Stay Cool

By Al Giordano

(Photo: Hat tip to Jill Tubman at Jack & Jill Politics.)

Colin Powell, today on Meet The Press:

"I'm also troubled by - not what Senator McCain says - but what members of the Party say, and it is permitted to be said: such things as, "Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim."  Well, the correct answer is he is not a Muslim.  He's a Christian; has always been a Christian.  But the really right answer is, "What if he is?  Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country?"  The answer's "No, that's not America."  Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim American kid believing that he or she could be President?  Yet, I have heard senior members of my own Party drop the suggestion he's Muslim and he might be associated with terrorists.  This is not the way we should be doing it in America.   

"I feel strongly about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine.  It was a photo essay about troops who were serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.  And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery.  And she had her head on the headstone of her son's grave.  And as the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone. And it gave his awards - Purple Heart, Bronze Star; showed that he died in Iraq; gave his date of birth, date of death.  He was twenty years old. And then at the very top of the headstone, it didn't have a Christian cross.  It didn't have a Star of David.  It had a crescent and a star of the Islamic faith.  And his name was Karim Rashad Sultan Kahn.  And he was an American.  He was born in New Jersey, he was fourteen years old at the time of 9/11 and he waited until he could go serve his country and he gave his life."

It's becoming evident to almost everybody on all sides that America is at an historic threshold: this is very much like that moment in a wedding when it comes time to say, "I do."

Except that the next two weeks are the part where those who might object are encourage to "speak now or forever hold your peace."

We've already seen today various wedding crashers: Rush Limbaugh and Pat Buchanan outright seethed that Powell endorsed Obama only because, they say, he's black. There is an uptick of anecdotal information - in the media, from canvassers and volunteers, etcetera - of increasingly ugly statements of naked racism and aggression against Obama and his supporters.

It's exactly what happened late in the primaries last spring, only now that the prize is not just a nomination - a mere step toward state power - but state power itself, a certain segment of the population is beginning to freak out and blurt out its racist ideations and fears in public.

I'll argue, based on my own experience, that this is not bad news, strategically and tactically, nor a moment for panic: We've always known these people and that they exist. The academia-fueled "political correctness" wave since the 1970s has not served to change them, or society, one iota. It has, rather, repressed such expressions deeper down, turning them into a more compact and explosive compound, which will come spewing out now at the moment of greatest pressure. As Lenny Bruce said, "it is the suppression of the word that gives it its power."

And we all ought to know that very similar person deep inside every one of us, no matter what pigmentation is our personal wrapping paper.

Universal racism is the result of 5,000 years of social engineering: the powerful have always sought to divide and conquer the workers along such superficial lines, and the toll has been heavy on all. It's the dirty secret of America - and, frankly, all lands - that festers in the collective closet: fear of The Other.

It is a free-floating fear that attaches itself alternately to different targets, which is how the guy who hung an Obama ghost in effigy in his yard in Ohio this weekend, according to his local evening newscast, also put a Star of David atop it. Got that? He's afraid of blacks and Jews. And that has - if used effectively - the potential for reassuring elderly Jews in Florida about a President Obama!

And there's some blogger that published that hateful guy's home address and phone number, urging vigilantism against him. I think we need a little self-policing in our own ranks with hotheads like that, to talk them off the ledge, or, if that doesn't work, to build a firewall around them.

Panic is a vicious cycle that can be ignited by a stray spark almost anywhere. It's a first cousin, inbred, of race hate.

As the openly racist proclamations become louder in the coming two weeks, and you're offended by them, you have to take a deep breath and ask yourself - yes, even though it sounds cliché - "how would Martin Luther King respond to that?"

I'm serious.

Listen and learn to how Obama himself responded to such publicly stated ideations today in Fayetteville, North Carolina.

Campaigning in a traditionally Republican state, the Democratic nominee found lots of supporters of John McCain, at least one woman who believes the Illinois senator is a "closet Muslim" - and another who repeatedly shouted "Socialist."

The following is a compilation of pool reports from print, TV and wire reporters who accompanied Obama to the diner:

Obama arrived at the barbecue joint around 12:30 p.m., where an older and majority white clientele of several dozen were eating lunch after church services. Many patrons applauded as he walked into the diner, but Diane Fanning, 54, began yelling "Socialist, socialist, socialist - get out of here!"

So how did Obama respond? He engaged the accuser, respectfully, on her terms:

Later, Obama came to the long table where Fanning and other members of a local First Presbyterian church were gathered. He held out his hand to her and asked, "How are you, ma'am?" but she declined to shake his hand.

