Saturday, April 18, 2009

“IF YOU’RE BROWN, YOU CAN HANG AROUND”

Big Bill Broonzy’s lyric occurred to me while I was trying to make sense of the Tea Bag Parties on Tax Day. From all of the media coverage, I distilled that they offered more frenzied incoherence than anything else. I discerned that some people object to taxes.

The Boston Tea Party did not protest taxes. It protested the Crown’s refusal to permit American colonists to have representatives with a voice in shaping tax policy. The cry was, “no taxation without representation.” Well, whatever we think of them, we have representatives who presumably represent us in voting for or against taxes.

Many seemed to have protested the billions and billions being spent to bail out the very institutions which and individuals who, in promoting or purchasing speculative investments, respectively, played fast and loose with the economy. Were it not for Bush and Obama, most of these high rollers would have lost their shirts or blouses. Which—set Bush aside—raises an interesting question: why is a street-savvy guy like Obama robbing the middle-class to bailout the rich?

There are many answers, some good, and many of them apply. To which I add another: he is trying to hang around. In America, Obama, with a white mother and a black father, is “black.” To look at him, he is brown, yet he is perceived as black, and many people fear or loathe blacks. As I suspect that he conceives it, part of his job as the first “black” president is to show whites that they have nothing to fear and little to loathe. If so, his conception is about right; the lack of fact and the diffused focus of the Tea Bag Parties, attended almost entirely by whites, suggests an issue not to be spoken.

So what is he doing? For the rich and powerful, mostly the white elites along the eastern seaboard, he is trying to minimize their losses. For middle-class bigots, mostly the white southern and western officials of the Bush Administration, he is repudiating his oath of office and everything he knows about law—treaties, Constitution, United States Code, case law—to prevent the prosecution of their former leaders.

His is a fool’s enterprise. He cannot appease, much less overcome, the racist bigotry of those whom he would assure any more than Jews could appease or overcome German anti-Semitism by complying with harsh Nazi laws against them. Debasing his integrity by squandering taxpayers’ money and setting a dangerous precedent for the future—he puts the President and his staff above the law—will likely reinforce the racist prejudice that blacks are inferior and unworthy to lead. His idea that prosecutions of Bush administration officials would be perceived as retribution reflects his fear of this accusation from bigots. If he keeps trying to ingratiate himself with the unappeasable, he will encourage disrespect, discontent, and dissent, even among his erstwhile supporters, and undermine his efforts.

My best advice to Obama: do what is right, not white; show us your best, it will be good enough; and trust most Americans to follow your example and your lead. They voted for change they believed in; you need to believe in the change for which they voted.

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