13 April 2008

Fat, dumb and happy? Um ... not.

As the weeks pass, I grow more and more impressed by Obama. He’s articulating things that most of us would never think of saying, yet these are things that are part of our daily lives and always will be. They need to be said, need to be examined, need to be discussed.

His speech on race and the way blacks and whites think of and regard each other – spoken or unspoken – was stunning and truthful. And now, what he’s said about people being bitter about lost jobs and missed dreams, and so they turn their attention to the things that matter to them most -- that was the truth, too. Excuse me Mrs. Clinton and St. John: There was nothing “elitist” or “out of touch” in what Barack Obama said.

Now, I have some opinions. (No! Really!?):

In the real world, where we live, I think most Americans are practical. They aren’t very concerned about gay marriage and indeed, most people probably wouldn’t even think about it if it weren’t being shoved in their faces. Gays want to marry? Well, why not, if marriage will give them happiness? Isn’t a little happiness all any of us want?

For the life of me, I can’t figure out how John and Mike, loving each other so much that they want to marry and spend their lives together as a couple, nurturing each other and sharing their property, caring for each other and for their families, will threaten anything or anyone at all. Certainly it can’t threaten straight families. Sheesh. Straight couples will always marry and have children. It’s nature. And gay couples will marry and perhaps adopt children. There’s joy in raising children, and no matter the gender of the parents, or whether there are one or two parents, or whether they’re male and female or the same gender, they’re all families. If they’re nurtured, cared for and raised with love, most kids in most families turn out just fine.

This thing about gun control: The people I know who don’t want to give up their guns are the ones who hunt or keep a handgun for protection. These days I question the utility of both – these folks aren’t hunting for sustenance, but sport, and having to defend one’s home from bandits is exceedingly rare. That could change, of course. But as it is, bearing arms isn’t a necessity, it’s a choice. I’d be more comfortable in a world without the damned things, but if they want to have a rifle for deer hunting and a Smith & Wesson for the nightstand drawer, well, OK. I’m appalled by accidents with guns, mainly because they so often involve children. But I guess as Americans, we all have a right to take that risk and face up to if we choose to own guns.

Really, it’s those other guns I worry about. You know, the assault rifles with long-distance, deadly precise scopes, the ones that fire a hundred rounds in a few seconds, or maybe those evil, armor-piercing bullets. Those types of guns have only one use: To kill people. They aren’t used to shoot Bambi or Daffy Duck. They aren’t defensive weapons, either. They’re offensive in every sense of the word. Ban them? Oh, please. Let’s do. The sooner, the better.

Stem cell research: Can we just get on with it, please? The zygotes used in the research, and later, to extract the stem cells that might save lives, are doomed to the dumpster in any case. They will never be babies. They’ll always be unviable eggs. So rather than waste their potential life-giving properties, let’s use them. Maybe I’ll never get Alzheimer’s, thanks to them. Maybe my future son-in-law will never suffer Parkinson’s. Honestly. Let’s just get on with the research. Religious crazies are welcome to keep their eggs to themselves, but believe me, if it happens that stem cells can cure disease and save lives, they’ll gladly reap the benefits just like the rest of us. You watch.

That brings up religion. Personally, I don’t have any and don’t want any, thanks. If you do, good for you. Believe how you wish – just don’t expect me to believe it too, just because you say so. Practice your religion and teach it to your kids privately. Go to church, mosque, synagogue, temple, whatever, and be religious to your heart’s content. But please, keep your exclusive beliefs out of our collective government – they do not belong there. Our government affects all of us, equally, no matter what religion we practice and even if we don’t practice one at all. To inject religion into government changes it in the direction of that particular religion and eventually forces everyone it touches to kowtow to it, regardless of how or what they believe. That is, simply, bad. Bad. Bad. Bad. Like America’s founders, I’m all for separation of church and state.

All these are issues that we, as Americans, have been force-fed for the last 25 or 30 years, and most intensely during this last decade. Each of them are legitimate issues by themselves, and worthy of reasoned debate. But except for the last one – separation of church and state – they aren’t issues that have much relevance or urgency in most Americans’ everyday lives.

Obama is absolutely right.

What most Americans are concerned about is getting by, day to day. We’re concerned with surviving. Making sure our kids are cared for. They are, after all, our future. Ours are everyday concerns, shared across the board by nearly all Americans, regardless of race, color, culture, gender, sexual preference or social standing.

What concerns us? Well, even with insurance, we’re worried about how we’ll pay for medical care, should a personal catastrophe hit. Health insurance is horrifically expensive, and it doesn’t cover everything.

And if we don’t have health insurance, we have to forego preventive medical care and are forced to live in terror of illness or injury -- and with good reason. We don’t want to saddle our relatives or our society with such astronomical expenses. We don’t want to lose everything we’ve worked a lifetime for to a couple of MRIs, cancer surgery and treatment. We don’t want to impoverish our children, our loved ones.