Fanning asked Obama about a North American union, and Obama responded: "Well, you know, I am opposed to it if it were happening. But it doesn't seem to be actually be happening. The truth of the matter is there is no plans. I've talked to a lot of people, including folks down in Texas. There's no plan to create a common government between Mexico, U.S. and Canada. That's just not ... that's just not happening. I know some people have been hearing rumors about it. But as far as I can tell, that's just not something that's happening. We would never give up our sovereignty in that way. Any other questions?"

In an interview, Fanning said, "I still think he's a closet Muslim."

They're out there.

But you should have known that already.

Obama spoke at length with many of the others parishioners at the long banquet table and got a much friendlier reception as he spoke about health care, taxes and Social Security. Fanning told your pooler, "Some of ‘em are just nicer than I am. I know how some of ‘em think."

But several of her fellow churchgoers said their support was genuine.

Betty Waylett, 76, told Obama, "You're doing a great job." She told your pooler that she is a Republican but that she will vote for Obama because she likes the way he speaks and his manner. Waylett, who is white, said Obama's race is not a factor.

The racially charged expressions by some are materia prima - if played right - for your own acts of political jujitsu: By responding to them without panic, without hostility, and at least putting on the theater of treating them respectfully and still trying to win them over, you win over the real "swing voters" in places like Virginia and Colorado and Florida (or at that same table in North Carolina).

The thing is, you gotta be cool and stay cool.

Get real: It sounds disingenuous and phony to pretend you're all shocked about what you knew was already there. Those that will launch with increasing volume into such racist tirades in the coming days should be seen as props; you won't convince them, but you can convince their neighbor with the grace that you show in dealing with them. That's what wins.

I fully expect Chicken Little-ism to rear its clucking head, one last time, very shortly, attaching its fear to the overt expressions of racism that will inevitably come spilling out now that the obvious is becoming apparent. Such expressions of panic - reputedly from our side of the aisle - will be potentially much more harmful to the shot at victory than the "fear of the other" ideations that will come from the mouths of the most confused and fearful.

All of that, too, will be evidence that the country is about to say "I do."

To paraphrase FDR: We have nothing to fight but fear itself.


what Powell said about Islamophobia

may be helpful for some Republicans and Republican-leaning independents in validating that it is OK for them to be critical of these and other aspects of the McCain campaign (such as Palin's lack of qualifications and McCain's erratic handling of the economic crisis) and as such help them to say "I do" as you put it. I think that element is more valuable than the endorsement itself. As a Muslim convert, I was very glad he chose to speak up about that issue and that he took such a strong stand. It means a lot to me.

I am not surprised by the expressions of hate and racism since this kind of talk has been acceptable at least since 9/11 and has been an undercurrent for longer than that. What I am surprised - and pleased by - is how many people are now willing to speak out against it. It may have taken the worst economic crisis in a long time but we are finally starting to move forward as a country and that is a sign of great hope to me.

Thank you, Al. I admit I've

Thank you, Al. I admit I've been scared--not that this will affect the outcome of the election, not that harm will come to Barack--but that this hatred will boil over and touch some innocent volunteer or Acorn person. I'm still scared. And pained. But this helps. 

You're right, of course, Al

I do sometimes find myself almost giving in to anger or Chicken-Littleism but that's mainly because I feel the stakes for this election are so high. Probably the highest in my lifetime (I'm 37). I feel like we're at a real turning point between hope and fear and I just want so much for hope to win.

I'll continue doing all I can over the next 2 weeks to make that happen.

Bravo, another great post, Al

As soon as the GOP took its nasty racial turn for the worst, I could hear the final nails being hammered in. Now I hate paraphrasing Karl Rove, but I believe he's right. He said back during the primaries (can't find the actual quote) that if McCain went down the path of race-based attacks, he would lose.

The country is beyond that. The racists were already going to vote for Republicans no matter what. Their recent outspokenness will just convince the rest of America that there is no place for their vileness.

Al, I agree with you that Obama played it well with the NC diner. From the pool report you can feel that she almost kinda warmed to him after Obama talked to her. He may not have convinced that particular woman to vote for him, but I'm sure the rest of the diners were impressed with his temperament.

It's kind of what Obama has been saying all along

It's a very smart thing to note that we each have, within us, the kernel of what makes a person a racist. In a way, there's essentially no difference between the racists and those who want vigilante justice for the racists because each feeling comes from the same evolutionary impulse: the need to protect the members of our own tribe by demonizing those of the other. As I understand his message, this is Obama's whole point with all that reach-across-the-aisle, no-red-state-and-no-blue-state-only-the-United-States rhetoric.  What he's offering is not appeasment, and it's not Bill Clinton's middle way-- it's something much wiser and more generous than that. He seems genuinely to be trying to help this country realize that we are all--including the rest of the world-- part of the *same* tribe. That primary comment about the bitterness of those who retreat to guns and religion, politically unwise as it was, wasn't elitist.  It was compassionate. He understands why they would feel the way they feel, and I think he probably understands the racists, too, in a way.

