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Barack Obama has certainly brought Americans together in unprecedented ways, but America’s black and white racial divide still exists.
And every once in a while, an event happens that starkly reveals how just deep this racial divide remains.
The untimely death of Michael Jackson is such an event.
Last week, at a meeting of progressive Democrats in Southern California, I heard speaker after speaker bemoan the fact that Michael Jackson’s death had taken over the cable news, shunting to the side what they believed to be obviously more significant topics – the revolt in Iran, the fight in Congress for new health care legislation, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
I see similar comments from many of my politically progressive Facebook friends.
None of them seems remotely aware that their disdain for the wall-to-wall news coverage of Michael Jackson’s death is a reflection of their own racial perspective – or that black people might view it differently.
For many, perhaps most, white people, Michael Jackson was, at best, a fading pop star and entertainer, someone whose music and persona they may have liked in their childhood but not now.
For black people, Michael Jackson was, and remains, a cultural figure of heroic, almost mythic, proportions, someone who changed not just music but the world, and who tirelessly worked for African and African-American causes and charities.
Today Michael Jackson will be honored and memorialized as a hero.
As a white American, I may not really get it.
But I get why I don’t get it.
And for that reason, I give my respects today and I say:
Michael, Rest in Peace.
If I’m correct that Sarah Palin resigned as Alaska governor in order to lead a right wing movement that is ostensibly independent of the major political parties, then the next question is: where will she establish her new home and base of operations?
The Northeast is too liberal, the South is too connected to racial politics (and there’s too much competition for conservative leadership and not enough big money), Washington, D.C., is too much of an enemy camp, and the Midwest doesn’t have enough access to the media.
Texas is certainly a possibility, but I don’t think she’ll want to compete for power with the Bush clan.
Florida also is a possibility, but I don’t think she’ll want to compete for conservatives with both Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist.
Utah is solidly Mitt Romney and Mormon territory, and Arizona belongs to former running mate (and now political rival) John McCain.
And while Idaho might have the most ideologically receptive population, it is so far off the media radar that she might as well stay in Alaska.
That leaves California.
Specifically, Southern California.
And more specifically, Orange County.
Orange County is rich, conservative, and close to Los Angeles’ enormous media network.
And California has no nationally known conservative political figure (Arnold doesn’t count) to offer her any real competition.
In fact, the California Republican Party is so fractured because of the budget battle and the hang-them-all ideology of its tea party militants that the Republican establishment wouldn’t be able to offer any real competition to Palin’s brand of radical right-wing conservatism.
It might be very bad news for more moderate Republicans like Meg Whitman and for the statewide chances of the Republican Party, but you can bet that John and Ken would welcome her with open arms (and air waves).
Are you ready for the new Terminator?
California, here she comes!
Sarah Palin is not done causing headaches for the leadership of the Republican Party.
In fact, my guess is that she is going to cause them far more pain in the near future than they or the media could ever have imagined.
At this point, politicians and the press are trying to decipher Palin’s motivation for her stunning announcement yesterday that she is resigning as governor of Alaska.
The standard analysis is that she is resigning in order to concentrate her efforts on securing the Republican nomination for president in 2012. As Bill Kristol told Fox News after Palin’s speech: “We just saw the opening statement of the 2012 campaign.”
Others — including NBC’s Andrea Mitchell — think Palin is stepping away from politics for good.
And some claim that Palin is resigning because of soon-to-be-announced scandals, including an alleged federal criminal investigation into the rebuilding of Palin’s home.
I think they’ve all missed the forest for the trees.
Sarah Palin isn’t done with politics.
But she might well be done with the Republican Party.
Rather than relying on alleged experts (who are not in Palin’s close circle) or taking the supposed word of unnamed sources, I suggest that the best indication of why Palin resigned – and what she plans to do – comes from Palin herself.
In her speech, she specifically states that she is not stepping away from politics. On the contrary, she repeatedly emphasized that she going to continue to work to “effect positive change,” although it would be from “outside government at this moment in time.” She was, she said, following in the never-give-up tradition of General Douglas MacArthur. “We’re not retreating,” she said, “we are advancing in another direction.’” (As the New York Times points out, Palin got the author of the quote wrong; it was not said by MacArthur, but by Maj. Gen. Oliver Prince Smith.)
She also was clear about the kind of “positive change” she planned to effect: she was going to continue to fight against “the heavy hand of federal government [intruding] into our communities with an all-knowing attitude,“ fight against “the obscene national debt that we’re forcing our children to pay because of today’s big government spending,” and “protect states’ rights, as mandated in the 10th Amendment.”
As she did during the 2008 campaign, Palin cast herself as the champion of the people: those “hardworking, average Americans fighting for what’s right” and those people “who still believe in free enterprise and smaller government and strong national security for our country and support for our troops and energy independence and for those who will protect freedom and equality and life.”
In other words, Palin sounded much same as she did during the presidential campaign – and she certainly didn’t sound like a person getting out of politics.
But there was a difference from her speeches during the presidential campaign.
And the difference involves the political party that she supports.
In her resignation speech, Palin said: “I’ll work hard for and I’ll campaign for those who are proud to be American and who are inspired by our ideals and they won’t deride them. I will support others who seek to serve in or out of office, and I don’t care what party they’re in or no party at all, inside Alaska or outside of Alaska.”
Repeatedly referring to her course of action as “unconventional,” “a new direction” and “no more politics as usual” — and comparing her actions to those of William H. Seward, (Lincoln’s Secretary of State who negotiated the purchase of Alaska — ”Seward’s Folly”), who took the “the uncomfortable, unconventional but right path to secure Alaska, so that Alaska could help secure the United States” — Palin dropped clue after clue that, like Seward, she too was going to take an “uncomfortable, unconventional but right path” to “help secure the United States.”
I think Sarah Palin told us what she is planning to do.
Yes, she is running for President.
But not necessarily as a Republican.
Sarah Palin has declared herself the leader of a movement, not merely a political party.
It was not a coincidence that Palin gave her speech on the weekend of Independence Day.
She just declared her independence from the Republican Party.
When I was child, my father, a World War II Navy veteran, taught me the story of the four chaplains of the USAT Dorchester.
I thought of the four chaplains during the presidential election when I listened to former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell explain why he endorsed Barack Obama for President of the United States.
In stating why he could not support the candidacy of John McCain, Powell referred to the death of U.S. Army Corporal Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, a 20 year old from Manahawkin, N.J., who was killed in Iraq and to a photograph he had seen of the soldier’s mother pressing her head against his gravestone at Arlington National Cemetery.
The headstone was engraved with the soldier’s name, his military awards (the Purple Heart and Bronze Star), and the Muslim symbol of the crescent and star.
As the New York Times observed, “Powell mentioned Mr. Khan’s death to underscore why he was deeply troubled by Republican personal attacks on Mr. Obama, especially false intimations that he was Muslim. Mr. Obama is a lifelong Christian, not a Muslim, he said. But, he added, ‘The really right answer is, what if he is?’ ‘Is there something wrong with being Muslim in this country? No, that’s not America,’ he said. ‘Now, we have got to stop polarizing ourselves in this way.’ Mr. Powell said that he had heard senior members of the Republican Party ‘drop this suggestion that he [Obama] is a Muslim and he might be associated with terrorists.’ ‘Now, John McCain is as nondiscriminatory as anyone I know. But I’m troubled about the fact that within the party we have these kinds of expressions.’”
General Powell probably thought, too, of the four chaplains of the USAT Dorchester.
On the night of February 3, 1943,United States Army Transport ship Dorchester was en route from Newfoundland to England via Greenland, when it was hit by torpedoes from a German submarine.
The Dorchester listed sharply to starboard and began to sink almost immediately into the icy water. The ship was overcrowded and there were insufficient lifeboats or lifejackets for the 904 men on board.
