Obama on Healthcare

The White House hasn’t done enough to counter the all the noise about “turning the country Socialist.” This is in part because, as the New York Time reports, the same network of voters who helped propel Candidate Obama to the White House has not taken on the hard work of advocating for President Obama’s health care plans.

I’m not surprised. Health care is complicated and messy, and it doesn’t lend itself to the soaring rhetoric of a political campaign. “Yes we can” has given away to policy prose that the Democrats have not yet learned to distill to catchy phrases.

What we really need is will.i.am.

He needs to come out with a health care video featuring a mix of real-looking Americans who are suffering as a result of our diseased health care system…in poetic prose…to a simple beat…that kind of feels like a Gap ad… and the people have to be attractive and photogenic. See the problem?

I’m not losing faith in the team that took down the Clintons, but the Republicans are at their best when they are whipping up fear and reducing complicated ideas into easily repeated sound bites, and the media has seen something shinier to focus on–screaming citizens (sometimes with guns) wringing their hands about the socialism of America. The truth and common sense are on the verge of completely buckling under the assault of media broadcast ranting.

This week’s town hall meeting in which Obama referred to the current system as a “Disease-Care System” is a good start, but more needs to happen, and the only way for the media to cover the other side, the side of common sense and human decency, is if that side is more interesting to put on camera.

Until then, it’s a good idea to forward Obama’s Weekly address to everyone you know…especially those inclined to disagree with you. It might be more productive than yet another e-mail about how women are better than men or men are better or women or how black people are always late.

Damon Weaver’s Success

I fell in love with Damon Weaver during the election when he interviewed Joe Biden, so I was thrilled to see that, after months of trying, he finally got to interview President Obama. The questions were good ones, and they really seemed to come from Weaver’s point of view, touching on topics from the painful to the adorable.

Seeing Weaver in his pants that are slightly too long seems like a perfect symbol of what his future could hold. He’ll grow into the suit and into his future…and maybe he’ll get better school lunches for his peers along the way…

On the Nose: President Obama

It’s difficult to describe how annoyed I am with all the calls, especially from the so-called left, for Obama to be “bolder” in the face of such complicated problems at home and abroad. It’s depressing and suggests that while Bush’s politics may have been abhorrent, too many people who should know better actually seem to like his style! Our cowboy culture runs so deep that many of us don’t know how to cope with a president who is methodical who is, to borrow words from John Hodges, a nerd and not a jock.

I would like to blame the press, but that’s too easy. They are a large part of the problem because jocks and cowboys are more fun to report on than nerds, and covering real policy making must be like watching paint dry. But (and it’s important here to recall that “but” and “butt” sound the same and that “butt” is another word for “ass”), we make choices and keep ourselves overstimulated by listening to the rhetoric of folks like Bill Maher, forgetting that first and foremost the man is an entertainer who makes his living by arguing against whoever is in power. He is, as I wrote to a friend recently, a professional malcontent, and a very wealthy one who lives in a bubble where his “liberalism” is rarely challenged. All the analysis, even from those who the left-leaning among us might agree with, is less important than we realize, and it’s time to calm down and refocus. It’s time, I think, to read more books and watch less television, and, I think, it’s time for all of us to remember and embrace what Obama told Chuck Todd during yesterday’s press conference:

“I know everybody here is on a 24-hour news cycle. I’m not. O.K.?”

He’s not, and we shouldn’t be either.

Unpacking the Battle

In literary studies, we talk about “unpacking” a text or part of a text. This means looking closely at it–at its language and form and cultural context–to determine multiple meanings. It drives some students crazy, but when we talk about “critical thinking skills” as one of the benefits of studying literature, this is one of the exercises that develops that mechanism.

I was thinking of this “unpacking” in relation to the California Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the ban against marriage.

I was driving home from running errands when I heard the news on NPR that the California Supreme Court had voted to uphold the marriage ban. I uttered words that get bleeped on television and my happy feelings about Sotomayor’s nomination melted.

I’ve been reading different blogs about the significance of the ruling and kept stumbling upon the logic that argues that the ruling is not actually about banning gay marriage but about protecting the voting decisions of voters.

This is ice-cold comfort.

But according to a blogger over on DailyKos who has done the work of unpacking the language of the ruling, those of us on the side of good shouldn’t feel as bad as many of us do. The post is long, but here is the part that gave my sadness pause:

In last year’s landmark 4-3 decision, In re Marriage Cases, the California Supreme Court decided that same-sex couples have a fundamental right under state law to every single advantage that heterosexual couples do, including the right to call their legal union “marriage.”

Today, the court unanimously upheld the substantive fundamental right. Liberal to conservative, they all now accept it. They construed Prop 8 as narrowly as possible: as a initiative that addressed what we would label these relationships that we normally call marriage. The voters said that we can’t call these relationships “marriage” when they involve same-sex couples. That’s an insult to gays and lesbians and I hope and believe that it will not last. But note what this does not say.

