Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Michelle Obama Might've Fucked Up, But That Doesn't Mean She's Wrong

[NOTE: I am updating this post slightly to include a more complete quote, and tweak my intro and conclusion a bit based on that.]
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.

Just sayin...

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. I'm leaving the truncated quote up top, because I think it still stands on it's own. But when you see the context and delivery, the outrage over this seems even more ridiculous...

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:


Smitty said...

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."

Her statement, and your sentiment above, are exactly what I was talking about that as a veteran, I want to return to the ideals that I thought I was defending when I was 18, 19 and so on. I see Obama as the guy who will do that for me.

It will be nice to return to a state of being whereby when America says something, it matters in a good way. It will be nice to trust that a decision made is at least considering the benefit of everyone and not instead believing that it somehow screws a bunch of us. It'll be nice to have a very visible leader who can put together a fucking sentence. Who says things like "let's help the children" not "we gotta help the kids."

So yeah. It'll be a proud moment for me too.

Mrs. Furious said...

I don't have one issue with what she said. I don't think any of that is out of line, or poorly said, or poorly timed.

The only bad thing to come of this is that is was poorly quoted.

Mr Furious said...

I hear ya, Mrs. Tell-It-Like-It-Is.

It's just a level of honesty and introspection that most people aren't prepared for. Especially from politicians, and even more so from politician's wives who should just be standing there in a paxil-induced haze like Laura Bush.

The timing is bad only because he needs to be putting Hillary away right now and this will be a distraction.

But she is 100% correct.

Mr Furious said...

Glad to hear it Smitty. You were one of the first people I thought of when I put this up, because of your service.

I hope you don;t mind I quoted you in response to the vet who claimed it was a "slap in the face" over in my diary at Kos.

John Howard said...

I don't see anything wrong with what she said, but then I've discovered I'm not very good at parsing hidden meanings. Speaking of which, since you're the biggest Obama supporter I know, I'm curious what you think of his supposedly sexist comments.

Smitty said...

Never a problem, Mr. F.

Toast said...

I don't think any of that is out of line, or poorly said, or poorly timed.

I agree. I simply see nothing controversial in her statement at all. When I read it this morning, I did a quick mental review of my "adult life" and thought "Yep, not a lot jumping out at me in the 'Proud to be an American' category."

Bill Clinton presided over a nice economic boom, but little else.

I realize you're less inclined to give either Clinton the benefit of the doubt about anything, but I think this characterization is unfair. Clinton was subject to a highly-coordinated 24x7x8-year campaign to bring down his presidency. There was no precedent for what the right-wing slime machine put him through, and we'll never know what he might have done had he been allowed to govern effectively. Maybe it would have been more of the same bullshit triangulation and fake "centrism", but maybe not. I chalk it up as 8 wasted years, but I don't put it all on him.

Toast said...

Oh, and slightly off-topic, did you see this psychotic nonsense where right-wing bloggers are raving -- I fucking kid thee not -- that Obama is going to institute a theocracy because his wife said "we have to fix our souls. Our souls are broken in this nation."?

I keep thinking I can't possibly hate Wingers any more than I do, but then I read something like this. Yes, it's not Mike "Change the Constitution to be in line with God's Law" Huckabee we need to worry about on the theocracy front, it's Obama. Because his wife used the word "soul" in a way that even I, a militant atheist, interpreted as utterly benign. I mean, I don't think anyone can be crazy enough to say something like that and believe it. The only conclusion I can draw is that the Winger bloggers making that claim are knowingly engaged in pure, unadulterated propaganda.

Mr Furious said...

I'm not trying to hammer Bill Clinton or blame him for anything specifically (aside from the specifics mentioned above), but the truth is there was no lasting legacy from that era, no matter how fondly Democrats and others want to look at it. Even the economic boom seems to be a distant memory in many respects...

I should note, that is what Obama got in so much hot water for articulating as well. Reagan was transformative, while Clinton was not. Nothing about the Reagan era was good, and the good things about the Clinton era were not transformative.

Mr Furious said...

Let me be clear about my title, too. I wrote it first when I was more consumed by the fallout from this. I think it was an unforced error only in the sense that this is not a fire they need to be putting out right now. Not with Hillary on the ropes and the nomination looking more and more in Obama's grasp...

They don't need to be handing out ammunition.

But she is right. And I suspect many, MANY people agree with her.

