we evidently don't have that choice yet, and it sucks. It's just that First Lady image control doesn't crack my top 10 list of Important Things That Suck Right Now and Need Fixing in the Next 4 Years.

Joe Reid said...

She may not be the name on the ballot, but I definitely think she matters. I think it speaks well of Obama that he married a strong-minded woman with a brain and a career, same as I think it spoke ill of Bush that he married such an empty shell. We're not electing policy papers, we're electing people; I think it's important to see what these people are made of. Michelle may not be THE prevailing influence on Obama, but she'll be one of them. I don't think there's anything wrong with that.

deirdre said...

This isn't really about Michelle so much as Barack, but: did anyone here read the article in the infamous New Yorker? I kept wondering how it would play with a) Obama's supporters and b) the Obama campaign itself.

The gist seemed to be: people who are surprised/pissed/upset about how he's turning out to be a crafty politician instead of the breath of fresh air he promised to be haven't done their homework because he's always been like this. Smart, well-spoken and a good organizer, yes. But he also know what it takes to win.

I couldn't decide if the piece had done him a favour or done him harm, but all the nonsense about the cover wound up making the point moot. I'm curious to know what people who will actually be able to vote for him thought of it.

deirdre said...

Oh, and great post, Joe. (And a belated happy birthday.)

dan mac said...

Well, if Barack was married to Omarosa, would you not vote for him?

To be clear, I'm a Michelle Obama fan, and I ultimately agree with you, and especially JA; I resent re-packaging her as a simple housewife to cater to the lowest common denominator red state voters. It just kind of bothers me that the conversation comes up at all. The guy's entitled to a family at least as fucked up as mine, and barring egregious villainy, I don't believe a candidate should lose any votes because of his wife.

And only we get penalized for this; no one's attacking Whateverhernameis McCain the trophy bride. I resent having to play the right's game.

Jon said...

There was a study recently that showed that most undecided voters are not actually undecided -- they have clear but unconscious preferences before they vote, even when they can't explain why they have them. (The same voters often claim not to know why they went with one person over another, or come up with rational-sounding justifications). (And this study was conducted in Italy, so it wasn't just a U.S. thing).

The point of which is that there's a real emotional facet of voting and appealing to voters. And I don't think the speech last night was about trying to make Michelle Obama seem nonthreatening so much as it was about trying to find a point of commonality and connection with a large number of voters. And that point of connection was family.

Like it or not (and I don't), Obama still has a serious obstacle of Otherness that stands between him and some number of voters. And I think the speech last night, and the appearance of his daughters, was a stab at making him seem less Other to at least some chunk of the electorate for whom that is an issue. And I suspect that it worked.

Mathan said...

Wow, after reading all of these comments I've never been happier to be without a television in my life. I'm completely out of the election/political loop and judging by the number of times "depressing" has been dropped in this comment section, that's right where I want to be.