What we have learned over this year is that hope is making a comeback. It is making a comeback. And let me tell you something -- for the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country. And not just because Barack has done well, but because I think people are hungry for change. And I have been desperate to see our country moving in that direction and just not feeling so alone in my frustration and disappointment. I've seen people who are hungry to be unified around some basic common issues, and it's made me proud."
Michelle Obama is taking a beating for making that statement during a rally in Milwaukee yesterday. For the most part, she is getting killed for that one sentence: "...for the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country." And in most instances, with a quote omitting the crucial qualifier "really." Even video clips (see below) have a "convenient glitch" that mutes the word "really."
There is no question that statement was risky, loaded and the words perhaps less-than-artfully chosen and delivered, and I suspect Michelle Obama surely wants them back—because they are damaging and counter-productive to her and her husband's cause. But consider most of the critics—I don't think a bunch of male, white pundits can quite identify with the overwhelming emotional feeling associated with a black woman seeing the country on the verge of a historic national mea culpa by nominating a black man for President.
My initial response to the statement was "Oh shit, she is a loose cannon. That's gonna hurt. Right before the next primary, too..." But just because people aren't ready to hear something, doesn't mean it shouldn't be said. And while it probably could've come at a better time, and been more fleshed out, I think she's right.
I look at myself as countless things—a good father, loyal husband, nice guy, even Red Sox fan—before I think of myself as some hyper-patriotic, pseudo-jingoist definition of a "Proud American."
We fly a flag on front porch—but there have been times in the last seven years when I haven't wanted to. I love my life and the opportunities afforded me, but I don't go around pledging allegiance everyday and contemplating what it means to be "American." I go to work and raise my family and that's about it. Maybe that means I'm taking it for granted, but it's true. And I suspect it's true for most people, you just expect a certain level of lapel-pin-wearing homage from those seeking national office (and those speaking for them).
I am turning forty in May, so "my adult life" matches up pretty well with the 44-year-old Michelle Obama—but only in age. Trying to compare or identify life experience with her or anyone else is just as preposterous for me as it is for any of the countless people sure to be spouting off on this today.
Here's the thing: America as a good actor is supposed to be. The norm. The default. But on more occasions than I can count, it has failed to live up to that promise. In fact, on balance, I'd say there are more things to be ashamed of in "my adult lifetime" than proud of—not just because the things many people hold up as "proud moments" should be fucking expected, but because this country has done a lot of shameful things—here and abroad.
If Barack Obama is elected President, I can honestly say it might be the proudest moment of MY adult life, at least in regard to my feelings about "America."
It's more than the fact that he's black and what that represents—and that's plenty. It's because electing Obama is the strongest possible repudiation of the last twenty years I can imagine, and I think that IS something to be proud of.
And I say twenty years because this is more than the Bush Era—of which there is close to nothing to be proud of. I go back further because there isn't much of a proud legacy from the 90s either. Bill Clinton presided over a nice economic boom, but little else. There was no transformational change. No "New Deal." No progressive movement. No sea change for good.
What was there? There was Rwanda. There was DOMA. There was welfare reform. There was Don't Ask Don't Tell. There was impeachment. There was scandal. Most of all there was complacency and there was greed. The rich got richer and nothing much happened for anybody else. It's more pronounced now, but really, only the faces at the top have changed. It's the only way to explain how we can be where we are today so quickly.
The people in power in the 90s came in, got theirs, and left. And left the pieces in place for the even-more-disgusting shit that happened since.
I can remember the day I came into work after Election Day 2004. Not only had the country endorsed the worst man alive and everything he represented, but here in Michigan, we relegated an entire class of citizens (gays) as second-class. I was fucking embarrassed and ashamed to be an American that day. It was a level of shame that far outweighs all of the proud moments I've seen recited in all the columns today.
The more I type this, the more I identify with what Michelle Obama had the honesty to say...and I've had a pretty good, white bread, middle-class American life with all the trimmings.
It might have been self-centered, it was probably ill-advised, but it was honest. And I'm certainly not going to hold it against her. Not just because she's Barack Obama's black wife, but because maybe it needed to be said.
UPDATE: I just saw a more complete quote [added above], and a video of the remarks here.
UPDATE 2: Apparently the video above is the one flying around most of the blogs and YouTube, and you might notice a slight "glitch" at a key moment...when she says "For the first time I'm [really] proud of my country..."
Here it that key sentence unaltered: