January 15, 2015
“There’s somethin’ happenin’ here
What it is ain’t exactly clear
There’s a man with a gun over there
A tellin’ me, I got to beware”
I have lived through, and have memories of, all the Presidents from Dwight Eisenhower to Barack Obama. In my small way I have admired, respected, and actively supported some of them (Kennedy, Johnson, Carter, Ford—briefly, Clinton, Obama), by campaigning for them or sporting their bumper stickers on my car, or discussing their policies with family and friends. I have actively opposed and even ridiculed others (Nixon, Reagan, Bush-43), by attending an “anti” rally or two, dismantling their policies with family and friends, or collecting and displaying critical cartoons and writings (The “George W. Bush-isms” calendar of 2007 springs to mind). But no matter my position on the specific president, I respected the office of the presidency. I even sought to understand those presidents I disagreed with, by at least listening to their speeches and reading their biographies, and trying to contextualize my disagreements with them. I am, after all, a student of history and a lover of ideas.
But I never imagined that I would witness the virtual lynching, not just of a president, but of the office of the presidency.
Politics—that vehicle by which we express our most basic ideals—of life, liberty, national identity, and so on—is a strange beast, igniting the highest and lowest passions in all of us. Throughout human history, those passions have driven mad men to rail against, plot against, and sometimes to assassinate their leaders. [Take a look back at American history to see which presidents have been assassinated, and why. Reread Julius Caesar. Do you recall Anwar Sadat?]
But when it comes to the vitriol hurled against President Obama, there are only two ways I can make sense of it. One of those ways is to compare it to the presidency of Abraham Lincoln—for whom Obama has openly and often expressed his respect and admiration. [Both presidents had to face down uncertain times that included civil war to one degree or another.] The other is to compare it to a lynching, albeit it an excruciatingly long and drawn out lynching; i.e., 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, courtesy of…the media, the pundits, the wing nuts, “Joe Schmo,” you name it. Everyone, it seems, wants to tear Mr. Obama limb from limb—and then to hang him from the highest tree.
He thinks too much and acts too little, they say. He’s “a pirate, a puppet, a pawn, or a king” [apologies to Frank Sinatra for mangling his lyrics]. He oversteps his authority and yet at the same time, he doesn’t use his authority enough. He leads from behind; he’s not a leader at all. Why doesn’t he [fill in the blanks]?
This man, who brought back our economy from the brink of disaster, saved the auto industry and Wall Street, gave us (a little more) affordable health care, gave the order to take out Osama bin Laden on the same weekend he roasted Donald Trump, is now “The only leader who didn’t show up to the ‘Je Suis Charlie Grand March Against Terrorism’.”
In a little Western town, the lead rabble rouser yells, “Git the rope, boys; we gonna have us a hangin’ tonight!” (á la Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles).
For this “lack of leadership” from the Leader of the Free World during a nanosecond of Solidarity against Terrorism—that occurred nearly simultaneously with an even greater, more horrific terrorist act in Nigeria (“Oh, it’s just more black-on-black crime; who cares?”)—Barack Obama is suddenly a flea on a dog’s arse.
Yes, “The White House” did issue a lame, “my-bad” apology: “We goofed” in not sending a higher-ranking official to this event. “The White House” (i.e., “the handlers”) issued this apology. I have not heard one word from President Obama about any of this. And to be honest, I am not happy about it.
But I contend that “we the people” do not know everything we think we know. We only know what we see. I contend that a lot more went down behind the scenes of this truly heinous “Je suis Charlie” moment of man’s-inhumanity-to-man” history. And only time will (or maybe it won’t) tell what really happened.
Am I the only person who wondered “What’s wrong with POTUS?” as I watched him walk alone, looking tired and humbled, across the floor of the French Embassy in Washington, D.C., to sign the Condolence Book for the Je suis Charlie victims?
Am I the only person who wanted to know “Why is Attorney General Eric Holder in Paris?” and “What can he be doing ‘behind the scenes’?”, when I heard that news? Am I the only person who asked, “Where is Secretary of State John Kerry? Why isn’t he there?”
Let’s consider some possibilities.
(1) Could it be that AG Holder was determining, among other things, whether it was safe for President Obama to travel to France?
“O, no! That couldn’t possibly be! He’s the Leader of the Free World! He must stand up and be seen leading! And besides, ‘all’ the other Major World Leaders are there!” Well, maybe the logistics of keeping him safe while in France were too difficult and convoluted to accomplish in such a short time. The Secret Service doesn’t exactly have a stellar record in protecting this President, does it?
(2) Maybe Mr. Obama was disinvited from the proceedings.
“Hmmm….There’s Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas linking arms, and oh, look! Angela Merkel!” On the surface, at least, and as the talking heads so often like to point out, Mr. Obama’s relationship with Mr. Netanyahu is frosty, at best. And there was that NSA phone-spying thing with Ms. Merkel. But isn’t it also possible that the rest of the World Leaders asked, or told, or pleaded with Mr. Obama to stay home? “We got this one, Barack! It’s The Rest of the World’s problem this time. What happens in Europe and the Middle East stays in Europe and the Middle East! Don’t rain on our parade!” [Remember that scene in Blazing Saddles when the townsfolk were circling their wagons? And the poor black townsfolk had to circle their own wagons, separately but equally?]
Or maybe, as “The White House” said, “We goofed.” But until I hear it directly from President Obama, I will withhold judgment.
To the extent that human lives were brutally and senselessly lost in the name of Freedom of Speech, a human right that I espouse, I hereby declare, Je suis Charlie.
But I also declare that I am Nigeria. I am Trayvon Martin and every person who has ever been ‘buked and scorned and died fighting against—or as a victim of—injustice and hatred.
I declare that I am a human being who lives and breathes and thinks and feels and tries to make sense of life, the world, and everything in it.