I would like to see this on dailykos

Al, I've been thinking about this very issue, and your analysis coincides with some very strong intuitions and observations I have been having.

I came to very similar conclusions as you have last night and this morning. While I disagree with you on one or two small things here  -- overall I'm in strong agreement on what you are saying.

And, more importantly  -- I think it would be very valuable for this kind of perspective to get out into places at risk for the panic and heatedness you warn against. This morning, I thought about posting something about this stuff this morning on dailykos, but decided not to.

Now, reading what you wrote, I would very much like to see it on that site.

I've vaguely noticed some complexities with how your Chicken Little analyses have been received over there. I don't really know what the deal is or how you feel about posting over there now.

But I encourage you to post this at dailykos if you would feel ok doing so. I really think they need to read it. Or if you think it would be better to have someone else post it and would give me permission to reproduce it over there (with your name of course, a link here if you want, and with a slight undetailed mention that I have a point or two of small disagreement that don't detract from the main point) ... I'd be willing to be the one saying "I think this needs to be heard." I don't have any special pull and am not an insider at all, I just have an account. But I wouldn't do that without your ok because that seems ... well you know, rude.

I'll check back here to see if you reply. I hope you will post the link here if you do cross-post to dailykos, I'd like to rec the "diary" if so.


Barack's Nashua NH *Yes We

Barack's Nashua NH *Yes We Can* speech can still bring tears to my eyes.

...You can be the new majority who can lead this nation out of a long political darkness - Democrats, Independents and Republicans who are tired of the division and distraction that has clouded Washington; who know that we can disagree without being disagreeable; who understand that if we mobilize our voices to challenge the money and influence that's stood in our way and challenge ourselves to reach for something better, there's no problem we can't solve - no destiny we cannot fulfill.

Agreed that the CLing will be all over the blogosphere because everyone is "surprised" that the race card is being played by McCain and the RNC.  What is fascinating to me is that in our state that is 95% white, Iowans stood up for Barack during the primaries and will do so again on the 4th to turn this state blue.  Not at all surprised at the racism running rampant these days, it just "feel" that way here in our little corner in the middle of the country.

...We know the battle ahead will be long, but always remember that no matter what obstacles stand in our way, nothing can withstand the power of millions of voices calling for change.

For good measure, just to fit with the speech:

Yes We Can -

And this, one of my favorite versions of Yes We Can: Barackapella, students from Lewis & Clark College (Oregon)

Keep the faith and keep working

I have been doing my part at our Obama/Warner office in Midlothian, VA.  Phone banking, data entry, canvassing, re-stocking the office with food and office supplies--all of it keeps worry at bay.  Still, today we found a note on our windshield when we returned to our car in the grocery store parking lot:  "Obama sucks and you do too!"  It was written on the back of a MacDonald's receipt for a "Big Breakfast."

I hear Pat Buchanan banging

I hear Pat Buchanan banging on a window above the sanctuary, yelling "Elaine! Elaine!"

Keep on keeping on

Even better is the guest book for Spc Khan. Reading the entries was poignant and lovely.


My mom is phonebanking for Obama in MO. She has a charming way with little old ladies, but they've been hard nuts to crack. She tries to keep her humor up about it.  It's what you have to do.

If Colin Powell Had Been Standing Before Me This Morning

I would've rushed over and embraced the living heck out of the poor man, and in that embrace would've been everything I had in me at that moment.  Instead all I could do was say THANK YOU! THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU over and over to the television.

He put it as best as ANY endorser/observer/insider has put it thus far--no, better--

How many phone calls have I made where I've had to do the "reassuring,"  "No, ma'am/sir. I can tell you without a doubt that Senator Obama is a Christian, and that that rumour that he is Muslim started on the internet..."  How many doors did I knock on in Nevada where I did the same, because the few times when I tried to qualify it, when already engaged in a good conversation with the person about the issues( "...but if he WERE, what would be bad or wrong about that?") it just seemed to confuse people further.

I've felt very conflicted and almost slimy about it, at times, not vocalizing in defense but in those cases it's usually seemed counter productive towards the greater goal which I believe will have amazing impact on that kind of widespread fear/ignorance.

And finally-- Powell's voice of sanity on taxes was incredibly sane and satisfying as well.

"political correctness" is a right-wing meme

Actually, "political correctness" is a right-wing rather than academic invention, and a very successful one, just like the notion of a "liberal media". It was formulated in the 80's as a backlash against modest gains made by feminists and African-Americans (who had been living under formal apartheid in the US barely 20 years before) on various fronts, including representation in what students are taught in universities (for example, getting a political science degree with not one class session on race or not having read one book by an African-American or by a woman, etc). These modest demands for basic dignity were cast as "political correctness," i.e., those who benefitted from the US caste system were in fact the victims as their "freedom of expression" was taken away by the angry omniscient hordes! (Take a look at the Dec. 24 1990 cover of Newsweek.) This is not to say that there weren't and aren't "liberal" academics who have made careers self-righteously confusing the technical accuracy of an image or of language for change itself ... They are, as you say, the counterparts/derivations of the racists you speak about in your post.


