Thursday, May 7, 2015

Hue and tone and color

Please forgive me, for I will have sinned.

Either by omission, or sloppy phrasing or misguided intent, I will eventually have blown it in this blog. I will have blundered into offense, most likely by trying not to offend.

So when you reach that point in the post, note: I already apologized. I will be prepared to apologize again, nonetheless.

Here goes:

My wife complimented me on the post I wrote in winter about overblown outrage over President Obama's remarks at the annual prayer breakfast. The Islamic State of Whosit and Whatsit had just become all the rage — in a horribly real sense of the phrase.

Critics of the president took one phrase out of his remarks — about how religion can be twisted for evil means, and (lest we forget) Christians also have a history of using religion for violence and dominance, from the Crusades to slavery in the United States — as evidence of Obama's (1) hate of America, and (2) defense of brutal Islamists.

My wife agreed with the points I made. She is nice and generous that way.

She brought up the harsh criticism of Obama's remarks that I highlighted in my post, including those by a woman named Star Parker, a conservative columnist and political activist who founded the Center for Urban Renewal and Education. Like Obama, Parker has been a community organizer, though perhaps with different aims.

Parker in at least two venues in conservative media described Obama singled-out remarks as "verbal rape."

“Let me put it in context then, because I was in that room and it was frankly verbal rape,” said Parker.
“We were not expecting it, nobody wanted it, it was horrible to sit through and after it was over we all felt like crap.”

This was not the part of her response I wrote about after the fact in my earlier post. I wrote the next sentence in her comments instead, "Verbal rape is what it was. Because he pulled the air out of the room."

Parker elicited a "Wow!" from fellow guest panelist Geraldo Rivera — Out of admiration? Genuine shock? — on Sean Hannity's Fox News show.

Ben Carson, a retired pediatric neurosurgeon, also told Fox News after Obama's comments, “It makes me feel that perhaps we’re being betrayed. Perhaps we don’t have a leader who feels the same about things as most of us do.”
(I wrote the earlier post because I still don't understand the offense and outrage here. Is it not factual, what President Obama said? Is it not reasonable [ironic word] today to expect that people kill in the name of their religion, and that some Christians are probably killing or harming others for reasons they determine righteous in their beliefs? Are those offended trying to say, "That was then, this is now," that Christians are blameless in contemporary mistreatment on religious grounds?

(Or is it all just so much more posturing to win political points and prickle the political base?)
"Wow, 'verbal rape!?'" my wife said.

"That was Star Parker," I said. "She's African-American."

"Really?" my wife said.

"And Dr. Ben Carson, the pediatric neurosurgeon? He's African-American too."

I felt my teeth try to corral my tongue the moment I said this, trying to swallow the words. Because, why does it matter if two of Obama's harshest critics are African-American? Am I expecting all African-Americans to side with President Obama by virtue of color or heritage? Of course not. Do I expect African-Americans to give Obama leniency? Of course, no.

So why did I say it? Why did I feel need? Maybe because it's very difficult not to notice. Maybe it exposes a prejudice in me that conservatives — and especially conservative critics — are predominantly white, predominantly male. Maybe it's something uninformed about me that finds black critics so unusual.

Maybe it's difficult as well not to note Parker and Carson's role on Fox News, difficult not to ask (if only in my mind, but here it is, in a blog post) if their being African-American is why they're on Fox News, criticizing President Obama. Fair and balanced.®™

I give Fox News credit for being a media voice, a court jester if not a town crier, anxious to point out, relentlessly, the president is an emperor who has no clothes, and is Muslim, despite longstanding and repeated and blatant evidence to the contrary.

I do not accept Fox as a news company any more than I accept CNN; neither organization demonstrates a dispassionate responsibility to inform us, who need informing desperately. All is not well: But that's true for everyone, not just each news outlet's particular demographic.

Fox and the others have agendas and frame their news as the-sky-is-falling messages with particular slants to achieve certain responses. They inform, but only so much, in a certain light, for a desired result: Power to their people.