And if politicians (and everyone else) were allowed by the media to have frank and honest discussions, this could be a defining and positive moment for Obama and his campaign.

But it's not. The media is retarded and the Obamas will be forced to play defense on this.

I hope she stands strong and expands on her thoughts without backtracking.

Mr Furious said...

RE: John

I suppose you are referring to these:

"“You challenge the status quo and suddenly the claws come out...”


Obama told reporters who had asked about Clinton’s latest attack ad, “I understand that Senator Clinton, periodically when she’s feeling down, launches attacks as a way of trying to boost her appeal.”

Here is what I posted in the comments at Carpetbagger Report yesterday...

"If Obama wanted to overcompensate and make sure he maintained a 500 foot distance from anything that could be misconstrued, I suppose he could have gone with “The gloves come off” instead of the “claws come out.” But I do not read any intent in this choice of words.

As for the second comment, this is parsing and dissection to a ridiculous degree. Clinton is DOWN in the standings. And every time that happens, the campaign goes negative. That’s it.

Trying to attribute anything else to that statement is frankly preposterous.

The first instance, I will concede that Obama probably chose “claws” over “gloves” due to a subconscious word / gender association, not out of actual sexism or some malicious intent to dogwhistle.

The second quote was in response to the dishonest attacks ads made by Clinton, and if anything I believe Obama was trying to be diplomatic and downplay the dishonesty of the Clinton campaign, or at least avoid tit-for-tat pissing matches.

Wait, is that sexist?

steves said...

As a right leaning indenpendent, I don't see anything wrong with what she said. She seems excited and genuinely happy that her husband is doing so well, so why shouldn't she be proud?

I am cautiously optimistic about Obama. There are some things that I disagree with about him, but I see more positives. OTOH, I am reminded of the line from "Won't Get Fooled Again," by the Who..."Meet the new boss, same as the old boss." We are often told about all sorts of change, then it never happens. The blame game begins (see the above comment on the 24/7 right wing slime attacks on BC), which sometimes has merit, but other times is just an excuse.

I liked Reagan and have a much differnt opinion of that era than some here. I think I have said that before, so I don't need to go into that again. After 8 years of Clinton's antics, I was excited about Bush. The key word being was, so I can understand the optimism about any kind of change. Obama certainly represents the biggest change and he has made the biggest effort to reach out to independent voters, like myself.

FWIW, the right wingers that I hang out with and read don't seem to be making that big of a deal about this. This is the first I have heard about it and have been hearing more about how one of the Houston campaigners for Obama has a big Che Guevera flag on the wall.

montysano said...

Mother of Jabbering Jeebus, what a nation of rubes and yahoos we've become, dancing and twitching and snarling and snapping to whatever tune the MSM is calling. Is there no introspection anymore? No self-examination? Apparently not......... All we appear to be capable of is gut-level visceral reaction to whatever controversy has been cooked up by the outrage pimps, all in the service of higher ratings. There's a special place in Hell for those who are willing to poison the well of public discourse in exchange for a paycheck.

This may seem hyperbolic, but for me, the out-of-control media is the worst problem we have. Not because it's actually worse than climate change, or poverty, and whatever, but because the MSM now prevents any rational, adult discussion of anything.


S.W. Anderson said...

Michelle Obama put her foot in her mouth, which is surprising because she's heretofore been such an articulate and savvy campaign speaker. Her best move is to say:

Look, this campaign is a long, hard grind and I get tired, as anyone would. I put my foot in my mouth. I've been proud of my country before, am now and will be again. Let's let it go at that.

Actually, I saw a rerun of an interview she did with Larry King over the weekend. In it, Michelle contradicted herself. Not about something of great national importance, just how she approaches things. Struck me as a sure sign she needs more time off.

As for our friends on the right getting all wrought up about Michelle's blooper, they have their own problems in store. What John McCain has said about "Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran" and staying in Iraq for 100 years are far more potentially meaningful, much more off putting for most Americans, and so are much harder to defend.

S.W. Anderson said...

"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."

Maybe I'm missing something, but since when did the presidency become some kind of kiss on the boo-boo to make the owee stop hurting?

This primary race is no mea culpa, and Obama is neither winning nor deserving of a sympathy or guilt vote.

Obama is winning primaries and caucuses by showing smarts, strength, skill and likability as a candidate. He's winning by organizing and running a topnotch campaign.