I love the "I do" analogy. It makes sense. It really does. 

the junior senator from illinois is cool.

One of the things that first impressed me about Senator Obama, was how, after Jack Ryan had to drop out in the 04 race, Obama went straight downstate in Illinois and started talking to downstate folks. When I think of that part of the country, I think of a series of road signs planted in a farmer's field on I74 going West from Indianapolis into Illinois that say something to the effect of "get us out of the UN". Senator Obama knows these people, and he has learned to talk to the more rational among them who he represents. His uniting position of red states / blue states, spying in the libraries and government solving our problems reflects this, I think.

Senator Obama has been through this. He has seen this. He's anticipated it. The Powell endorsement, the 30 minute ads next week, and the firewall of community organizing are all a 3 legged stool toward anticipating this. He is controlling the media narrative by having a media darling saying, "it ain't right". He has neighbors talking to their friends in bars, churches, golf courses, or wherever. And, he is making major advertising plays to reinforce his image.

You are right that we need to stay cool, because Senator Obama is as cool as they come, and for once, we found and nominated the right person to lead this party.

So many emotions

I've got so many emotions bubbling that I don't know where/how to begin to share.

@Laura, It gives me hope too that so many people are willing to speak up against all this hate.  I think the fact that Powell, of all people asked the question "So what if he is (Muslim)?" might help reasonable people to begin to do some soul searching.   

Al wrote:

They're out there.  But you should have known that already......Get real: It sounds disingenuous and phony to pretend you're all shocked about what you knew was already there.

For those that remember the 50's and 60's there's not much of a shock.  But I think younger folks, although they may intellectually understand (or think they understand) the ugliness of racism are, in fact shocked.  Those in their teens, 20's and maybe early 30's didn't live with the daily stories of racism that dominated the news in the early 60's especially.  Even younger AA's (especially if their parents chose to try to shield them from the ugliest of the past) are probably shocked too.  I think for many this may be the first time that they are actually seeing racism so blatantly played out in real time.

I was in a store yesterday and somehow I brought up O-man to the young man helping me.  He said he was 20, confessed he had intended to register to vote, and but didn't. Said he would have voted for O-man.  So I smiled and told him he could volunteer, donate, etc. and that would be his penance for not registering.  Somewhere in the conversation I told him alot of people died so he could vote (that wasn't quite truthful - the guy was white) and that I could still remember the police unleashing dogs on demonstrators, etc.  He looked at me like I was crazy.  Asked quite a few questions so it was obvious to me this was all news to him. 

As an AA boomer, I'm angered, sad, but I'm still hopeful.  I believe that even these racist incidents will boomerang against the McInsane ticket.

Al, I'm so so glad you wrote this thread. 





The Poison comes out

The residue of poison in the consciousness of the country gets closer to the surface the closer we get to decision point, and the closer we come to choosing Barack Obama as a national leader. It's to be expected. The good side of this is in the light of day it is exposed for what it is.

The utter maturity of Barack Obama in speaking civilly to engage the hate filled woman is stunning and touching. Such non-defensive wisdom. Another reason why we need to and will elect this man.

Dreams from my Father

I so strongly recommend Obama's first book Dreams from my Father. It is about all of this, and so inspiring. No one can tell me that he doesn't have enough experience after reading this. He has the experience (with racial division, with grassroots organizing) that we need at this time in our country. And it makes me really trust him, that he knows what he's doing here. 


Philadelphia too.



It's funny that you make this entry tonight, as I just today experienced exactly what you write about. I was canvassing this afternoon in Northeast Philadelphia, as I've done for the past few weekends. It's a very interesting place demographically; some minorities, but mostly working class whites of Irish, Italian, Polish descent, Catholic, less educated, but most importantly for my purposes, strong Hillary supporters. Northeast Philly went for Hillary 70-30 in the primaries, so we've made it a point here to introduce ourselves as volunteers with the Democratic party and not the Obama campaign. There are a lot of Democrats here that have voted Democrat their whole lives and will look past reservations with Obama and vote for the Democratic ticket, just as they always have, even if they supported Hilary. By the way, Biden is very popular here, and people often cite him as one of the reasons they have come to support Obama in recent weeks. On the other had, I've never heard a good word about Palin, and it seems to me that she really turned off truly undecided people who gave McCain a serious look but are getting comfortable with Obama. 

