Thursday, January 24, 2008


I happened to read HeartinSanFrancisco's entry yesterday about casually accepted racist attitudes in her blog, Guilty With an Explanation on the same day that Ellie and I got into a discussion with our gardener (yes, we are that spoiled!) about the election. He asked us, in fact, whether we had seen the most recent debate--the one where Hillary and Obama got into a head-to-head. He emphatically would NOT vote for Obama, he said, because if a black man were elected there would be uppity blacks rushing around all over with chips on their shoulders, proclaiming that "we" owed them something.

Strange reasoning, perhaps--even grotesque. But what struck me was the casual, unselfconscious racism--not unlike that of HeartinSanFrancisco's grocery store clerk. In addition to this comment, our friend offered up the joke that it would be good to invest in bananas if Obama were to be elected! This, from a man of Latino origins--legal, certainly, he has been here for many years and speaks unaccented English--and one who is approaching retirement age but remains ineligible for both Social Security and Medicare because he did not make his individual contributions. The above evidence to the contrary, he's a good-hearted man, if a little improvident, and has eked out a generally satisfactory living with his gardening business. He has been with us for, I'd say, twenty years. (I'm guessing that he doesn't read my blogs!)

The ignorance--I'm assuming that it comes out of ignorance, not malice--is breathtaking. It leaves us open-mouthed in sheer astonishment, trying in vain to "understand" it. But the truth is surely that it is more widespread than we have allowed for, as we think about the current year's politics and political attitudes in this country. Racism is mind-less, uncontested, bread-and-butter truth for a very large number of "good" Americans. It remains to be seen whether it will affect the outcome of the elections. Is it true, as these two examples seem to suggest, that a black man can not yet be elected President? I hope not.

I have to add that I'm disgusted by the recent Clinton tactics, and that I believe--reluctantly because I had thought better of them--they're playing consciously and cynically to the kind racism that we're talking about here. The suggestion that Obama seeks to emulate Ronald Reagan and Reaganism and that he believes the Republican "ideas" he spoke of to be good ones is beyond absurd, but this kind of rhetoric plays to the uneducated, undiscriminating, literal mind. As Buddha Diaries readers know, I was first for Kucinich, until the media succeeded in nudging him out of sight, then for John Edwards, hoping that he can resist that same powerful trope. I'll still vote for Edwards in the California primaries, and hope that many others will see the light and join me. A sad commentary on the otherwise truly wonderful fact that we have a woman and a black man running, with a serious chance at being elected.

Should it turn out to be a choice between Clinton and Obama, I would until now have been torn between the two. I'm wondering at this point if I'll be forced to hold my nose and vote for Clinton despite her recent relentless nastiness. And Bill's. To think I used to like him...

(By the way, I have been getting some wonderful responses to the entries on my Huffington Post blog--some of which are cross-posted here. If you have a moment, check them out!)


heartinsanfrancisco said...

Your gardener and my grocer must be related, as are all whose unexamined beliefs prevail despite all evidence to the contrary.

I am utterly disgusted by the Clintons, whom I once liked as well. The dirty infighting in which they engage lacks both dignity and decency, and if Hillary becomes the Democratic candidate, I may abstain from voting, which I've never done before, as a protest, however weak and unnoticed. I cannot help elect someone I perceive as evil and self-serving.

I have thought from the beginning that Edwards might actually win the nomination if too many Americans are not willing to vote for a black man or a woman. He is the default setting. He also seems like a decent human being.

Sadly, it may be that many of our fellow Americans are not ready for meaningful change, despite it being the catchword of everybody's campaign.

Cardozo said...

I am also quite put off by the Clintons' recent tactics.

If the candidates consider the presidency a prize to be won then the country has already lost.

Bill said...

Isn't the simple fact that much is made of having a woman and a man of color running both racist and sexist? Why should it matter?

And yet it does matter -- precisely because that is the way people think. Those of us who are attempting to follow the Eightfold Path are, ourselves, much caught up in it. I don't mean to imply that opinions are not a good thing -- they are the basis of engagement, of determining the path that is most likely to lead to good for the most people. Only when they cloud our perception of reality do they cause harm.

In that context I must take issue with heartinsanfrancisco's consideration of witholding a vote in protest. If we believe that our vote is useless, then so is the protest. If we believe that it counts, are we not ethically compelled to cast it for the party that is most likely to govern in a spirit of at least limited fairness? And, if that is the case, are we not also compelled to attempt to insure that the executive branch is in that group's control as well -- especially given the chance that both branches will have to affect the composition of the third over the next eight years?

For those of us who lack large quantities of cash to make contributions, our votes are our only direct way of engaging with the process of governance. Not to exercise what power we have is a cop-out at best.

Finally, with respect, isn't a protest that, by its very nature will go unknown and unremarked, rather...well...silly?

As to the "prize" issue: of course it is. It always has been. Why else would they run? No sane person, not hungry for power, would even consider it.

Cardozo said...

In response to Bill:

Call me naive, but I can believe there are people out there who are "called" to the office of the Presidency by virtue of a certain indefinable combination of skill, experience and personality.

I think Obama is one such. While I would not deny that the man probably experiences a "thrill" when thinking about the Presidency, he didn't ASK for all the attention he got after the 2004 convention. It came to him.

And he is not taking the "win at all costs" approach of the Clintons.

They call him James Ure said...

I use to be a big supporter of Bill Clinton but I have lost a lot of respect for him during this campaign.

The dirty tricks and tactics are sad to see and I worry it will (or already is) riping the Democratic party apart. Not that I'm a big Democrat establishment type. I'm more of an independent liberal.

Anyway, I'm an Obama supporter who use to be an Edwards supporter who use to be a Kucinich supporter.

I will caucus for Barack on Feb. 5th. It should be fun as this will be my first caucus, I usually just vote in general elections as I've been intimidated by the caucus thing. But Obama has inspired me to get more involved.

the living mandala said...

As a Canadian I unfortunately don't get a say in the upcoming election, even though I live in a border town and the outcome will have direct bearing on my life.

I just wanted to say that way back in '04 when Obama started getting attention, I saw him for the first time on the Oprah show. I was immediately taken with him and at the time predicted that he would be one of America's great leaders. He is very charismatic and has a seemingly sincere desire to improve your country that I think the majority of people called to office lack. Whenever I look at world politics I'm often reminded of the saying that those men who desire power are the very men who shouldn't be given it.

I sincerely hope he becomes the dem. nominee and gets elected to office. I have a strong feeling that he has something great to offer the world. The idea that he may not get the chance because he's a black man is disgusting, but (call me naive) I just don't see that happening. I think that the people opposed to voting for a black man would typically not be voting democrat to begin with... that's my opinion anyway. I've had such a strong feeling about him for many years now, and I sincerely believe that he will be the next president and a wonderful leader.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

To Bill,

IF I abstain from voting, which is highly unlikely, incidentally, my protest would still have meaning TO ME.

While I am a registered Democrat, I do not obediently vote a straight party ticket, no matter what. I cast my vote based upon as much information as I can garner about the candidates and issues.

I am aware that my party is most likely to govern in a manner closest to my ideals, but I would be selling out if I meekly helped elect someone whom I consider so dangerously power-hungry that fairness and decency are moot.

Such a person would not bode well for this country or our allies, if we still have any.