Prop 8, now that the Supreme Court has stripped it down to a bare bone, does not say any of the following:

(1) It does not say that any provision of California law that invokes the label marriage does not also apply to these “civil unions” or whatever we call them — how about “marrijezz”? — that same-sex couples will henceforth undertake.

(2) It does not even say that these legal relationship aren’t marriages. It just says that the voters decided that in California, if they occurred after a certain date, we aren’t going to call them that. This isn’t a minor point: it means that if a couple that has had a California “marrije” leaves the state, they have the right to say that they are “married” and have a correctly spelled “marriage” and — when the Full Faith and Credit case eventually comes down — have the same right to full faith and credit as does anyone from another state who got officially and legally married.

(3) It doesn’t say that the participants in “marrijezz” can’t call each other “husband” or each other “wife” — or that they can’t legally demand to be able to call themselves husbands and wives. This was, in the eyes of the California Supreme Court, entirely about cutting a particular tag off a dress before allowing same-sex couples to buy it. Do you think that the “this is called a marriage” tag is the same as the “I can call this man my husband or this woman my wife” tag? Nope — that’s a different tag. If voters want to eliminate the words “husband” and “wife” from same-sex partners, they have to pass a new initiaitve. Does that start to convey a sense of how deeply the Court carved down Prop 8 today?

I’m still reading through the whole post, but that bit of unpacking is helping ease the sting, if even just a wee bit.

Beyonce vs. Aretha? vs Dyson vs. West?

If anyone told me that I’d ever see Michael Eric Dyson offering his imitation of Beyonce, I would have taken them straight to the nearest mental institution. But here he is in an energetic “debate” with Cornel West (aka the coolest black man walking the planet) about who is better. I wish I’d seen Tavis Smiley’s announcement about his movie on HuffingtonPost earlier because the movie (“Stand”) looks interesting:

Thoughts on Michelle Obama I

It’s a relief that the focus on Michelle Obama had broadened, just a bit, from her magnificent wardrobe to the projects she has embarked on as FLOTUS.

FLOTUS. I love the sound of that because it brings to mind two lovely words: the word “flow” and the image of the lotus flower. I only have a passing understanding of the different cultural significances of the lotus flower, but I have a pretty clear sense of what “flow” looks like. I don’t think I can define it but, like art, I know it when I see it, and she’s got it. Those of us who supported Obama during the Democratic Primary and the general election have seen it all along. It’s evident in the way she moves, the easy rhythm of her speech, and the values that she has stayed true to all along the way—family, community, service.

The press succumbed, as it so easily does, to the Republican’s caricature of her, gladly discussing her as a liability and depicting her as a version of black womanhood America is comfortable with dismissing and/or dissing—dark, angry, and unfeminine. And then they were shocked and stunned to discover a woman they still can’t really define.

While the focus on her wardrobe seems silly, I can understand why it has played out this way. To put it simply, the media do not have the language, the lexicon, or the rhetoric to report on a woman like Michelle Obama. She’s like a unicorn but more rare because she doesn’t even exist in American, or international, legends. Think about it. Can you name one famous black woman who is not an entertainer who is like Michelle Obama?

You might be tempted to compare her to the women of the Civil Rights Movement because she is already a historic figure, but she is not like Sojourner Truth, Rosa Parks, or Shirley Chisholm. She is certainly no Angela Davis or Fannie Lou Hamer. She is more their descendent than a figure cut from the same mold. She is no Oprah. And she is no Condoleeza Rice and not just because the two women have different political leanings. She’s not like either woman because she easily wears a mantle that neither woman has taken on—mother and wife.

This is, in itself, a radical thing for a public black female figure, and it’s a thing that the mainstream media simply can’t understand. They also have not quite yet figured out how to report on why she has charmed the majority of the nation. This is, in part, because doing so would require them to say the kinds of things that many white Americans simply don’t want to hear—for to discuss Michelle Obama in real terms is also to discuss the mistreatment of black women by all the different parts of this country.

She takes on this tricky problem fearlessly, though I’ve noticed she does so by speaking very little about the present. When she refers to her ancestry as a descendent of slaves, her very presence in the position of our first lady affirms that “ancestry” can be seen as “ancient” and “history.” At the same time, she exhorts young people to think about and plan for the future. She wants them to be what she has so successfully been throughout her life—a strategist, someone who can see the forest for the trees and who does not let herself get distracted by the small things in a culture that has a habit of cordoning people off from their ambitions.

Her strategy seems to be acknowledge the struggles of the past, work hard in the present, plan for the future.

I don’t mean to make Michelle Obama out to be larger than life, but she is. She’s actually a larger figure than her husband. As my friend Johnny said the day after the election, the miracle is not that Americans elected an African-American man to be president but that they accepted a black woman as their first lady.

