One of Us
[I hate to upstage my essay on the future of armed forces, but this one’s for the here and now.]
Sometimes it takes a while for things to sink in. It’s been over three weeks now since we got bin Laden. In our manic 24/7/365 news cycle, the ripples from that stone in the pond seem to have died down.
But deep below, in the murky depths of the human psyche that often govern politics, something is moving. It’s one of those tectonic shifts that goes unnoticed but alters the landscape forever.
Your can feel it in the air. You can sense it in the on-line comments. Many still call the President a “Marxist” or a “socialist.” More than a few still spit out the words “community organizer” like an epithet. But the vitriol is gone. The wind is out of the sails. The anger and resentment just aren’t there any more.
To understand what has happened, you have to understand Republicans’ strategy since the first day it dawned on them that Barack Obama would be the Democratic nominee.
They had nothing. Large parts of our electorate hadn’t yet realized it, but their ideology had become a complete failure. Not only had it weakened every institution in our great nation and deprived millions of pensions and health care. It had also brought on the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression.
To add to that “inconvenience,” their candidate was an irascible, unstable old man, whose chief political asset was the uncommon courage he had shown as a prisoner of war over thirty years before. He knew (and knows) nothing about economics, and he had a history of being on the wrong side of every economic issue.
Unfortunately for the GOP, the coming election was to be all about economics. “It’s the economy, stupid!” was the cry. And their candidate was an economic illiterate.
So what to do? Well, when you haven’t got substance and you haven’t got expertise, go after the person. “Ad hominem,” they roared, as they mounted their steeds and leveled their campaign lances.
Barack Obama had, and has, two undeniable characteristics. First, he’s half black. Second, he’s an ex-professor and an intellectual who likes to solve problems by reason. He doesn’t shout. Most people in our country, especially working people, are not like that. So the unspoken GOP campaign theme became as simple as tribalism: “He’s not one of us.”
The GOP were hardly subtle about it. Like apes hurling their own excrement, they threw every turd at him they could find.
“He’s black. He’s not a natural citizen. He’s a Kenyan, an African tribal chieftain. He associated with a couple of Marxists decades ago, so he must be a Marxist. He wants to keep destitute people off the streets, so he’s a socialist. He lived in an Islamic country as a child and once had an Islamic stepfather. So he’s a Muslim. Some of his distant acquaintances in his youth were domestic leftists who engaged in minor acts of terrorism. So he’s a terrorist. And, with his Islamic background, he must be an Islamist terrorist. And by the way, did you know he is black?”They even called him a “fascist” for trying to use the political power of his office to do the things we had duly elected him to do.
Then, when all that wasn’t enough, they smeared his actual personality. “He’s well-educated and smart,” they said. “So he’s an elitist. He’s not like you.” No doubt they hoped to keep alive the “appeal” of George “Dubya” Bush, with his limited intelligence and crude ability to ape the common man, despite the fact that he had just nearly destroyed the economy.
To people like me, it was all absurd. More than that. It was the most outrageous, unfair, illogical, atavistic, preposterous, obnoxious, smart-ass, imbecilic, puerile, nonsensical and counterproductive campaign in the history of human democracy. It was un-American.
But not everyone is like me. Deep down in the recesses of our minds, in places we don’t like to think about, we all have some vestiges of tribalism. It’s part of our social evolution—a dark and nasty part, which we are slowly and painfully trying to overcome with reason.
At first the turd-hurling didn’t work. We Americans take pride in our slow and painful progress in racial equality—especially Americans of my generation. Barack Obama won the presidency by a solid majority, and by a landslide in our most productive states. Except in its most backward places, the nation rejoiced at what it assumed would be a transition from Dubya’s catastrophic ignorance and stupidity to something better.
But the GOP stuck to their plan. They knew it had taken nearly two generations of Southern Strategy and cartoon ideology to reduce the nation to its present sorry state. So it would take more than a couple of years to set it right. They knew that things would inevitably get worse, probably much worse, before they got better.
So rather than abandon their cartoon ideology and stop hurling their own excrement, they doubled down. And that’s where they’ve been since the last presidential election.
As things indeed got worse, some of the turds started to stick. Fear makes people irrational. And there was plenty of fear, which the GOP did its best to kindle and exaggerate. Jobs falling. Unemployment rising. Houses foreclosed. Neighborhood decaying. Deterioration in Afghanistan; very painful and costly progress in Iraq. And there was Osama bin Laden, our worst enemy, still out there, thumbing his long nose at us.
The type of hurled turds changed with time. Racism didn’t play very well outside the Old South, so the GOP toned it down. They tried to cover their tracks by accusing the President himself of being racist. But that, too, didn’t play well where people work and create wealth.
“Elitism” and more subtle tribalism worked better. “The President’s not one of you,” they whispered. “He’s in league with all those gilded experts from Goldman Sachs. He bailed out the banksters with your tax money. He’s only making progress in Iraq and Afghanistan because the generals and the Pentagon forced him to. We all know what Barack Hussein Obama—that crypto-Muslim, half-black terrorist sympathizer with the funny name—would really like to do.”
Then, all of a sudden, the game was up. Osama bin Laden lay dead. Al Qaeda acknowledged his passing. And there was a sober but confident President, fully in charge, explaining how he had done it.
It was no coincidence that the President had released his long-form birth certificate just a short time before. He knew that the “birther” movement had never been about certificates or legalities. And he knew he could never answer it with paper, but only with deeds.
Now the deed is done. Bin Laden is dead. The President got him, with a courageous, thoughtful, careful and effective plan. He got him in the best of all possible ways, with modern ninjas in person, undeniable evidence of his death, and a treasure trove of intelligence with which to mop up the rest of Al Qaeda Central. And he didn’t start another unnecessary, bloody and horribly expensive war in an irrelevant third country to do it.
And now we all know. Our President with the unusual ancestry and the funny name is indeed one of us. Not only that. He’s among the best of us. He did what neither of his two predecessors could do. And he’s built up a big, secret corps of modern ninjas as the best answer to the bad guys in the age of terrorism.
“You want to kill our soft, unprepared, untrained, innocent civilians?” our ninjas tacitly say. “Well, we’ve got thousands of big, tough, smart, superbly trained, and ruthless killers, the best of a pool of 307 million people, armed with modern weapons and technology that you never dreamed of, coming after you.”
At the end of the day, none of the turds hurled at the President stuck. They missed and lie in the dust. Already the winds of change are burying them.
All that remains is the stench of a once-great American party with no principles, ideas, or scruples. And we can smell the fear of its sacrificial lamb, Mitt the Jerk, Mitt the Frat Boy, who will give it the coup de grace or, if he can rise to the occasion, begin its renaissance. Re-evolving from turd hurlers to Homo sapiens is likely to take it a long time.
P.S. For those who could see below the surface, it was clear long before the last presidential election that Barack Obama could best keep us safe from terrorists. Here’s why.