Obama, Racism and Thomas Jefferson

I talked to my cousin this morning about Barack Obama. Much to my surprise, my cousin, a Republican, says he’s voting for Obama. Mostly because John McCain is “not the same man he was eight years ago”. What struck me about the conversation is that he said he’s taking some heat from the other members of his rock band. He’s been called unpatriotic. A traitor. Etc. I’m sure you can fill in the rest. But what struck me most was when he said that one of his sons, in regard to Barack Obama, said “all he’ll do is pass laws that help niggers”.
It seems to me that pretty much sums up the opposition to Barack Obama.
I’m sure there are plenty of people who have valid political reasons for not being comfortable with the idea of Barack Obama being president of the United States. But honestly, the bulk of the people I’ve come across who object to him do so for little more reason than that he’s black. They cloak it in political jargon. But if you dig a little bit, the racism comes right to the surface. A good example is the people who can’t refer to him unless it’s as Barack Hussein Obama, or those who drop his first name and call him Hussein Obama. Let me get this straight. You’re not a racist, but you’re trying to defame a black person by suggesting he might be part Arab? Um … have you ever looked up the definition of the word “racist”?
To my cousin’s credit, when his son said that about Obama passing laws to “help niggers”, my cousin told him that most black people are poor. So whatever Obama does to benefit them will benefit poor white people, too (which his family certainly are). His son hadn’t thought about that. His racist views were leading him to discount something that he might benefit from.
Of course, American politics is full of examples of people voting against their own interests, because they’re too un-informed to cast their votes based on the evidence before them, but rather let their prejudices guide them. Or, rather, they let themselves be led by their prejudices. How else can you explain so many people voting against their own interests in 2004 when they voted to re-elect George W. Bush (I don’t count the 2000 election – Al Gore would have won that one if the Republican operatives on the Supreme Court hadn’t over-ruled the will of the American people). Say what you want to about Bush, but what has he done for us other than get us into a war that benefits companies almost everyone in his Cabinet has ties to? The only thing most people can come up with is the tax cuts. Oh, yeah. He put a couple hundred dollars in your pocket a few year years back. Anyone but me notice that the rich folks got not only the biggest tax cuts, but they got a second round of tax cuts? Where was the average American’s second round of tax cuts?
My grandmother summed it up best. She always said that the Republicans only cared about the rich people. I’ve reduced that further. The Democrats are about the employees. The Republicans are about the employers. So if you’re an American living near or below the poverty line and you vote Republican, you’re voting to make your boss richer at your own expense. Simple as that.
But I’m trying to cover too much ground here. I don’t imagine anything I say here will change the mind of someone who sees in Barack Obama nothing more than “a nigger”. They see things in white and black. Us and them. Sadly, this group of people represents a large segment of the American population. In my many arguments with Conservatives through the years, I’ve always uncovered racism. So I can’t help but think of the audiences of shows by Right-Wingers like Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity as racist, sexist homophobes who think God is a supreme asshole (which He would have to be if, as Pat Robertson suggested, He is a Republican).
When I was young, I was naive. I had a lot of good friends who were black. I honestly thought, because of my personal experiences, that my generation would be the one that would solve the problem of racism. I thought we’d all be able to get along. Somehow I believed that sooner or later the country would have to move forward on this issue. That people would have to drop their 19th Century concepts of the differences between the races.
But we haven’t moved along at all. If we’re facing a new presidential election in 2008, and we’re still talking about someone as well-read, educated and intelligent as Barack Obama as “a nigger”, we are certainly lost. I suppose the most disappointing thing for me is that I expect more out of my country. Unfortunately, Thomas Jefferson was right. He said “Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government.” But most Americans are not well-informed. Most Americans think Saddam Hussein attacked the United States on 9/11. Most Americans believe that we found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. An awful lot of Americans believe that Fox News is a genuine news program. Americans are not well-informed. It gets worse every year.
Here’s a quick way to test whether the folks you know who object to Barack Obama are informed or not. Ask them if he was sworn in as a Senator on a Koran. If they say “yes”, they’re an idiot, and are most likely one of the people who blindly voted for our current President, then cheered and waved their flags as he trampled the Constitution, threw away the lives of thousands of American soldiers, and watched with a smirk as his buddies in the oil industry posted record profits (that’s record profits as in ever, in the history of the world) while average Americans came down to having to decide between gas for their cars and food for their families. Yeah, buddy. Give me more of that Republican trickle-down theory.
I dread the upcoming Presidential election. I almost fought with stupid people in 2000 and 2004. I’m not looking forward to doing it again. But if someone comes to me with a load of rhetoric and can’t make a single valid original thought, but instead spews nothing but the Right-Wing Republican talking points that they got from Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity, I’ll call them to the carpet. I keep thinking that some day I might manage to get through the mind-conditioning and make them think for themselves. I don’t expect them to agree with me. But I do expect them to look at the evidence and make up their own minds. If you get your news from Bill O’Reilly or Rush Limbaugh, you’re being told what to think, and you went buns-up years ago. If you think you can trot out Bill O’Reilly’s opinions and claim them as your own, all you’ve done is show me that you’re an un-thinking idiot.
So. You may ask, what does this rant about the Right have to do with the original point? Everything. Everything! The same people who will vote not for John McCain but against Barack Obama are the same nutjobs who keep Bill O’Reilly in business. Racism is a simple-minded process. You believe certain stereotypes about a specific group of people, because you’ve been told that those people are somehow less than you are. Whether it’s because they’re black or because they’re Liberal is really beside the point. The thought processes are the same. It’s not as easy for a well-informed person to look at Barack Obama and see “a nigger”.
I’ll close with a few quotes from Thomas Jefferson. First, the full quote that I included above.
“Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government; … whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights.” — Thomas Jefferson to Richard Price, 1789. ME 7:253
He has some points about education, which I think are pertinent here.
“I know no safe depositary of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.” — Thomas Jefferson to William C. Jarvis, 1820. ME 15:278
“Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone. The people themselves, therefore, are its only safe depositories. And to render even them safe, their minds must be improved to a certain degree.” — Thomas Jefferson: Notes on Virginia Q.XIV, 1782. ME 2:207
And Jefferson has a few more salient points on being informed …
“No nation is permitted to live in ignorance with impunity.” — Thomas Jefferson: Virginia Board of Visitors Minutes, 1821. ME 19:408
“If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.” — Thomas Jefferson to Charles Yancey, 1816. ME 14:384
The last two speak directly to my point. I don’t see voting as a right, but as a responsibility. It’s an important process, and the people you vote for are going to be helping to run our government. Therefore, shouldn’t they be qualified? Shouldn’t you as an American inform yourself about who a person is and what they stand for before casting a vote? Political elections, at least in theory, are not popularity contests. You’re giving the person you vote for the power to legislate your life and the lives of those around you. Are you really stupid enough to vote for one candidate over another just because your guy’s skin is the same color as yours? Or because your guy belongs to the same political party that you do?
Perhaps more to the point, Thomas Jefferson sums this up for me.
“Though [the people] may acquiesce, they cannot approve what they do not understand.” — Thomas Jefferson: Opinion on Apportionment Bill, 1792. ME 3:211
Amen, brother.

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments