The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

O.K., so he's not as smart as I thought

O.K.--so Obama isn't as smart as I thought he was (remember I said that if he was as smart as I thought, he'd win by double digits?) Of course, I didn't say whether that was popular vote or electoral...but it would be b.s. not to admit that I was thinking popular. So...I forget who I made the bet with, win.


What do I think about this? I've always said that we don't have to rely upon the idea of "better natures" or "intrinsic goodness" to believe in the possibility of peace and human growth. Fear and naked self-interest will do it. Steve Perry said that the best bumper sticker he saw was: "Vote for the Nigger--it's that important."

I doubt that the person with that sticker uses that particular word often...but I suspect that he used to, and knows many people who do. And understood that it wasn't a matter of wanting a black man to marry your daughter. It is the question of whether you would want a black fireman to save her life. A black tax prep lady to save you thousands of dollars. A black judge to set you free. In other words, once upon a time there was a belief, held by many, that blacks were globally inferior--that no black man was the equal of any white man. The numbers of people who held such beliefs have dropped drastically, to the point that I see almost no one with such a belief--but there is still a lot of belief that the AVERAGE black man is less than the AVERAGE white man. But you know what I see more of? Simply a sense of "I want my team to win" racism. Not drastic. Not venomous. Just a tribal sense of "us" and "them" that is far more tractable.

When Obama started running for President, he did almost nothing wrong, almost everything right, and worked like I've never seen to create an image of himself as a plausible chief executive. Simultaneously, his ability to communicate--as powerful as I have ever seen--was creating a level of buzz that was pretty remarkable. When I first saw him at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, it was because my buddy Darnell called me and told me to watch, that I would be watching the first black President. Darnell went to prep school with Obama, and had two basic things to say:

1) He inhaled.

2) He was the same guy in prep school that he was on the national stage.

You guys know my belief: that you can't get positive results in all three arenas in your life without having your feet firmly on the bedrock of your true nature. So being married to a terrific, smart, accomplished lady...being a self-made multi-millionare...and being an enthusiastic athlete...and having maintained his basic core personality since college...

I knew he was the real deal. You simply can't sustain a lie that long, that consistently.

I'd never had any interest in voting for Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson. So my interest wasn't based on race. But once I began to listen to the way he formulated his thoughts, naturally "resolving dualities", I was THRILLED that he was black. It was a matter of "good lord...where did this guy come from?"

And where he came from was...America. The story of his mother's courtship with a Kenyan father was the start. America had both the freedom for such a thing to happen, was a beacon that calls immigrants from around the world, and has the vestiges of racism that create pressure.

Under pressure, people reveal their nature. If you are balanced, you collapse your ego shell down to your core and become a diamond--created by heat and pressure. If you are a liar, or unconsciously have a false ego-shell, you crack.

Obama didn't crack. I have no real idea if he'll make a good president, but I do know that I've never seen anyone on the national political scene who has so many of the personal characteristics I personally hold dear. I understood why so many white people were scared by the Jerimiah Wright business. Strongly suspecting that those who were most disturbed knew very few black people, had no context to understand that the black church has been, for millions, the only place in their lives where they could express the crushing fear and pain that they had to hide six days a week.

Would I have remained in that church? Nope. But then, I've never remained in any church at all, so it's irrelevant. William Ayers? Geeze. I would have loved to see a flow chart of each candidate, branching to show all of the thousands of people politicians interact with over the decades. I would have loved to have seen the number of shady characters that popped up on the CLEANEST candidate's slate. That whole business was, to me, absurd.

I could ramble on about this, but my happiness for Obama isn't just about him, or me, or my skin color, or even America. It suggests that under pressure, the human beings in this country were able to see beyond skin to the qualities beneath. To extend hope and faith in a way that has never been seen, to my knowledge, in the world before. A member of a visually identifiable ethnic minority, formerly enslaved, raised to the highest office in the land? Kind of like a Palestinian voted Prime Minister of Israel. When that happens, something has changed.