Fox among the major news outlets is absolutist, the most egregious, the most extreme in how it frames news and assumes events, real or imagined, and then builds its programming on those assumptions.

They bring on pundits, including Carson and Parker, who carry out this carefully crafted architecture of message.

You have to agree: Saying the president committed "verbal rape" is must-see TV.

Carson appears often on Fox and can also be counted on to spin words into Fox News gold.

Carson bows to no one in achievement. His life became a movie: Raised poor in a troubled family, Carson rose from a poor student to medical school, overcoming discrimination eventually to become, at only 33, the director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital. He is most famous, perhaps, for having separated twins who were joined at the head, fulfilling months of planning and nearly a full day of surgery, orchestrating a medical team comprising dozens.

He has written several books about what's wrong with America, which mostly has to do us with lacking God and morals.

Carson presents himself as upright and moral; ok, I take him at his word. Clearly he is brilliant and resolute. All the more reason I don't understand why he says such dumb things:
  • Being gay is a choice, for example, said Carson, "Because a lot of people who go into prison go into prison straight—and when they come out, they're gay. So, did something happen while they were in there? Ask yourself that question."
  • "Looking at the AP course in American History that's being taught in high schools across our country. There's only two paragraphs in there about George Washington. George Washington, believe it or not! Little or nothing on Martin Luther King. A whole section on slavery and how evil we are. A whole section on Japanese internment camps and how we slaughtered millions of Japanese with our bombs. A whole section on how we wiped out American Indians with no mercy. I mean, I think most people, when they finish that course, they'd be ready to go sign up for ISIS."
  • "You know, Obamacare is really, I think, the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery. And it is, in a way—it is slavery in a way because it is making all of us subservient to the government."
  • In response to the U.S. Supreme Court's consideration of the legality of same-sex marriage, he said the president does not have to abide by the court's ruling.
  • Carson has called President Obama a psychopath, and suggested he should be tried for treason based on his foreign policy.
They're not dumb comments so much as tailored, almost cannily, to the media on which Carson frequently appears. Parker's extended analogy to rape, for example, appeared practiced to me, rolled out at a key moment in this panel discussion, for maximum effect. I wouldn't have a problem with Carson and Parker and other critics making reasoned and eloquent opposition to the people and parties in power. Carson has the capacity, I presume, to be erudite.

But reason and eloquence is boring, reserved for PBS and NPR. "Verbal rape" equals money, equals votes. Give your hungry public something nearly as base and histrionic as that!
I'm pretty cynical and think President Obama has fallen short of his office — failure to close Guantanamo, proliferation of drone warfare, the opacity of his government and half-assed dedication of public education among them — but I wouldn't buy what Carson is selling, nor give any credence to Carson's frequent assertion that Obama hates this country and is trying to destroy it.

But Carson has a lot of adherents who love to hear his self-avowed political incorrectness.

Now Carson is running for president, one of many fat-chance Republican candidates, and a growing number who not only call on God to guide them — following a long presidential practice — but expect their god to guide your comings and goings and thinkings too.

Carson strikes me already as the irony candidate, just as I often regarded George W. Bush as the irony president, criticizing others in a way that could just as easily apply to himself.

In his One Nation: What We Can All Do to Save America's Future, he said, "Worst of all, we seem to have lost our ability to discuss important issues respectfully and courteously, and cannot come together enough to begin to solve our problems."


"Each of us can positively affect our nation just by making ourselves (and those in our spheres of influence) aware of the fact that we are being used as pawns by those who try to tell us what we should think as opposed to using our own common sense."

Carson can't fail on the campaign trail. He won't win nomination or the office, of course; he's not really in it for that. But he'll write more books and lecture at whatever fee he chooses about taking America back to some earlier time when everything was good and nothing was bad. He'll have his own Fox News show to update his yesteryear theme.

I'll be judging him by the content of his character.

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