Friday, October 10, 2008

Straw-Graspery, The Conclusion

Part Three - I am Angry with America (but Maybe Not Forever)
Or "Obama v. Words"

And I am just so fearful that this is not a man who sees America the way that you and I see America, as the greatest source for good in this world. I'm afraid this is someone who sees America as imperfect enough to work with a former domestic terrorist who had targeted his own country. (Source)

Sarah Palin goes on to say that no, America is not perfect, but evokes phrases such as "shining city on a hill" "collectively together America represents a perfect ideal". There is my full disclosure.

There is a word in that soundbite that always stuck out to me, maybe you heard it too. It's "imperfect." Obama does not see the country like us; he sees it as imperfect.

I've considered before that in regards to the current state of the nation, people born around the same time I was are in a peculiar place. I was sixteen when 9/11 happened, and that's a strange age to be. Far from an adult, but old enough to remember the Clinton and Bush years, old enough to remember something that could qualify as "pre-9/11". Any younger and I think this might not be possible. I would know only the blissful years of childhood, by definition politically ignorant, and post-9/11. Any older and my ideas about the world would already be formed; 9/11 would be something I would be adapting my current philosophies to.

But that's not how it happened. I was sixteen when it happened, just starting to care about the world that I lived in. That's a hell of a way to learn, but alas, the circumstances leave those in my age bracket with little choice. While everyone older than us was adapting, and everyone younger was nearly born into this new world, not knowing any different, my people, my generation, are the ones who grew into this, and we are the ones whose lines are most dramatically drawn.

It's not our fault though. There are really only three choices. The first is complete apathy. Now, I don't want to make apathy sound like these people are too lazy to care. I don't think that's it at all, actually. What I do think is that it's a completely natural response to the overstimulation that 9/11 and the politics surrounding it have created. We are the generation that remembers when the biggest deal, the most important political event in the 90s, was when the president got a blowjob, as though he were immune from receiving them. That was the worst we had to deal with. People in their late twenties and beyond at least had the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the Gulf War. Our political atmosphere went from "slightly embarrassing adultery" to "Axis of Evil" in a day. A day. It's no surprise some of my generation wants as little to do with politics as possible.

I'm trying very hard not to pejoratively name the second group, as it is the polar opposite of mine, and the one I understand the least. "Group B" is the best I can do. Every time you hear about the liberal idiot youth, there is a member of Group B you don't hear about it, the members of the generation that grew into the rhetoric of nationalism and wars on terrors, the guys that volunteered for military service. Our political attitudes typically stem from our upbringing, and the conservative environment that fed these people was encouraged by the nature of the Bush Doctrine. What I'm trying to say here is, we don't all watch The Daily Show.

But some of us do, the Group C-ers, the skeptics. When you're so young, how can you not get caught up in the jingoistic fervor that is the early 21st century? Did we question when we invaded Iraq? No, and neither did the country. But somewhere in the back of our brains, or at least in mine, we had the thought, "Maybe it shouldn't be this way."

And the language, oh god the language.

How deep do I need to delve into this? How much reminding do you really need about the way we talk now? It is stifling, and the closer you chronologically approach the year 2001, the deeper it becomes. To give a small, but embarrassing, example, look at the questions about Obama's religion. The word "Muslim" is used as a campaign smear. Attending a Muslim school at the age of six automatically qualifies you for terrorism. In regards to questions about Obama's religion, some of us have asked "so what?" but not enough. Not nearly enough.

"Keep it vague, Sarah," her advisor probably told her. "Keep it vague and they cheer." And it's true. The power of suggestion is always much more useful than cold hard facts. To say that Obama is pallin' around with terrorists is a thousand times more effective at making him out to be dangerous than to say he served on a charity board. To say that Obama thinks the country is perfect is more effective at making him out to hate America than to outline the ways that America could be better.

I beat this message into my friends and unfortunate passerbys: language is powerful. Just the word "terrorist" does so much without any other words attached to it. And it goes straight to your brain; there's no way to shrug it off without actually considering for a nanosecond what the word means to you. And instantly, without you realizing it, you've conjured an image in your head of what you think a terrorist is, and any number of subsequent words and images in your mind. It shoots into your brain. Obama may be a good man, but he can't stop bullets.

But this rhetoric is in danger of losing its power. The whole book of tricks has been thrown at Obama. The name connection with bin Laden and Hussein, the Muslim thing, the terrorist thing, the domestic terrorist thing, saying he hates America, questioning his patriotism, beating out a potential first woman president, militant wife, angry pastor, eating his bread with the butter side down...god, this list goes on and on. Every word, every smear, every insult that we ourselves were terrified of being labeled after 9/11, this man has been called. Literally. Not one of us would want to be called a terrorist in 2002. An act of bravery was (is) required to declare you're a Muslim. Saying you hate America or think that America is not the greatest country in the world has been likened to treason in the past seven years. This man is all the things we've been afraid of for so long.

And here's the thing, there is a very good chance he'll be president.

Can you comprehend how far-fetched that sounds when you add together all the smears against him? If you were to even suggest it in 2004, you would get laughed out of a room. And now, it could happen. Dare I say, for the first time in my adult life, the people of America will care more about a candidate's character than the fact he has a goofy-sounding name. There will be a majority of voices who will say, "So what if he might be Muslim?" People won't be afraid to say, "You know what, this country is imperfect." We don't have to go along with the nationalistic fervor anymore.

Maybe it sounds like I'm endorsing Obama. Maybe I really am endorsing Obama. But moreover, I'm rooting for the possibility that this rhetoric of jingoism, hatred and fear will finally die out. One month from the election, Sarah Palin can publicly and openly declare that Obama is a terrorist that hates America, and it won't matter one bit. That the man who collected every known term that we were too cowardly to attach to ourselves these last seven years might very well end up our president.

And that's how you become stronger than language.
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