Is anybody listening?

I’ve gotten to the point where I’m trying to lessen my exposure to the presidential primary the best that I can. While I was never into it anyway since the candidate I was most interested in dropped out (glad I don’t have to vote again), it’s getting beyond nasty. Maybe I hear ugliness where others hear “invigorated democracy,” but I just wanted to mention two particularly sour notes I heard this week in the midst of it all.

First, this comment on a blog best not named, by a supporter of Candidate A who was upset that certain voters in State X voted for Candidate B. (Names have been changed to protect the innocent — if there are any.)

State X is big and dumb because it would be a rich location in any society: ideal agricultural climate and rainfall combined with easy river transport in all directions makes for a stable and sustainable economy… When people are generally safe and well-fed and protected from harm of all sorts, they will tend to a certain kind of innocence and naivete. Residents of State X are like children; they will cry for hours over a metaphorical stubbed toe. Or play with mud pies in the sun for days. There’s a reason people come here or stay here to raise children. And that natives rarely feel comfortable elsewhere. Try throwing your average schoolchild into an adult job, for instance, and see how well they manage. Perhaps residents of State X should be recognized as the children they are, and refused voting rights unless they spend at least five years making it somewhere a little tougher? I’m open to suggestions that don’t involve child abuse.

Sometimes when you hear people ranting, certain ideas and phrases jump out at you because they are not the ones that are usually vented. In this case, what struck me about this particular rant was the acknowledgement of the natural advantage of State X’s natural resources, given as a prelude to the denigration of the people from State X, and then a call for their disenfranchisement. I have never before seen those ideas linked in political commentary, even if it was a casual and obscure comment. In a time of economic upheaval and climate change, that is a note that could be repeated in years to come.

However, the uglier note was sounded by a campaign advisor for one of the candidates this week. This advisor is an expert (whose work I have read extensively, and really respect) on the genocide in Rwanda, where they used to call their political enemies inyenzi (“cockroaches”) before hideous things were set in motion in that society. The advisor labeled her candidate’s opponent a name, which, while not the same word as “cockroach,” had something of the same general intent — to demonize. This campaign advisor has since apologized and resigned. I’d like to think it’s not because the targeted candidate self-righteously huffed that she should; or even that her own candidate asked her to; but maybe she looked in the mirror and realized that she, of all people, should have known better than to throw a word around in that manner, and that she had to get herself away from anything that would make her forget herself and do that. (But what’s the use? The word’s still on everyone’s lips – even her candidate’s opponent, the target of the comment, is spreading it all over in hope of political gain. It’s been unleashed.)

To my ear, this is not the same old song of the rough-and-tumble “democratic process” being performed in a higher or more urgent key. These are new notes intruding on the old tune, and Americans on all sides seem increasingly willing to sing them.

2 thoughts on “Is anybody listening?

  1. Phil

    Ellen:

    I just finished posting about the second incident you mentioned before I surfed over here. Think how I feel. Obama’s my guy and a large reason he’s my guy was his thinking on foreign policy–as exemplified by his hiring of Samantha Power. I hadn’t gotten to her new book, but A Problem From Hell shocked, disturbed and impressed me.

  2. Ellen Post author

    The thing is, Bill Clinton WAS a major player with Rwanda in 1994 and I understand why Power’s passions could run high with respect to the Clintons (conflating Hillary with it, I suppose) on it.

    And no, Hillary Clinton’s campaign doesn’t “get it” (as she tries to make hay off it) and neither do some Obama supporters I’ve been hearing/reading; they don’t get why it was wrong for THIS particular person to say THIS sort of thing. I guess I am inclined to see her comment as something deeply personal and her apology and resignation as personal. But when you mix those kinds of sentiments with politics… it’s not good either for the candidate they’re representing, or for the advisor personally. She did the right thing and she did it quickly and I am sure she is genuinely regretful.

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