Anyway, at the second door I knocked on today, I was greeted by a woman who was about 60-70 years old, in a sweatshirt, and had bad teeth. I asked for her husband and he wasn't home, so we struck up a conversation. I said I was going through the neighborhood asking people about who they're going to support in the election, and who she was voting for. She said, "Well, I hate black people". 

So how do you respond to that? I certainly wasn't going to argue against her prejudice, so I tried to steer the conversation more towards the economy and her own well-being. She said she hasn't followed any of the financial news recently, and only knows that food prices have gone up at the local grocery store. I tried to tell her about middle class tax cuts, universal healthcare, and anything else I could muster up, but she wasn't really comprehending any of it. Then she invited me in her house.

What the hell, I figured? It was interesting so far. I went in and took a seat, a 12-14 year old girl was watching TV on the couch. She stood near me and continued the conversation as the TV blared. 

The N word was dropped several times as she told me of how the blacks in the city are given all the jobs and housing, while white people like her daughter couldn't get any help. You have to be black to get a job as a garbage man, apparently. "I take my garbage out to the curb," she said, "let me throw it in the back of them trucks." I guess she was unemployed.

Anyway, blacks were the source of just about every problem in Philadelphia. She said this as black people were singing on TV and black kids were playing in the street out sign. 

I told her Obama was half white. I could've avoided it for intellectual purposes, but I didn't let myself take any of it personally or lose my calm. It was more of an experiment to see if I could somehow get someone like this to vote for a black candidate.

I realized I never actually asked her who she was voting for. "Oh, I'll vote for him," she said.

"Obama?" I said with a mild dab of surprise.

"Yeah, him" she said. 

Chalk up another "scrape the bottom of the barrel" vote. If Obama is getting these types of people that are unabashedly, and even proudly racist and have no second thoughts about proclaiming it to a stranger on their doorstep. 

For me, it was just incredible to observe this wave in American political culture that we're really going to have to sort out if/when Obama actually wins.

I assumed the encounter would be an isolated incident. The next man, Melvin something-or-other, told me as he answered the door that he doesn't vote for two types of people. 

"Republicans," he said. "And blacks." 

It was a long afternoon.


Obama has been a role model to me in how he deals with not just racism but all the over-the-top shit that's flung his way.  I've been faced with some political challenges in my own small realm as the new kid on the block where I work, and I've taken him as an example in dealing with them.

This post by Al helped me.  I felt kinda traumatized recently be talking with my dad, whom I love but who listens to Rush Limbaugh every day.   He got riled up and called Obama the n-word at which point I got off the phone.  I've heard anecdotes of others having a similar experience with parents (I'm 47, my folks in their 70's).  The thing is, it scared me off of doing any canvassing or anything that smacks of trying to convince people of anything.  I did go out and register voters, though.

Made me think of those Civil War stories, brother against brother. Well, I set some ground rules with my dad and we're talking again. I'm wondering how much the generational split is showing up in families (well, white families) around this issue...


Al, I beg to slightly differ on Obama's significance

Great photo, Al...

I am a great fan of this blog, from a distance. And I think 99% of the time you are spot on - including this time on the race&religion issue. Indeed, we may be on the edge of an evolutionary mutation, and understandably many people are quite confused and need to overcome their own mental barriers. It's an internal psychological struggle, alongside a societal one.

What I am not comfortable with is your somehow neo-marxist reading of this moment in history. Apologies if you don't like the "neo-marxist" term, I simply didn't find a better name. As an East European, I have a low degree of tolerance to such ideas and language, and it really scratches my eye when I see it. In this post you try to link racism to a very ideologically specific social agenda when you say that "...the powerful have always sought to divide and conquer the workers along such superficial lines". Some time ago in another post you gave a lot of emphasis to Obama uttering the "C-word" when he spoke about "crony capitalism".

Look, of course everyone is free to see what he or she wants in historical developments such as this unprecedented campaign - and it's only natural for our perception of things to be influenced by our inner convictions. But as an opinion leader, you have more responsability than most people, and here I think you have a slight tendency to attribute some of your own beliefs and agenda to the candidate, in what I think is an inaccurate and potentially damaging way. And such attributions may well work in the hands of those scare-mongers who, having tried race&religion with limited success, are now spreading the word that Obama wants to bring socialism to America.

Even assuming you are right, and I wrong - I think it's definitely not helpful for this campaign to piggy-back on its message with anti-capitalist rhetoric. I think Obama has had already huge barriers to overcome, like race, youth&"inexperience" etc and charging him with a <neo-marxist> (again apologies for lack of better term if you don't like this one) superimposed agenda to which the average American is instinctively hostile is not helpful from a tactical point of view.

