04 November 2008

Am I proud to be an American?

I’ve had occasion in the last several months to think about what it means to me to be an American, about what it means to me to be an American woman. I can say with conviction that I am left without a definitive answer. Our country was founded by a bunch of old, rich, white men. So what did they do for me?

I will grant you that I am a white woman. I certainly cannot say I know what it feels like to be the victim of the apparent rampant racism in our country. I want to say that it shocks me. I’m appalled to say that it doesn’t. We still have that lingering fear. What will happen if someone who doesn’t look like me gets to make decisions about my life? Guess what. People in the minority in this country have been living with that for years. And we, as a society, as a nation, stomp on their efforts to make their voices heard. It truly disgusts me. And we do this in the name of God? America? Our white culture? It makes little sense to me.

It is natural to be afraid of difference. Of change. We all are. I won’t put the sole burden of racism on white people. That would be absurdly unfair. All people of all colors in all nations all over the world are racist to some degree. Possibly, it stems from some kind of tribalism left over from thousands or hundreds of thousands of years ago when it was important to protect your own. But our global society is suffering because of our inability to put skin color behind us and see people for people. We all have two eyes, one nose, two lips, two arms, and two legs. Are we all different? Yes. But those differences don’t necessarily follow the lines of skin color. It’s possible that I have more in common with a woman from Southeastern Asia than with some of the white women in my own country, for example.

I’ve heard a lot of talk in the media lately about culture. Michael Savage, a man who frightens me to my very core, began talking about culture on his radio show one night. He cleverly used the words “same” and “equal” interchangeably. I understand that when I say, “X=1,” I mean that “X” and “1” are the same. But in the context in which Mr. Savage used the words, they are not synonymous. “All cultures are not the same.” I cannot dispute the validity of such a statement. What I can and do dispute is the statement, “All cultures are not equal.” Who decides that? You? Me? Michael Savage? Republican Congresswoman Michelle Bachman (who was recorded making the same statement)? I don’t know anyone who is qualified to make such an assertion. It is a dangerous notion and one that I cannot stomach.

In addition to racism, there have been many accusations of sexism during this election season. When Hillary Clinton was attempting to capture the Democratic nomination for president, she was attacked in some pretty vicious ways. She’s no stranger to this, of course, as she (and her daughter) withstood a fair amount of criticism while her husband was President of the United States. She’s a tough lady. I thought she held her own pretty well. Sarah Palin, however, did not. She publicly accused Hillary Clinton of “whining,” and said that she needed to “plow through it.” The tables, though, as they so often do, have turned. Not only has she changed her tune, now Sarah Palin is the one crying sexism. Her wardrobe (bought and paid for by the Republican party, McCain’s campaign, or provided by the tooth fairy) made front-page news. Is this fair?

I have to say that yes, this is fair. She didn’t make front-page news because she spent a lot of money on clothes. She made front-page news because in some capacity her clothes were provided for her in a way that the public might find a little shady. It’s true that McCain’s wardrobe isn’t scrutinized and no one cares how much he paid his makeup artist. That’s probably because presumably he paid for those things himself. If anyone should be accused of sexism it is McCain’s campaign, which was so concerned with the way Sarah Palin looked, it felt the need to spend over $150,000 to “fix her”.

While we’re on the topic, I think it should be expected that the media might be a little tougher on women who are vying for such high offices. We have yet to break into that arena, and we have to pay our dues. It would be insulting if the media coddled female candidates simply because they’re female. That encourages attitudes that are detrimental to women. Women are not the “weaker sex”. Women are people, just like men are people. Why shouldn’t we have to jump through some hoops? We can handle it because we’re tough.

The idea, thanks Brooke Hogan, that a woman wouldn’t be as capable as a man to run the country is absurd. It is absolutely possible that a female president might be more “emotional” than a male president. So what? Just out of curiosity, haven’t we gotten ourselves in this mess with over a hundred years of rich, white, male presidents? Why not take a chance on a woman?

Having said that, I think that Sarah Palin is the most unqualified candidate ever presented for the vice presidential office. I could do a better job.


