My Mental Zen Garden

I spend a lot of time talking about the subtext of this election season and equal time attempting to lovingly defend my position.  I say lovingly, because I try not to get down in the mud with the worst of them, but so help me… sometimes, it’s difficult.

For more than four years, we’ve dealt with the “Birthers” and the “Truthers” and the “Otherers” (“Otherers” is my personal term for those who paint the Barack Obama as a Secret Kenyan Muslim, i.e., the Tea Party) and it’s exhausting.  No amount of proof or statistics or documents will convince a segment of America that Barack Hussein Obama has red blood flowing through his Christian, American-born veins.  No amount of reason will convince them that his unusual upbringing gave him a broad view of the world that has served him well throughout his life, not to mention, restored the reputation of this country in many parts of the world.  No amount of pointing out the fallacy of their arguments can convince them that it wasn’t a tragedy when Joe McCarthy exited the national scene all those years ago, as they pine to resurrect him.

I have some really smart Conservative friends.  They’re well versed on the issues facing this country.  We argue vehemently about policy, cause and effect and the path to recovery.  What don’t we argue about?  Facts.  Incontrovertible facts.  We don’t argue about the reality of the President’s heritage.  He’s an American.  He was born in Hawaii.  He’s the legally and rightfully elected President of the United States.  We don’t argue about unemployment numbers.  If the Bureau of Labor Statistics issues a figure, we agree unequivocally upon the legitimacy of that figure.  If a politician from either side of the aisle makes an outlandish comment or claim, we take turns hanging our heads in shame.  How are we able to accomplish this?  We are rooted firmly in reality.  There are some basic definitions upon which we can all agree that permit us to have more substantive conversations.  This is why it’s increasingly difficult to deal with the frustration of the media for giving that nonsense a voice.

Four years ago, at a town hall meeting, there were two exchanges between Senator John McCain, then GOP Presidential nominee, and members of the audience.  In the first exchange, a young man expressed fear about then Senator Obama’s clear ties to terrorism.  In the second exchange, an elderly woman explained that she can’t trust Obama because, “He’s an Arab!”  This is how Senator McCain handled both:

As you have witnessed, after the first rebuttal, when Senator McCain refuted the lie his own roguish Vice-Presidential running-mate, Sarah Palin spouted then and continues to spout now about Barack Obama “palling around with terrorists”, he was booed by his own supporters.  When the elderly woman, reminiscent of many elderly Fox News addicts I’ve met, called Barack Obama an Arab, Senator McCain bravely stated that he was an American, a good family man and their differences were merely on matters of policy.  Booed – his own supporters.  Keep it classy, people.

I’ve been waiting all campaign season for another “McCain Moment” – a single moment where a man has the courage to stand up to a lie, knowing it may lose him some followers.  After several near blackouts, I’m no longer holding my breath with this batch of cowards.  Willard and his Ayn Randian running mate can’t afford to lose a single follower, so they merely feed into it.  Yeah, I remember you talking to that Michigan crowd, Willard, assuring them that “no one ever asked to see MY birth certificateThey KNOW that this is the place I was born and raised!  Heh, heh, heh!” Indeed.  Because there’s no reason to ask a rich white guy, the son of a Governor for his birth certificate.  We reserve that tasty treat for the dark-skinned candidate with the Afro-centric name – and then we call him a Muslim, a Socialist and of course, a Communist.  The night of the Vice-Presidential debate, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews was interviewing people outside the debate hall in Denver, hoping to catch a few supporters from both sides.  He shared a most interesting exchange with a woman there:

The transcript is worth repeating. The parentheticals are mine.

Chris Matthews:  Who said “Communist” down here?  What did you mean by that?

Woman:  Well, all you have to do is just study it out.  Just study it out and you’ll see.  You haven’t done your homework, Buddy.

Chris Matthews: What do I need to study?

Woman: (holding out her hand defensively) Go to somebody else. (loudly) He’s a Communist and those of us who are not voting for him KNOW it!

Chris Matthews: And what do you mean by ‘Communist’?

Woman: (pensive look) You don’t know?

Chris Matthews: No, just tell me.  Help me out here.

Woman: (smirk) You don’t know?

Chris Matthews: I just want to know what you mean.

Woman: Oh, I know what I mean!

Chris Matthews: Well, help us out. You’re on national television.

Woman: Oh I know I’m on national television!

Chris Matthews: Well, tell me what you mean when you just accuse a guy of being a Communist.  You think he’s an American?

Woman: (talking over Matthews) Just study it out.

Chris Matthews: Is he an American?

Woman: (adamantly) Oh, no.

Chris Matthews: He’s not an American?

Woman: No.

Chris Matthews: What is he?  What country is he from?

Woman: (stunned moment of silence, then) Hey, just cause he was born here doesn’t mean that he’s… he thinks like us.  He’s a Communist, Buddy. (*end with smug, self-righteous look of the all-knowing).

Racism - I know it when I see it.