But I actually beg to differ on Obama's real significance. I don't think his message is anti-capitalist, or class-oriented in this marxist-type dichotmy of the powerful vs the workers. On the contrary, I think his message is about re-claiming the American dream - the genuine one, of individual freedom and human solidarity. He speaks to the "middle-class", not the "workers" - and this is a very important nuance. His social message is impregnated with liberal-bourgeois, not socialist values. He is not against capitalism or for socialism, he is in favor of a brand of popular capitalism that sits very well with America's genuine traditions. If you want to oppose it so something, it would be the "Wall Street", "big corporation" capitalism - or rather as the candidate put it better "crony capitalism", in which state power is bought by - or used to the profit of - corporations. In Europe there is another name for this - (economic) fascism - and if anything I believe Obama is anti-fascist in this sense, not anti-capitalist.

And I think suggesting otherwise, associating Obama with socialist views or others that are not perceived as part of mainstream American tradition, only play in favor of those who want to paint him as a scary outsider, "not one of us" etc. "Socialist" as a label in America can be more damaging that "arab" or "muslim".

I'm Related to those "Muslims"...

Many of you know that the father of my daughters is from Somalia; he is a non-practising Muslim. His 2nd wife, one the most wonderful women in the world, my BFF, and someone who should write a book on how to be the perfect step-mother, is a practising Muslim, also from Somalia. They have two daughters and a son; and with my two daughters and (adopted) son and my 2nd husband, we are one big happy family now. (Another story for another time!) They live in Ann Arbor.

In June 2002, their oldest daughter graduated from U-M magna cum laude, and we all went to the graduation held at the stadium. Because my daughters' stepmother is a practicing Muslim, she wears the traditional Arab/Somali dress, hajib and all. While we were walking back to the car, in Ann Arbor Michigan, after a wonderful ceremony on a beautiful spring day, the looks, the vitrol yelled to us, etc. was ugly and scary.

Now, granted that graduation was just a few months after 9/11; but it still happens.

Last spring 2008, their son, a junior in high school got caught with a joint---typical American teenager.  The judge was going to put him in jail "because the law should be applied harshly after 9/11"...the judge said. Of course, it didn't have anything to do with the young man's Arabic name...we got him out of it...I went to the court for my "stepson"...because I looked and spoke like a "real American"--not to mention angry Black woman (LOL) was know I told that judge what I really thought...

I broke into tears with that part of General Powell's endorsement...for personal reasons...but also because of all of the Arabs and Muslims I know here in metro Detroit...just about the largest concentration of people of Middle Eastern descent in America...

BTW: their younger daughter is now at Harvard on full academic about those dirty un-American Muslims!



waterprise2 AKA Pam

Liberal with a Capital L!



Great post, Al.

Although I still think universal racism is the result of 80,000 years of evolution (and not just 5,000 years of social engineering) - as some evolutionary psychology research results seem to prove.


Gracias Alberto

As the racial remarks become more outright, they enter the dialog that we are required to participate in. Whether we are canvassing like Mike or discussing politics with our aunts and uncles, we need to be armed with a plan for how to react. Your advice is excellent. 

My husband has been in Iraq for over 10 months. I function exactly like a single mom. Life is different for single parents, you have to shave half off everything you were used to doing before because there just aren't enough hours in the day. Continuing my law practice has been a big priority for me during this time, so my support for Obama has been limited to donations (which I make regularly and rationalize still don't amount to what most middle class people give to their church), some work on restoration after felony convictions, and driving rhetoric. I have known since the primaries that one of my personal vehicles for working on this campaign would be rhetoric. How to address it everywhere, at the mechanic's, in the grocery line, among peers, everywhere.

I remember making a decision when I was 31. Raised in the south, I grew up hearing racist remarks in my community everywhere. I went to law school, lived in New England, saw all the big cities and started my career and my family in Asheville, NC. My decision was to respond to the racism that seems to be alive and well here in Chattanooga, TN. To stop pretending I hadn't heard the remark. Instead, to respond.

So now the two worlds, driving the rhetoric and responding to racism, collide. It can be done. Being ready for it really is a great strategy. To be self righteous is stupid and won't persuade anyway. To address the comments with a certain humility, ie "I'm talking to a low info racist life form, but we are all flawed and wicked in some ways so I will be cool, nice even.." will score much more in the world of persuasion and rhetoric.

Also, since the new buzzword is socialist, people should check out tristero's post Socialism, is that like, myspace for muslims or something? Great framework for how to respond.

Thank You Al!

 Staying cool in the face is bigotry is very hard for me, but I have managed to be civil to my neighbors who I know are voting based on race. My old nieghbors across the street, I talked til I was blue in the face for all the reasons they should vote for Obama, they were having none of it, I got comebacks like, he's a socialist, we don't know enough about his background, and so forth. Now these people voted for Kerry, I explained that if they voted for Kerry that Obama and Kerry had the same ideas and it should be an easy cross-over to Obama, nope. I finally flat out asked them if it was because of his race and they would not admit it, I decided to let it go and asked them to vote for Dem Nick Liebham running for congress in the 50th district, that was a easy sell, they have no children so maybe for them things look different, I don't know but they could not be more obvious yet won't admit it to me and maybe not even to themselves.

