Thursday, September 18, 2008

Dumb Like Me

I have completely lost my sense of humor over the McCain campaign. I can't take another corny joke about lipstick, moose, or barnyard animals. Instead of cracking wise, I'm obsessively trying to comprehend the mindset that wants a leader "just like me".

Looking back on Republicans I have known (not a large inventory, I'm afraid), I flashed on Clark, a former pharmaceutical client. Clark worked on a medication that helps critically ill premature babies. We were calling on Clark to discuss making an educational video using existing footage of doctors, nurses and preemie moms, all speaking from experience. I was arguing for using footage of a young Black mom with a particularly heartbreaking story. Clark didn't want to use the clip: he couldn't get past her accent and colloquialisms. He got so into making his case, he started imitating the young mother in a falsetto voice. "He don't have any letbacks?...Who talks like that?" It never occurred to Clark that he was offending the other people in the room, including an African American woman with an urban lilt of her own.

I thought about my friend Janine, a copywriter I used to work with when I lived in Cleveland. I can still see her bounding into my office to share an idea for a TV spot she was working on. “ There’s three old guys sitting on a park bench,” she began. "A black guy, a jewish guy and an American guy.” “Janine,” I pointed out, before she could go any further, “The black guy and the jewish guy are American too.”

I remembered Otto, a co-worker who had a little boy about the time I had my son. Otto brought his baby into work one day, and I was on the floor handing the kid Little Tykes figures to play with. When the baby showed no interest in the little brown plastic character I was waving at him, Otto jumped in with an explanation: “ He only wants to play with the WHITE dolls”. Otto thought this was hysterical. Almost as funny as the joke he liked to tell about the jew, the pizza and the oven.

We Democrats get excited about diversity precisely because we see and appreciate our common humanity. Sarah Palin Republicans are suspicious of people who are unlike them. This tends to make them a little clueless, like Janine, who got it when I called her on her language, or less empathetic, like Clark who couldn't relate to a young Black mother from the inner city, even though he had a child the same age as the one she lost. And then there are the nazi shits like Otto, who are probably beyond redemption. All of these folks want leaders who are "just like them", a regular guy or gal who can dumb it down to glib sound bites delivered with just a touch of flair and hometown charisma. The irony of this is that politicians of either party are not just like us. They are more driven, ambitious, eloquent, opportunistic and manipulative. That's how they get elected in the first place.

At the heart of this yearning for down home leadership lurks a disturbing tribalism. And in the global village, tribalism is devolution. We have huge economic, energy, security and environmental challenges ahead that we must face collectively and internationally. So what do the Palin drones list as their priority issues? Abortion and gay marriage. Behind all the ranting at "liberal elites" and "the liberal media" is fear and resentment of any thinking that might shake up their world view. The myth of Mr. Smith goes to Washington lives on. But Mr. Smith didn't have to contend with two wars, global warming, world terrorism, an unstable and scary economy, a belligerent Soviet Union, a mortgage crisis, a broken health care system, rising unemployment and, oh hell, I'm sure I'm leaving out something critical but you get the point.

So I keep pondering and trying to understand, and in the interest of equal time, I'd like to give my Republican fellow-citizens a few questions to ask themselves:

• Is putting an underqualified person a heartbeat away from the presidency really putting "country first"?

• Do you think Sarah Palin would EVER have gotten considered, based on her skimpy resume, if she were a man? If not, doesn't that make her a token? What kind of real advancement is that for womankind?

•How would having 5 kids, including a Down's syndrome baby, a six year old, a pregnant teen, a not-yet pregnant teen and a son shipping off to Iraq impact your current job performance?

• How can John McCain still be "a Washington outsider" after 26 years in the House and Senate? If he hasn't learned the ropes by now, what's that say about his learning curve?

• McCain followed the family tradition and went to the naval academy like his 4 star admiral father and grandfather. His wife is worth millions and they own nine homes, thirteen cars and a plane. How is he not part of an elite?

• Is it really more important for your president to fit in at your neighborhood potluck than on the world stage? Have you ever considered that McCain might actually be more comfortable having a beer with Joe Biden than with you?

• If you're okay with your doctor, lawyer or CPA being smarter and better educated than you, why hold your leaders to a lower standard?

• If your child got a scholarship to an Ivy League school, would you hang your head in shame that she's joined an elite? What if she went on to Harvard Law? Would that make her less qualified to be president than before?

• What if you, regular Joe or Jane, woke up in the White House tomorrow morning? Would you know what to do?

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