Say what you will about Chris Matthews, he was calm and his challenges weren’t accusatory.  Like me, he hears this a lot, and like me, for once, he wanted an answer.  Like me, he didn’t get one.  It was clear she didn’t know the meaning of the word.  She just knew it was a hard-hitting pejorative to sling in the President’s direction.  She learned it from the masters.  If I could say anything to this woman, anything at all, I’d have to ask her another question.  How brave is it to stand anonymously behind a giant pair of sunglasses, accusing the President of the United States of being a Communist, a word you find yourself unable to define? Let me ask you another question, Madame.  Can you name a single right you’ve lost as an American under this administration you didn’t have four years ago? No?  Here’s another one.  When you say, “he doesn’t think like us”, could you at least have the courage of your convictions to finish the sentence and say, “he doesn’t think like us white people”? Because the color of the President’s skin is the only substantive feature that differentiates him from every other man who has previously held that post.  Nothing more.  Nothing less.  But who am I kidding?  People who make those comments generally do so behind large sunglasses without giving their name, or do so on the internet hiding behind a screen name.  People who make these comments revel in their ignorance and bask in it all anonymously.  They bully others who want to have substantive discussions about the issues of the day.  They bully people who understand we’re all in this together.  Like it or not, Black, White or Latino – rich or poor, working or unemployed, we’re all Americans and it’s time we started acting like it in a country where none of us can afford to behave the way she proudly did.  Ignorance is not a quality with which one can afford such pride.  But they’re not racists, no, no!  Obama/Biden 2016 signs with the word “NIGGER” spray-painted in red across them are purely a figment of my imagination.  The late Associate Justice to the Supreme Court, Potter Stewart famously said hard-core pornography was hard to define, “but I know it when I see it.” When it comes to racism, though sometimes it’s veiled, hinted, hidden or overt, deny it as you will, I know it when I see it.  To the woman in Denver, defiantly calling the President a Communist, I say, “Madame, your white sheet is showing.”

The other topic that saddened me so deeply this week was receiving word that another teen committed suicide after suffering the torment of Internet bullies.  Fifteen year-old Canadian teen, Amanda Todd, posted a YouTube video scarcely a month ago.  In that video, she outlined her journey that began in a self-described lapse of judgment that led to her being stalked both in real life and online.  She had completely accepted the blame for what had happened to her in the beginning.  She understood by the time she made that video, no one deserved to endure what she had gone through. Her stalker reveled in following her from town to town, school to school as she attempted to re-start her life again and again.

When I read the news story that she had ended her life, I wept.  Just reading the cruel comments that were left for Amanda under her video, after she was brave enough to reach out for help, I wanted her to know I was sorry.  I was sorry I didn’t see her video sooner.  I was sorry I didn’t live closer.  I was sorry the world is such a cruel place.  I was sorry she didn’t stick around long enough to know, people like me, people who had never met her would have loved her enough to tell her that her life had value.

When Vicki Childs and I did the BROADSIDED show on cyber-bullying, I remember getting a message from a long-time listener that we were stupid for broaching the subject of bullying.  He assured me that bullying is a ‘rite of passage’ and today’s kids are ‘nothing more than pussies who should just suck it up’.  We got into an intense discussion that ended with me not speaking to him since.  This isn’t a schoolyard brawl that can be easily observed.  This isn’t kid stuff.  It’s criminal.

The hacker group, "Anonymous"

This morning, news broke that the Internet hacker group known as “Anonymous”, named one of the most influential ‘people’ of 2012 by Time Magazine, publicly exposed the man alleged to have manipulated and stalked this young girl to death.  Anonymous is known for their ruthlessness in targeting those they feel are a menace to society.  They openly published his name, his address, a map to his house and a Google street view.  They published his date of birth, his place of employment and his personal e-mail address.  It’s one thing to turn the information over to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police – it’s quite another to release all of this information without a trial.  At the end of the leaked information, Anonymous ended their treatise as usual: “We are legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us, ****.” (I have truncated the name to protect the accused before trial).  The human part of me says he deserves it.  The rational part of me says they’re no better than the man who drove this child to suicide.  Anonymous claims only to have gotten involved after leaked nude autopsy photos of the deceased teen appeared online.  For the sake of journalistic integrity, I looked.  The one posted appears to be the nude corpse of another dead girl, not Amanda, but the commentary that accompanies it is disgusting and I will not provide a link.  I hang my head in shame for what this world has become.

Ultimately, this is the tale of two kinds of bullies.  One discredits a man’s identity because they don’t like the color of his skin and proceeds to bully and belittle anyone daring to challenge them.  One kills a teenager ill equipped to emotionally handle the manipulations of a sick man and those he enticed to join in.  Both are a form of illness and both are so pervasive within our society, it demands that we call a moratorium, a full cease and desist, so that we may collect ourselves and regain a bit of our sanity.  In both cases, after watching both videos, we need to ask ourselves, “Is this what America, what our world has become?”

You have the power to change it, you know.

Carol Baker is a free-lance political writer and sometimes satirist.  She is a regular contributor to Here Women Talk.

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