One more story-Sign Wars

While I was in NV, McLame signs went up around the nieghborhood, 7 or so of them, Ezzy lives where I do and she came here upset and ranted about it, by the time I got home for my break, there were around 7 Obama signs up. I went and picked up 8 more and walked the neighborhood with them to see if any one else wanted one. I was able to place of 6 of them (one at a house that had a McLame sign already (the husband is Obama, wife McLame).  So our little neighborhood has many more Obama signs than McLames, I noticed the biggest McLame supporters walking the neighborhood the other day, they must have noticed they were outnumbered because yesterday as I walked past their house, I noticed they now have 5 signs placed all around the property. I had to laugh, 5 signs on one really little lot. I guess they figure if they have more signs in their yard it makes up for being outnumbered all around them.

Ok, back to NV, offline for a few days. Field Hands, keep the faith, and do the work, looking forward to a big win on November 4th.

Al-Good Luck on your journey, hope you get lots of interesting stories for that book. Very curious as to what you have in mind after election day.


Thank you, Albert. Maybe only Pogo said it better: "We have met the enemy & they is us." The Other. The Other in every one of us. Every wise person in every society through out history has guided us to 'know thyself.' Not easy. We all know that. I don't have to dig too deep to find The Other in this particular situation.

How can anyone NOT see the greatness in Barack and Michelle Obama? I constantly get impatient with the attacks, and know the 'model' for our collective behavior now has to be that 'cool' we all aspire to. Not easy. Thanks for asking us to do the hardest work.

We've had the privilege of watching, the convention speech in 2004, and now years of Obama campaigning calling for the hard work of each of us working to find the best in ourselves and each other. Hard work. Millions of people are responding to this call for probably millions of reasons. Some what we've been calling self interest/economics, but somewhere deep in me (naive?) there's an idealistic voice, nurtured by years of "Blowin' in the Wind" that there is something much, much deeper, bigger happening now. Now.

We've probably all read, studied Lincoln's words, and that last paragraph is a source of strength to me for these next 15 days:


I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature. 35


The encounter in Fayetteville, NC reminded me of an anecdote that moved me in Dreams from my Father - it's an anecdote about Barack Obama, Sr, in Hawaii, from the beginning of the book:

In fact, I can recall only one story that dealt explicitly with the subject of race; as I got older, it would be repeated more often, as if it captured the essence of the morality tale that my father's life had become.  According to the story, after long hours study, my father had joined my grandfather and several other friends at a local Waikiki bar. Everyone was in a festive mood, eating and drinking to the sounds of a slack-key guitar, when a white man abruptly announced to the bartender, loudly enough for everyone to hear, that he shouldn't have to drink good liquor "next to a nigger." The room fell quiet and people turned to my father, expecting a fight.  Instead, my father stood up, walked over to the man, smiled, and proceeded to lecture him about the folly of bigotry, the promise of the American dream, and the universal rights of man.  "This fella felt so bad when Barack was finished," Gramps would say, "that he reached into his pocket and gave Barack a hundred dollars on the spot.  Paid for all our drinks and puu-puus for the rest of the night - and your dad's rent for the rest of the month."

By the time I was a teenager, I'd grown skeptical of this story's veracity and had set it aside with the rest.  Until I received a phone call, many years later, from a Japanese-American man who said he had been my father's classmate in Hawaii and now taught at a mid-western university.  He was very gracious, a bit embarrassed by his own impulsiveness; he explained that he had seen an interview of me in his local paper and that the sight of my father's name had brought back a rush of memories.  Then, during the course of our conversation, he repeated the same story my grandfather had told, about the white man who had tried to purchase my father's forgiveness.  "I'll never forget that," the man said to me over the phone; and in his voice I heard the same note that I'd heard from Gramps so many years before, that note of disbelief - and hope.

Barack Obama, Dreams from my Father (Times Books, 1995), p. 11.


Powell's statement and

Powell's statement and rationale for supporting Obama is really impressive, and it couldn't have come at a more propitious moment.  Indeed, Obama's campaign has a keen sense of timing and momentum.

The statement about a seven year old kid that is of the muslim dreaming about becoming president hits the nail on the head--what type of low, mean person would dare to quash such a dream?  Among the military personalities, I have always placed my greatest hope with Colin Powell.  Watching him help Bush with the Iraq invasion rationale was painful--and I could tell by the man's actions afterward that he was not proud of his role in this debacle.