When it comes to her, I’ve done little more than watch her and, at times, emulate her style. I’m inspired by her and comforted by her presence because she is unbreakable proof that black women can be more things than the media portrays us as being. But I’m still trying to find the language, the lexicon, the rhetoric to describe this unicorn of a woman. Thankfully, there is plenty of time, and she’s giving us plenty of good material to think about.

And a child shall lead them

Stumbled upon this on the HuffingtonPost. This (adorable) kid organized the rally as a class project. According to HuffingtonPost:

“He was concerned about the issue after hearing about anti-gay remarks on the playground and then learning about a same sex couple in his neighborhood that couldn’t get married.”

I am woman…

The title of this article in the New York Times sparked a shudder of recognition in me: Backlash: Women Bullying Women at Work

A few years ago, when I was still a fresh-faced PhD, thrilled to have found a job that met all of my outlandish requirements, a female colleague announced to me that I was “male identified” because I got on better with my male co-workers than most of my female ones. It’s worth noting that “got on better with” meant I had virtually no problems being direct with them and didn’t get too worked up if they disagreed with me from time to time.

I should come clean from the start and say I’d not been one to call myself a “feminist” much before this moment because I don’t like labels, and it seemed that the women who attached the label “feminist” to themselves paid lip service to helping oppressed women when their real goal seemed to be developing a sophisticated language of victimization. They were also too obsessed with talking about their feelings at work. The concern seemed more about the right to be hairy than actual “sisterhood” and I’ve never had the impulse to sit topless in a circle and celebrate my breasts. Seriously.

I also noticed something really creepy in graduate school that I’ve since seen among many female PhDs: they are as mean and nasty and judgmental of one another as their unwashed (read: non-feminist) sisters, but their self-righteousness is naked and aggressive.

I’ve never fit in much with women, though, because I’m an emotional tomboy. This is not to suggest that I don’t have soft feelings and insecurities. It also does not mean that I am invulnerable. In fact, I’m rather weepy and fret about the things a lot of women (from the bold to the timid) think about during the course of the day. I am perfectly comfortable talking about my feelings and will vent with the best of them. The difference, I think, is that I’m lead more by my dreams and ambitions that my frets and my weepiness. So while I’m just as likely as the next woman to crawl under a blanket and feel like utter shit, I think I’m probably more likely than most of the women I’ve met to also feel like it’s up to me to crawl out from under the blanket. Yes, I will, eventually, recognize the patriarchal structure of said blanket, but then I will figure out how to work around it.

The first time I realized I wasn’t “normal,” I was too young and naïve to understand why this marked me as different. I was the youngest woman in an all female office, and I was hazed in ways that still give me chills: Information readily available to my colleagues was kept from me (like the home phone numbers of co-workers I was expected to collaborate with…as they worked at home); I was regularly chastised for not having the proper wardrobe (I got the job a few months out of college) and then ridiculed when I bought clothes for work (not because they were unprofessional but because I had gone to the “wrong” store); speaking up in meetings I was accountable for running was frowned upon and viewed as impertinent (even if most my comments were well received); taking the “listening” approach was a sign that I wasn’t assertive enough.

I, who had been a confident, happy young woman, developed ulcers, stopped sleeping, and started getting ragged around all my edges. I quit, went to grad school, and autonomy became my best friend. It was in grad school that I began to understand that what had happened at my first job was not so much about me but about how women treat one another, especially young, single women.

Among self-proclaimed feminist I saw backstabbing, pettiness, passive aggressiveness, and narcissism of the kind that makes me think we need to go back and re-write the legend that gives us that label. Male academics, I noticed, could be obnoxious too, but the competitiveness was right there on the surface and resentment was sparked by real rather than perceived unfairness. And it was about real stuff that could be measured—not about who was most popular but about who got published and where or won a spot in a prestigious seminar.

Now, I know that patriarchal systems reward male directness and punish female assertiveness, but what I found (and still find) abhorrent is that feminists who can describe this power structure wield it like a cudgel against women they don’t like, and the reasons they don’t like these women has little or nothing to do with the quality of their work and everything to do with whether or not these women have made the kind of choices that so-called feminists value.

“I am woman here my roar” has been replaced with “I am woman and your job as a woman is to validate every choice I’ve made by making the exact same choices that I’ve made so that I never have to question whether or not I made the right choice to begin with.”

I’m not so fresh-faced anymore, but after being hazed by yet another group of women, I made a few promises to myself:

  • I will be kind to younger colleagues and offer them information that is useful and then give them space to use that information as they see fit and not as I would like them to use it
  • I will never feel I have to be “friends” with everyone I collaborate with
  • I will not try to “nurture” everyone who crosses my path
  • I will seek professional validation from my work and personal validation in my personal life
  • I will always support a woman’s right to shoes* and not judge any woman for any of the shoe choices she makes
  • I will be compassionate, but I will not be an enabler
  • I will be less critical of Oprah
  • I will get angry and fight against the real source of trouble: patriarchal power systems

If that makes me “male-identified” so be it. I’d like to think it makes me a feminist.

*borrowed from an episode of “Sex and the City”