Okay, maybe not. But my first statement still stands. She is a joke. She gives women everywhere a bad name. I am shocked at the things that have come out of her mouth. And frankly, in some respects, I think the media has been too kind to her.

I just read a blog, written by Wendy Buttons, former democrat and former speechwriter to John Edwards and Barack Obama. Let me correct that, former speech contributor, maybe. I doubt she was writing any speeches. Apparently the Democratic candidate for president has left a poor taste in her mouth. And John Edwards dismissed her. She got her feelings hurt, so she’s voting for John McCain and Sarah Palin. And I say go ahead. Her three-page article lists her grievances with the Democratic Party. It reads like a schoolgirl who was pushed by a boy on a playground.

She attended a party at John Edwards’s house, in which he asked her to come to his office, so they could talk about what was “coming up.” This was in 2006. She didn’t hear from him for a few weeks, and then received a letter telling her to (in her words) “go away.” She took this personally. She turned down other jobs because she put all her eggs in the basket of a politician. Personally, I would suggest she be smarter in the future.

She worked with the Obama campaign briefly in 2008, but felt she had to quit when Barack Obama began to “mock” Joe-the-Plumber. Really? She’s so offended that Obama fought back when someone tried to attack him and then became the unwitting face of the Republican campaign? Would you rather he say nothing to the constant references to Joe-the-Plumber spewed forth from McCain and Palin?

She was upset by the media’s treatment of female figures as well, particularly Sarah Palin. “Really, front-page news is how the Republican National Committee paid for Governor Sarah Palin’s wardrobe? Where’s the op-ed about how Obama tucks in his shirt when he plays basketball or how Senator Biden buttons the top button on his golf shirt?”

I realize that I may not be among America’s best and brightest, but it seems to me that these things she lists aren’t really related. Whether or not Obama tucks his shirt in while playing basketball or Biden buttons the top button on his golf shirts can’t really be put in the same category as a $150,000+ makeover for Sarah Palin.

Again, this is not about fashion or about Palin spending too much of her own money on clothes, as were the criticisms of John McCain’s expensive shoes or John Edwards’s $400 haircuts (See? It does happen to men too!). This is about campaign and/or Republican Party money that was spent to clothe Palin. If the media is sexist for bringing it up, McCain’s campaign is sexist for putting such importance on “pretty” in the first place.

Yes, there’s a double standard as far as appearances go. That’s the way it is. If you want to change it, I’ll be glad to support you, but don’t hang that on Barack Obama’s neck. I don’t think it’s his fault that media coverage is what it is. I believe that Americans are getting exactly what they’ve asked for on the news.

Buttons further goes on to say, “Here we are discussing Governor Palin’s clothes—oh wait, now we’re on to the make-up—not what either man is going to do to save our economy. This isn’t an accident. It is part of a manufactured narrative that she is stupid.”

I believe, and I could be wrong here, that Governor Palin is doing a fine job all on her own of making herself look stupid. The clothes purchased for her by the RNC have nothing to do with intelligence on her part. The fact that she has no idea which newspapers or magazines she reads reflects on her intelligence. Do I think that an inability to produce the name of a single magazine means she’s stupid? No. I think that she’s not ready to be in a position of leadership in this country if she can’t think on her feet. If only she had said, “Well, ya know Katie, I read Cosmo a lot!” I probably would have found her cute and funny. Still not suitable, but I would have had some respect for her sense of humor and her ability to think quickly.

I wonder if Wendy Button will be any happier as a Republican. My guess is that she will not. She got her feelings hurt and is stomping off to cry, but I don’t think she’ll like what she finds on the other side. The Republican Party is about to have a civil war. I shudder to think of what will become of that. We’ll just have to wait and see.

So what does it mean to me to be an American?

It means that I live in a country where freedom is valued over most other things.

I am free to speak my mind whenever I choose.

I am free to practice whatever religion I see fit, or none at all.

I am the overseer of my government.

I live in the land of the free, and the home of the brave, a melting pot of cultures and a world of opportunity for everyone.