My son gets to start his life with the role model that every white boy in this country has had--the route all the way to the top. Good lord. It isn't that there is any promise of achievement. There is the promise of possibility, and an open door.

Staggering. America really is what I always thought it was. Human beings really are what I've always believed they were. This isn't Obama's moment. Or America's moment. It speaks to the possibility for all people, everywhere.

I'll be damned. We really are made in the image of God.

I've never been prouder, or more humbly grateful to be alive in this remarkable time, on this remarkable day. Thank you all for sharing it with me.

There are tough times ahead, but you know what? We already know what we really, really are under pressure. Bring it on.


elsie said...

My favorite moment in the coverage last night was when Eugene Robinson on MSNBC said that he couldn't believe that from now on when he told his children that anyone could grow up to be president, *he would no longer be lying.* That touched my heart so strongly.

suzanne said...

O.K.--so Obama isn't as smart as I thought he was (remember I said that if he was as smart as I thought, he'd win by double digits?)

and how's that, Steve?!!

how is it
that those who didn't vote for him
are a reflection on his intelligence?

perhaps he copuld have got more vortes
by pandering
or buying them
with promises of
or pushes for various

as I see it
he can make his administrative changes
beholden only to his principles
and the will of the people

I expect we will see
creative use of technology
to engage in conversation with
the citizens of this country
as decisions are made
I think input will be welcome

and he has said
no "retreads"
in his appointments

personally I think he ran
a nigh near impeccable campaign
and I am delighted and moved by
the outcome.

Althea said...

Obama's election is all about the NEW. A new way of governing; ushering in the new American industry: Energy Technology aka Green Collar Jobs; service; letting go of stuff that doesn't work. I do not claim we will all hold hands and sing. But be open to the new. Ride the wave.

The best thing about this is that my sons, who are the same sandy-brown shade as Obama, can grow up to be president. They really can be anything they want to be. Things are going to rapidly change, in all arenas.

I look forward to the first woman president, the first Latino/a president, the first Native American president, the first Asian president. And I look forward to the day where their elections are no big deal. I am so proud right now.

Steve Perry said...

Just after the concession speech, when the other members of Obama and Biden's families came out on stage, Barack and Michelle hugged. He had his back to the audience, but a camera from the rear of the stage caught it from that angle. She leaned in close and, though I couldn't hear it, and my lip reading is rudimentary, it sure looked like what she said was, "I love you."

In a night full of moments, that one shined bright.

The man is gonna need a lot of support, and I can see his wife will be there for him.

Even as a science fiction and fantasy writer, I never thought I'd live to see the day. I am so pleased to have done so.

The times, they are a changin'.

Mike Ralls said...

I'm one of those people who were troubled by Obama's past associates, but you know what? None of that really matters now. Unless a video pops up of Obama in a Nazi Uniform doing the Dance of Joy as tower 2 went down, it's all irrelevant campaign talk. What matters now is what he does. The campaign is over. Time to see the results.

Dan Gambiera said...

In my lifetime they killed men for registering Black people to vote. Yesterday Barrack Obama was elected President.

I never thought I'd live to see this day.

Mike Ralls said...

Oh, and just a personal side note: For pure selfish reasons I hope this blog stops being as political as it has been the last year. For me, I get the most out of this blog when it's about the personal, the human. I know it's Steve's place to rant and let things go, but I've gotten a lot of wisdom from it when it's about living life to 10/10ths of capacity. That's also what I think its strong point is.

There are, probably literally, over a million political blogs out there. And I've read tons of political blogs that are _really_ great for what they are. But this blog, on it's best days, inspires me to be a better me. And it doesn't do that when its all about politics.

For those who supported Obama, I don't begrudge you your happy time. Enjoy it. I personally think that your picnic will not be free of ants, but "gam zeh yaavor."

But again, for purely selfish reasons, I hope politics can be put aside here soon and a there is a return to a focus to better living.


Demon Hunter said...

This is a true victory for all Americans. I'm humbled, in awe, grateful. It's historic and I'm proud to be here for it! :-D

steve-vh said...

