Monday, November 10, 2008

Chestnuts & myths

Over the course of the campaign and since the election, I've heard some pretty bizarre statements accepted as fact -- some amusing, some disturbing, most the result of Kool-Aid consumption.

'This election marks the end of racism in America.'
Let's get this out of the way, right up front: Racist hatred is alive and well in America. The election of a black president, for all its historic cachet, doesn't -- and can't -- put an end to human ignorance.

When I hear my wife talk about some of her customers referring to "President N****r," when I see one of my spawns' teenage friends glorifying Nazi genocide on his MySpace site, when I read page after arrogant page of not-so-veiled white-supremacy ramblings in Internet forums, I know better.

The result of last Tuesday's presidential election is a milepost, not a destination. The way it was achieved can serve as a model for Americans of all races, but the gains can't be sustained without commitment.

Most important, the election of Barack Obama is a "no excuses" moment, one that can change the tone of our national conversation about race. With effort and example it will, I hope, drive racism further toward the fringes of our society -- where evil belongs.

'Barack Obama isn't my president.'
Hearing "President-elect Obama" may be like fingernails on chalkboard for those who didn't want him to win -- but this was a presidential election, not a membership drive.

Some will resist the transition from opposing his candidacy to respecting the office he'll hold, but it's never too early to get over it. Now, in fact, would be a good time to start.

Speaking out in thoughtful opposition to specific policies, when warranted, is in the best interest of our nation -- praying for the total failure of the Obama presidency is not. We'd best act like we know the difference.

'Barack Obama isn't my Commander-in-Chief.'
Unless you're a member of our military forces, no, he's not -- and neither is George W. Bush. The President of the United States isn't Commander-in-Chief of American civilians. I have no idea how stuff like this gets started.

'The Republican Party must become more conservative.'
That might be true, if only the GOP could remember the meaning of "conservative": less government, civic responsibility, civil liberties and power in the hands of The People.

Legislating socialized capitalism is inconsistent with American conservatism. Regulating who may and may not marry is a manifestation of big government, as is interfering in citizens' personal reproductive choices and imposing moral restrictions on scientific research. Belittling community service is a painful departure from advocating the most fundamental principle of an engaged citizenry. Wielding love-of-country as a political bludgeon doesn't serve The People -- it divides and betrays us.

The conservative "brand" has been corrupted by moralizing that's irrelevant to governing. Today's faux conservatism is the bastard child of evangelical Christianity and misguided patriotism, and last week it was assigned a seat perilously close to the margins of American politics.

The People have spoken. We'll see if the GOP was listening.

'Sarah Palin is the future of the Republican Party.'
Can you even imagine? Let's hope she's not -- if she is, we're all in deep, deep trouble.

'Joe the Plumber is the future of the Republican Party.'
The GOP's use of Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher was perhaps the most glaring example of how out-of-touch the party is with the American electorate.

Ostensibly, Republicans held up "Joe the Plumber" as Everyman, hoping to attract votes-of-affinity from working-class Americans. And it might've been a good play -- 25 years ago, when Everyman looked more like Joe. The GOP showed itself to be shamefully ignorant of how much our society has changed.

'Barack Obama's election is a win for liberals.'
This canard is yet another sign that Republicans and conservatives have drifted off-course -- way off. They pitch every election, every issue, as a battle against liberals, when it's really a fight for moderates.

Moderates and independents, which dominate the electorate, chose Barack Obama and rejected the alternative. Contentions to the contrary simply aren't credible.

'The media are in the tank for Barack Obama.'
Coverage of the Obama campaign was, in general, more favorable than coverage of the McCain campaign -- I won't dispute that, because I haven't seen an objective analysis that concludes otherwise.

That proves a liberal media bias, right?

Not necessarily.

First of all, the Obama Story was more compelling to most Americans than the McCain Story -- and the media are in the storytelling business, not the news business. And hard as it may be for some to accept, Barack Obama got better press because he ran a better campaign.

He generated more positive stories because his opponent insisted on running a more negative campaign. Characterizations of the Democrat as "steady" and the Republican as "erratic" were reflections of the candidates' public conduct, not the result of bias. We saw more of McCain-Palin's statements exposed as false or hyperbolic because, according to independent analysis, Obama-Biden didn't take as many liberties with the facts.

Blaming the media for their coverage of McCain-Palin's ineptitude is like blaming the beer for a DUI charge.

Conservatives also might want to consider an attitude adjustment -- unrelenting antagonism only perpetuates an adversarial relationship with the press. Benjamin Franklin advised against seeking a quarrel with "a man who buys his ink by the barrel," and yet conservatives wonder why they can't get "fair and balanced" coverage without creating their own provincial outlets.

The media are today's public square, at once the channel for and the source of free speech. Conservatives will be better served if they stop seeking attention by setting fire to the green.