I do not live in fear. I will not live in fear.

I stand up for what I believe in, and I have the right to protest decisions made by the government.

I hold my government accountable for its actions. This includes the leaders elected to represent me.

Those who wish to hold me down will not oppress me.

I stand up for the little guy.

I believe in my country and what it represents.

I vote.

I work.

I am educated.

I have more than most people in most other countries could ever wish to have.

I was born to succeed.

I live in the most powerful nation in the world, but I do not take that power for granted or use it to harm others.

I am independent, and I can be anything I choose.

I buy things I don’t need with little regard for how I will pay my bills.

I eat too much.

I drink too much.

I know more about who Paris Hilton is dating than I know about foreign policy (okay, not really. But it's true for so many people!).

I can surf the internet for hours at a time and never get bored.

I laugh when people fall down. As long as they’re not seriously injured. Sometimes even if they're seriously injured.

I love.

I live.

So what face can we put on America?

The truth is, we can put no one face on our country. We are American. That means we are white, we are black, we are Mexican and South American and Japanese and Russian and Indian and Pakistani. We are Christians and atheists and Catholics and Jews and Buddhists and yes, even Muslims. That is our America. We should be proud of it.

And yet we continue to oppress others. We continue in our racism. We are suspicious of all Muslim people because of the events of 9/11. No one can argue the horror and tragedy of that day, but I argue that it does not justify our actions of retaliation.

My America has become something else. I’m not sure where I live any more. Our leaders have failed us, our people foster and promote hate based on skin color and sexual preference, and we force our will on the world because we think we know best. Who are we? How do we distinguish ourselves from the terrorists we so fear?

America the Beautiful has tarnished her crown. And we are better than that. Protesting a war should not bring up a question of patriotism. Protesting the complete perversion of our civil liberties should not be considered “anti-America”. Wanting a change does not mean a lack of love for the country.

Thomas Jefferson once said, “When people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.” Do we fear our government, or does it fear us? I’m not sure any more. Our president chose to start a war without the consent of Congress or the UN, much less the American people. Our government continues to prey on our fears to deprive us of our civil rights and to justify its actions in a war that few still support. Does that sound like fear to you?

Much has been made of Bill Ayers and The Weather Underground in this election cycle. But has anyone looked into why they chose to do what they did? I recently watched a documentary, The Weather Underground, which was fairly informative on the subject. Yes, they did bomb US buildings. Yes, innocent people were killed. And no, I don’t agree with the way they went about their protest. But, as John F. Kennedy said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable.” The Weather Underground was a group of young students who passionately opposed the government’s actions in Vietnam, along with the oppression of black citizens of the US.

I think that it’s important that we take an important lesson from The Weather Underground. And that is this: If we become those we hate in order to protest those we hate, have we really accomplished anything? Protesting the killing of innocent people in Vietnam by killing innocent people in your own country is not a victory. And I believe that we have become a bit of what we hate in Iraq. We have become the extremists, fighting for what we believe. Killing in the name of our system and our morals. Are we any better than the terrorists who were involved in 9/11?

I’m sure if I were a politician, I would be held in contempt for my anti-American sentiment here. But it is not anti-American. I will not be accused of having less patriotism than the next person because I do not agree with all actions taken by my country. We are a nation of different people. We are divided by our politics and our cultures and our morals. It should not be unreasonable for anyone to feel dissent.

At the end of the day, I love my country and what it represents. We just need to be careful with the message we are sending to the world. Remember our founding fathers and know that even they were flawed. Even they were rich, old, white men who were racists and sexist, but who were trying to do the right thing. We have to find a way to unite, to find some common ground, so that we, too, can do the right thing.

I am proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m (sort of) free.

And today, we will possibly elect a black man to be our leader, for the first time.

He brings with him the hope for a better way, the excitement of change, and a new face to our White House.

I am counting on Barack Obama to restore the America that I read about in history class (where, let's face it, we never hear the whole story). I am counting on him to restore our freedom.


Killer B said...

Great argument!!! Couldn't get through the entire thing just now, but I'll be back! :)