As the Dorchester sank, the ship’s four U.S. Army chaplains aided the wounded, helped get the men into lifeboats and then gave up their own lifejackets when the supply ran out.
A survivor later explained:
“As I swam away from the ship, I looked back. The flares had lighted everything. The bow came up high and she slid under. The last thing I saw, the four chaplains were up there praying for the safety of the men. They had done everything they could. I did not see them again. They themselves did not have a chance without their life jackets.”
As the ship went down, survivors in nearby lifeboats could see the four chaplains – their arms linked and braced against the slanting deck. Their voices could also be heard offering prayers.
Twenty-seven minutes after the torpedoes hit, the Dorchester was gone.
The four U.S. Army chaplains were:
Lt. George L. Fox, age 42, Methodist.
Lt. Alexander D. Goode, age 32, Jewish.
Lt. John P. Washington, age 34, Roman Catholic.
Lt. Clark V. Poling, age 32, Reformed Church in America.
According to the Four Chaplains Memorial Foundation, the lesson of their sacrifice is “unity without uniformity” and “selfless service to humanity without regard to race, creed, ethnicity, or religious beliefs.”
My father had a simpler lesson to teach me: We are all Americans.
In a speech on in Fayetteville, North Carolina, near Fort Bragg, Barack Obama said that “The men and women from Fayetteville and all across America who serve in our battlefields may be Democrats or Republicans or independents, but they have fought together and bled together and some died together under the same proud flag, They have not served a red America or a blue America. They have served the United States of America.”
(This post was originally published, in a slightly different form, on October 19, 2008.)
The death this month of 22-year-old Los Angeles Angels rookie pitcher Nick Adenhart – killed by a drunk driver just hours after making a spectacular season debut – has lead to outrage against drunk driving in general and in particular against the driver who killed Adenhart.
The drunk driver who killed Adenhart — Andrew Thomas Gallo, also 22-years-old – has been charged with three counts of murder, one felony count of fleeing the scene of a traffic collision involving death or permanent injury, one felony count of driving under the influence causing injury and one felony count of driving with a blood-alcohol level above the .08 percent that is the legal limit in California – Gallo’s blood alcohol level was three times higher than the legal limit – and causing bodily injury.
If convicted, Gallo could spend 55 years in prison.
Gallo is a particularly unsympathetic figure: he was on probation for a prior drunk driving conviction, was driving on a suspended license, and fled the scene after the crash.
Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas expressed the community’s anger toward Gallo: “As the District Attorney, over the years I have seen some heart-wrenching things,” Rackauckas said during a media conference. “They don’t get much tougher than this. This Angel and his two friends were too young to be sent to heaven, but the defendant selfishly and recklessly got behind the wheel after getting drunk, and they didn’t have a choice…The defendant has acknowledged that he knew the dangers of drinking and driving based on his participation in this alcohol program… Knowing that he had caused this crash, Mr. Gallo cowardly fled the scene on foot without checking on the welfare of those he had just hurt.”
Of course, Rackauckas is correct.
But I question whether many of us are in a moral position to condemn Gallo.
There are people who don’t drink.
There are people who don’t drive.
Just about everyone else has driven drunk.
Especially in the car culture of Southern California – where it is just about impossible to get anywhere without getting behind the wheel – I venture to say that nearly everyone leaving a bar — or most people leaving a social occasion where they’ve consumed alcohol – are driving drunk.
Of course, most of these people don’t kill anyone.
But that’s just luck.
Coincidentally, in the midst of the outrage over Adenhart’s death, the Los Angeles Times reports that 70 sworn and civilian employees of the Los Angles County’s Sheriff’s Department were arrested for alcohol-related offenses last year, the majority for driving off-duty while under the influence of alcohol.
Each of them – and the hundreds more sherrif department employees who drove drunk but didn’t get caught — could easily have killed someone.
As could all of us who have ever gotten behind the wheel after drinking.
I am not suggesting that we should go easy on Gallo or other drunk drivers.
But in our culture of drinking and driving it is pure chance that many of us are not sitting in his place.