To me race was irrelevant. He was the best candidate for the job, hands down. I hope race hasn't overshadowed that. I can hope I appreciated what that means to a lot of African Americans.
And when he said "The UNITED States of America".....
Has many meanings.

Dan Moran said...

This has been an amazing moment. I did know it (or something like it) was coming. I'm dispirited by Prop 8's passage in California, but that's a temporary setback -- look at the voting breakdown and that thing passed because of people over 65 -- young people rejected it by 2 to 1. We won this fight and we'll win that one, we just need to come back to it.

I haven't agreed with Mike Ralls much lately, but I do agree with him that this is great blog about living. There are other political blogs out there, but not many (maybe none) that do what you do, Steve.

That said ... let's all take a moment to enjoy Obama's victory. Lord knows I am. Last night I was sitting in a busy sports bar watching the returns come in, and when they called it for Obama that crowd went crazy. It was mostly white but with half a dozen black people in the crowd -- when they called it this gorgeous black girl kissed the guy she was with ... saw me smiling at her, and came over and kissed me too.

I'm hung over for the first time in years today. I don't remember what I was doing when they called it for Clinton in 1992, but I'll never forget what I was doing when they called it for Obama in '08.

byrdie said...

I voted weeks ago via absentee ballot. I actually didn't watch the returns yesterday because I'd glanced at the polls, saw a potentially close race and thought we'd be lucky to know who won by Thanksgiving.


I've been sitting here at work, crying, while watching the acceptance speech. Neither my mother nor my father lived to see this day, but I've been alternately grinning like a maniac and trying not to burst into tears.

I do not envy Obama his job, but after years of incredible amounts of bullshit I can once again say that I'm proud to be an American.

kayama bliss said...

we are no longer waiting on the world to change.

we are living it!

i am thankful.


Anonymous said...

I was confident we would win, and Obama would be our next President.

Whet impressed me was the voter turnout! Amazing and humbling, that so many took it all so very seriously.

Power to the People.


mjholt said...

I have been obsessing about this election. I cried when when NBC projected the win. My heart rose when McCain made a gracious concession speech. My spirit soared when Obama made his acceptance speech.

This is the first time that I really cared that a particular person won. I really do not know how I came to this place. Maybe it is transient. However, I will enjoy it while I am here.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

At first I was mostly relieved that Obama won, but I'm moving over to delighted.

I can see why race is central to a lot of people, but it doesn't speak as loudly to me as that the more intelligent candidate won-- both that I'm pleased we've got someone smart (and God knows, we need that), and that the American electorate isn't addicted to stupidity.

Steve is right that we need a conservative side in the literal sense, but if this is accurate, it isn't exactly going to be the Republican party as we know it. I'm hoping for something good from the "my party betrayed me" contingent, but not from people who think that McCain should have run further to the right, or that Palin was a good choice, or that Obama won because he had more money without thinking about *why* he had more money.

Marty S said...

Nancy: I find the research you quote from an obviously liberal biased group amusing. If you don't think that the economy was the biggest factor in Obama's landslide victory, then look at the polls immediately before the crash and a week or so after the crash. I'm not a big believer in polls, but when the same polls conducted the same way change that much in a short time it says something. All the other issues discussed in the research are at this point sidelights.

Brenda Cooper said...

I am ecstatic to see this. Steve, you're the one who taught me how rare a public love relationship like the Obama's is, and without knowing you, I wouldn't have even see what a big deal this is. As a white person, I'd never noticed the lack of black role models or positive images of black people in the media or books in my childhood until you explained it back in the early days of Lifewriting.
As for Obama himself - I think he's gonna be a great President, and we can heal a lot of stuff old white men have been steadily damaging for decades.
BTW, My house was full of old white women couples cheering (and crying happy tears). Giggle. His progressive views have values for many of us.
Hugs to you!

Shady_Grady said...

I thought this was interesting.

arnold m. said...