So a great many Americans – and more all the time – are looking hard at universal health care for all Americans, period. It simply makes sense. It’s humane. It means everyone will get the medical care they need, and that care will be at least as good as what we’re getting now. Better, in some cases, since with universal health care, no clueless health insurance corporation hack is going to turn down a life-saving procedure so the CEO can buy another yacht. What’s so bad about that? Let’s get on with this one too, please. Most western countries all over the world have already proven that it can be done.

Americans worry about the high price of gasoline, and not because we’re particularly spoiled or selfish, but because in these times, our whole culture, our whole infrastructure, has been built around the idea that everyone has a car. That’s not our fault – it’s just the way it is in America. I don’t know about you, but I was born into this culture. I’ve never really known anything different.

Was it poor planning? Sure. Pie-in-the-sky thinking? Yup. But we have to deal with it now, because the world is running out of oil and there just aren’t any good alternatives. That’s reality. We need to start thinking in terms of remaking things smaller and with more practicality. We need to start re-laying rail and building more trains to move people and products between towns and cities and states, and start bringing communities closer together. Five miles from the McMansion to the nearest grocery store isn’t going to work when gas costs $4 or $6 or $10 or $12 per gallon. Commuting 60 miles to and from a job each day for a livelihood won’t work either. We need to think about these things, start working on solutions. We have to create jobs that can support us closer to home. Yes, it will take time, but ignoring the problem in the hopes that it will disappear, or throwing tantrums over our entitlement to our cars and our stuff is infantile and, I’m sorry, stupid.

Americans worry about the cost of food, which continues to rise and is tied directly to the price of oil. I cringe at my grocery bills – and I only purchase food for myself and Mr. Wren. If I were still feeding a full family, the cost would be crippling. If there’s a bright side to this, it may be that the obesity epidemic (with its accompanying diabetes epidemic) may soon be over.

And as for race relations: Americans came a long way in the 60s, working for civil rights. Then we stopped, mostly, figuring everything was fine and dandy. Well, it wasn’t, it isn’t, and it never has been. I was fortunate that I was able to serve in, and later work for, the military community, because it truly represents America’s melting pot. I worked with, played with and lived close to blacks, Asians, Hispanics and everyone else in between, and they worked with, played with and lived close to white-skinned me. We were equals and treated each other that way.

I’m glad I was able to raise my daughter during her formative years from within that fascinating melting pot and while overseas, in the midst of another country’s culture and people. The experience turned us into very accepting and tolerant individuals, something I can only see as good. There are legitimate issues between races and cultures in America. Obama is right to talk about them frankly. We need to join the discussion with open hearts and minds. We need to work out our differences and find common ground. This is another issue where we have an excellent example of success right under our noses. Why wait?

All of these are things that our leaders in Washington seem to have forgotten about while they freak out over gay marriage, shore up corporate malfeasance and go all godly and righteous on us about stem cell research. Are the rest of us bitter? Oh yes. Mr. Obama is dead-on right about that. Is he being “elitist,” talking about it directly and, yes, painfully? No, of course not. He’s being refreshingly honest. Hillary Clinton and St. John McSame are the “elitists,” assuming from their comfortable, insulated worlds that we’re all fat, dumb and happy down here on Main Street.

Shame on them.

The truth is often hard to face, but it’s time that America stands up and faces it, square on. We’re big enough, old enough, and smart enough to pull together to figure out lasting solutions to our problems. And you know what? I sure like the way Obama is leading us toward reconciliation and reminding us of our commonality, humanity and community. I’d like to see the man win the presidency. But no matter what happens between now and November, good on him.

2 comments:

Wil Robinson said...

I don't know what it says about American politics when "intelligence" is seen as a downside and shooting stuff with guns and taking shots (as ABC reported Clinton did this weekend, though I haven't confirmed it) is considered "connecting with voters."

This isn't the first time Obama (or someone around him) has stated a fact and been labeled as "unamerican" or now, "elitist" for saying.

Obama's pastor stated a pure and simple fact: that 9/11 was retribution for US foreign policy. Is there any question about that? Even Al Qaeda itself stated that US foreign policy was the reason for 9/11. Now, we can debate and disagree over whether that reason was valid - but that doesn't change the fact that Obama's pastor was chastised (and Obama in the process) for stating a fact.

When facts have become fair game for attacks, we're in trouble.

Is there another country where the candidate who acts the "least educated" is revered like in America? Are we that ass-backward, rednecked, and stupified by the consumer culture that we don't see beyond the confines of our own ignorance?

Great post - I like your "op-ed" pieces.

P.S. - also liked your beautiful photos from New Mexico...

dorki said...

To parrot wil robinson - great post!

When I heard Obama's comments, I looked around here in the Deep South. I saw the same thing happening. I also saw in both black and white societies feelings being expressed that parallel those of Obama's pastor.

None are so blind as those who will not see.