Most of all, Obama is winning because he comes across as an exceptionally bright, appealing and all-around solid prospect to lead the country.

Mea culpas over so much that's been done wrong in the past to African Americans and other minorities are in order, but awarding the presidency on that basis is no way to go about it.

Obama is competing and winning on a level playing field, and deserves full credit and immense respect for doing it so well.

Mr Furious said...

You're reading too much into that swa. What I mean is that there is reason to be proud of the progress this country has made to allow this candidacy to be at the point it is. I do NOT suggest that Obama is due or owed, nor is he getting preferential treatment (except perhaps for not being Hillary...).

Michelle can feel proud about that whenever she wants, and I think her experience as a black woman gives her a different perspective I cannot judge.

I'll feel the pride when and if he actually wins.

S.W. Anderson said...

Agreed, about being proud of the country's progress to date. If a majority of Democrats make Obama their nominee it will be a huge milestone and plenty for them and for the Obamas to be proud of. If Obama were to go on to win the White House, then it's an epic milestone in the country's history.

As far as reading into your statement, I just read and re-read the words you wrote. It's a straightforward sentence. Evidently, the words didn't accurately convey what you meant to say — something the best of us do now and then. I'm glad you meant something different.

Deb said...

This may very well be one of my favorite posts of yours, Mr. F.

For the past eight years, Democrats have been called unpatriotic. As much as I fought that, looking back, I'm not really sure we had much to be patriotic about. I know I have ducked my head and lowered my voice more than once when traveling abroad, so's not to be discovered as "American". I don't think that's shame about my citizenship so much as our administration, though.

As she so often has been, Michelle Obama is right. This is the first time in a long time I have been really proud of my country. Heck, I might even be willing to say the Pledge of Allegiance again if Clinton or Obama becomes president.

Mr Furious said...

Thanks, Deb!

SWA-You're right, I just re-read it too. I am misusing the phrase mea culpa. I suppose I mean something more akin to atonement or amends...but even those aren't quite right.

Let's just say it's an historic, personal and affirming moment for the black community, and one that we can all join in feeling proud of.

Mike said...

Nice post, Furious. Let me join the "what's the big deal about what Michelle Obama said team." Seems like a non-issue to me.

* * *

Anyhoo, I'm actually with Toast as to the Bill Clinton vs. Obama notion you present. I don't see a shred of difference between them: centrist Dems, very charismatic & likable, therefore electable.

Yet you say, electing Obama is the strongest possible repudiation of the last twenty years I can imagine.

Not to be overly contentious (moi?) but electing Obama's erstwhile opponent John Edwards would've been a far-stronger repudiation of the last 20 (if not 28) years. No imagination required. And I haven't even gotten into Kucinich, Gravel, etc.

If we elect a Black man as president, that'll certainly say a couple really good things about where we've gone compared to our long-term past. But, in fairness, the last 20/28 years have been about abuses and disgraces involving socio-economic class, vulgar displays of power on the international stage, an aggrandizing grab by the executive branch, and lots of other shit we all love to rage about (none more than me).

But racism has declined -- and markedly so -- during the last 3 decades. Reagan, Bush I, Bush II, Cheney ---> pricks to the last. Never met a poor person or a foreigner they didn't wanna screw, and screw hard. But as far as Black-White issues, especially irrespective of class, I don't think they quite belong in George Wallace territory.

The fact that an educated, middle-class Black man can be president is a repudiation of America's history through 1964 and maybe into the early 80s. And that's great. But not so much for the past 20-30 years. Don't forget that many people, GOPers included, were very high on another educated, middle-class Black man for President just a few years ago. And except for race-related issues, no one was seeing him as a repudiation of anything.

On the merits, Barack & Bill are pretty much the same thing. And Hillary's not that different either.

Mr Furious said...

LOL. I almost qualified my statement with (aside from Kucinich) but I'm only dealing with the candidates left standing...

And as for a "repudiation heard 'round the world" I think Obama's bio and, yes, skin make him a more visible signal of change than Kucinich, Edwards or anyone else.

Rickey Henderson said...

So she got pumped up and mispoke slighty. Big fucking deal. Rickey wouldn't fault Michelle Obama if she proclaimed that her husband's candidacy has arrived shamefully late in American political history.

Can we please talk about Maverick McCain's infidelity now?