I feel proud, patriotic and American for one simple reason: a conversation with my friend Lee. Lee is Asian American. It was obvious to me that the Obama victory had a profound effect on him, so I asked him if he was okay. He said: "You know, America always saw itself as great, and the rest of the world was always a little skeptical because America's actions did not always match its claims of greatness. Tonight we finally live up to our own hype."
I said: "What do you mean?"
He said: "I as a man of color may understand this better than you ever will. Over the years, I have encountered, from time to time, the persistent meme that being an American means being white. When someone says to me, 'Of course I can't speak Chinese - I'm an American' it means little to you, but to me it speaks volumes. He has an automatic association of his whiteness to his Americanness. But wait one damn minute, there are quite a few people like me, who can speak Chinese and yet are no less American than him, in any concievable way.
"In this election, we saw this harmful meme again and again. Some whites from the south and rural areas angrily asserted that Obama was not a real American. I recognized the subtext easily: he ain't white - only whites can be real Americans. So of course to them he was not fit to take high office."
I said: "It's messed up, I agree."
He continued: "The crushing victory proves once and for all, in the most visceral fashion imaginable, that the bigots are utterly wrong. We're finally the nation where any American, regardless of skin color, really has the possibility to achieve anything. It's no longer just an empty promise. The few who still subscribe to the despicable meme will eventually die of old age, some sooner than others. The new generation that replaces them won't have their prejudice. This is why you see so much emotion out there. I'm all choked up because I was born here and I've been a citizen all my life, but only right now, at this moment can I finally say that America is my country too. Maybe we'll screw up again down the road, but today we live up to the greatness of our highest ideals."

lynn said...

Steve, you might like this video. I love when people don't live down to their stereotypes.

lynn said...

Oops. I meant to say that the video has a brief ad before it gets to the real video.

Lester Spence said...

arnold your friend lee hit the nail on the head, and until i read his comments the wisest thing i've heard anyone say came from my 8 year old son who, in casting his mock vote for obama said "white people need to see that black people can do it too."

if non-whites needed to see non-white role models most of us wouldn't get even as far as we do. seeing obama in office IS viscerally powerful, but on some level we know that we're part of america. recent research shows this--whereas whites find it subconsciously difficult to associate non-white Americans with American symbols, blacks have no problems whatsoever.

it's WHITES who have needed to open their eyes and gain a less parochial and narrow vision of what america looks like. many of my female friends in undergrad are now people like michelle obama. more than a few of my male friends are on par with barack. the america they represent has been a part of my life for the last twenty years.

it took my son to remind me.

Christian M. Howell said...

I'm just glad I don't have to figure out how to do it. A MASSIVE weight just came off my shoulders and I thank him for having the courage to do this.
Now there is NO MORE STIGMA. NO MORE STIGMA. America responded to his message and we can finally come together. Not because of racism but because of isolationism (a semantic definition of segregation).

I would love to work for him in the area of cleaning up the schools. That's more important than the economy because if we aren't producing SUCCESSFUL, MORE-THAN-PROFICIENT workers there will be no Americans in the offices that have now become more computerized.

Even warehouse and fast food workers have to use technology.

AF1 said...

I'm happy for his victory, and look forward to seeing him implement his ideas.

Steven Barnes said...


I was making a joke, on myself, not Obama.
I agree. One of the reasons I've always been so clear that I don't consider one side of the spectrum superior to the other is that I wanted to vent without insulting or really taking sides. I appreciate your understanding. And I'll start backing off from it now, and concentrating on other things more...but I hope you understand that this is, arguably, the single greatest moment in the history of black people on this planet. My mind is a little bit blown...but I need to get back on balance now.

Mike Ralls said...

I can understand that this is _arguably_ (and I would argue against it) the best moment in the history of black people, and I can I understand your joy, and I have no problem with you savoring it for a while; I just wanted to put in my $.02 for what this blog is best at as a reminder.

Side note; I agree with you that myths are very important to a people, and if you want a good visual example of what the election of a black person to the most powerful position in the world means on a mythic level, I think this captures it perfectly;