The elephant in the room

Well, this was going to be a post about Obama, Paterson and racism. Thanks to recently reported political events, it’s going to be about more than that.

We live in a marvelous Internet age where we don’t even have to let on what color or gender we are if we don’t want to. I truthfully tell anyone who asks, that I don’t know what possessed me to choose the particular screen name I use. But why I have largely stuck with it is no mystery. It has seemed convenient not to completely get rid of it (except amongst those I trust). There is a different tone to online political conversation when people think you are this gender or that. And I know this contention is not going to sit well with some other women, but ask yourself who the original influential female political blogger was and I think you’ll say “that Digby guy.” Times have changed, or so they say, which is why my view on that may seem anachronistic, or my perceptions mistaken. Plus, much like it is bad form for a black politician to mention racism, it is bad form for a woman blogger to mention sexism.

So we need a respected white guy like Jimmy Carter to point out these things for us. I do respect Carter a lot and, having read some of his autobiographical books, I believe he is sincere and knowledgeable about our common American experiences with racism and politics. I believe there are racist and sexist implications in everything we all do and say, and it is hard to pin down because it is all about perception; but I also believe it is worth pinning down because perception becomes practice, and practice becomes policy.

One more word on sexism before I turn to the “race card.” It really hurts when you perceive that a friend or even a close relative is, in your view, on the other side of that perceptual fence. “Sexism” is such an ugly clumsy word, too, implying a system of beliefs rather than just a system of perceptions. Plus, it may just be your perception of someone else’s perception, stirring doubt and guilt. So who even wants to use the word in polite company? Isn’t it really bad form to mention, shouldn’t we just let it go in the name of longterm amity and in the words of Lincoln on his vision of the gradual abolition of slavery, slowly and gently “living out our old relations to one another”?

Two more different political figures than Paterson and Obama can hardly be imagined. Paterson wears his intelligence on his sleeve, and he has complained openly before — not just about racism, but about discrimination against the handicapped, and he should know. For all of the consternation about Joe Wilson’s untoward outburst toward Obama, Paterson has been the target of some really low jokes and smears related to his disability, which I felt he was right to stand up against (who would do it for him?) I’ve sort of admired him for that, really, since the sinking sensation of not knowing how to tell your friends (much less your enemies) that you’re bothered by something they’ve said, feels very much like a suffocating gag going into the mouth. When you speak up, you defy the gag.

The Obama approach, which is not to wear it all on one’s sleeve, also has its advantages, if you can get used to the taste of the gag without panicking, or wait for a more auspicious moment when you have more power to make your point. Easier to do when you are the latest incarnation of POTUS, the President Of The United States. But, how does one turn off one’s consciousness of the gag? The gag isn’t put there by Joe Wilson or any particular person or even political group. The conscious person senses that something else much bigger than the individual is running this show. We talk about racism and sexism, accuse each other of it, question our own feelings about it, but somehow never get close to it and it just seems to continue on as an objective reality. The consciousness of it hurts, but we are powerless to do anything about it but speak up, cry, scream, accuse… or deny, minimize, ignore, put off… It’s real, but we just can’t grasp it.

As for the levers we can grasp… Paterson isn’t going to win re-election (well, never say never, but some awfully weird things would have to happen first), but he seems more an overwhelmed player in a crumbling political edifice, the Democratic Party of New York, or even the whole elegant political system of New York, or New York itself. Why we are in this situation now seems a little clearer: Spitzer’s election was a sign of the weakness of the edifice, not of its strength. He was a barbarian at the gate, a strong personality with no real roots in an aging political system being run (at the time) by just a handful of old men. He chose a flawed but admirable man (like himself, I guess) as his running mate, and things snowballed from there. Paterson wouldn’t follow the script (erm… was there a script?), complaining about stuff and then (apparently) committing the terrible sin of picking Kirsten Gillibrand over the marginally qualified Caroline Kennedy, but that’s just my opinion.

And here we are, with POTUS telling “one of his own” not to run. Here, in the great Democratic state of New York. Even knowing full well that New York’s ridiculously late primary is a prime cause for potential chaos, I don’t know how I feel about that.

I wonder if Obama is still going to make the trek up to Malta Troy, a rare Upstate appearance for POTUS. What will the local birthers and tea baggers and town hall hecklers be more annoyed about: health care, or Obama’s perceived meddling in New York politics? I’m wondering how this visit is even going to help anything – anything at all, for anyone. Is it going to make any sort of difference at all? For anything? I’m very doubtful. But I suspect Obama will come anyway. And so it goes.

3 Replies to “The elephant in the room”

  1. My college-aged daughter was asking me today why Paterson’s popularity evaporated so quickly, so I started thinking it through a little more carefully. And I don’t think it was just the Senate appointment or the budget, although those were certainly big factors. But before SNL started mocking him, Paterson’s disability was seen in an admirable way (“look at all this man has overcome to function at such a high level”). But SNL seemed to just make his respect evaporate. Maybe I’m blowing it out of proportion, but remember, Sarah Palin never said she could see Russia from her house; Tina Fey did. Yet now you see mainstream articles repeating that line as if it were fact. I found those Paterson sketches painful to watch. Looking back on it now, I wonder if folks upstairs pressured SNL to eviscerate a Democrat to the same degree as they had done to Sarah Palin.

  2. Just to be a little more direct here, what does it say that SNL’s biggest targets last year were a woman and an African-American? My political leanings made me happy to see the Palin stuff, and they did have a nugget of truth as a basis. I found the Paterson skits much less justifiable, but I understand that my objectivity is doubtful there. To me, they were a reach and just not funny. That’s what makes me wonder if SNL was under orders to go after a Democrat.

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