The man is conservative enough, and loves this nation enough, to understand that we have gotten far off the track from the ideals of opprotunity, and the core patriotic value that 'we are all in this together'.  The far rightwing ideology has become a pathology that is sapping our collective strenght.   Powell sees this, and his actions in supporting Obama are rooted in healthy patriotism--not piddly racial tribalism.

I am hearing a lot about 'socialism' from the rightwing.  They have no ideas that will get this country on a more healthy track--all they have is fear-mongering and name-calling. Reading dozens of the comments at Politico attacking Powell's endorsement is a study in how deluded and fanatical, and lost, some folks have become.  The idea of endless tax-cuts forever, and endless war/occupation, is simply insane.  They have no compelling plan of action.

Siddhartha, I totally agree about the roots of 'political correctness'--Noam Chomsky pointed this out in the early 1990's and he was correct.  More, dig deeper--you will recognize that the most tenacious political correctness comes from the far rightwing.  If you dare to puncture their cherished dogmas and myths they totally freak out.

The idea of a white's only standard for being president of the USA is in-your-face political correctness.

I've said it before here--what is being challenged right now is the deep-seated white supremacy that has long held sway in the US.  When I meet working class white men and women that will vote for McCain even though the man consistently sides with corporate greed over the needs of labor it infuriates me.  Yes, I tend to lose it, and call them fools.  Deep down they also know that they are being played by the same forces that reduce them to peonage and brute wage slavery.  The failing economic system and stagnant wages are evidence that can only be ignored for so long.

Crony capitalism is despoiling the health of our planet.  Configured as mere consumers, the US public is really in for a nasty hang-over in the years to come.  Only by re-directing our collective energies toward re-building our infrastructure, improving education, making univeral health care a reality, developing sustainable, 'green' jobs, and cooperating with other nations in a more sane and healthy fashion is there anything akin to 'hope' for our nation.

Powell is intelligent enough to see this--as are the vast majority of folks stepping out of their comfort zones and making the heathly, patriotic decision to support Barack Obama.

No, Obama is no messiah--and, yes, it is we the people that will engage the necessary work to get out of this horrendous psychic rut that we find ourselves bogged down in.   Obama's creed and ethos is rooted in the New Deal and the civil rights era--his vision for what we can be is definately resonant with where MLK, Jr. saw that we could go as a people.  Obama is the leader that we need at this crucial moment in US history, and I look forward to seeing the man in person for the first time this afternoon.

OT:  just got off the phone with one of my clients, the CEO of a major US airline.  The guy is from NJ, from a working class Italitan family.  I told him "Obama is not a socialist", and I also remarked that he would likely win the election and that he has the temperment to help get our country back on track in the right direction.  Also, I pointed out the obvious that fear has crept over our nation--and that our economy needs to shift toward 'green' technologies and we need to become more efficient at every level.   I have never querried the man on where his politics are, or how he might vote, but he has conveyed that he is not too  impressed by the Bush performance.

Trying to stay cool Al, but

Trying to stay cool Al, but I got to be honest . . . it's hard brother.

I'm torn about all this.  On one hand I'm almost sick about the level of hatred people have for anyone "different" because we know if the Dem presidental candidate was a woman, or Hispanic, or openly gay, or Muslim . . . the attacks would be equally as bad.

On the other hand, I'm thrilled that this is all out in the open and encourage by how aggressively people are battling against it.

But when I hear a women not even have the decently to shake the hand of the man whose policies will almost certainly improve the quality of her life, it's hard not to lose my cool.

The thought that this woman and people like her are going to go to the polls and pull the lever for McCain and Palin mostly because they are afraid of the other guy is just madness to me.


A Proud Mom Speaks


Much of who we are and what we become is a reflection of our upbringing.  This piece is so impressive and has such a moral stance that I know I am very successful.  You make me so proud Al, as always.  Keep up the good work.



Great Post!

This is just one of the most thoughtful pieces on racism I've heard from the Left.  It's so important to not demonize the racists, since that's just the mirror-image of the 'othering' that they are engaged in.

My very favorite stories in the last few weeks have been about how these barriers get broken down.  Not by getting people to confess the sin of racism, but rather by trying to persuade them, as Obama did here.  And the result?  Daily Kos had a diary up about a 95-year old Missouri man who told his son to be sure to vote for "that colored boy".  Ben Smith reported the story about folks in Pennsylvania who had decided to vote for "the nigger".  I like those stories because they say that racism isn't the final word.  The changes we want happen incrementally, and we encourage it by focusing on the fact that some folks are willing to vote for Obama despite their racism, rather than demonizing the ones who are still fully in the grips of it.

Those small changes are the ones that give me hope.

"Anti-Socialist" Bigotry Is Still Bigotry

Dan in Europe writes:

And I think suggesting otherwise, associating Obama with socialist views or others that are not perceived as part of mainstream American tradition, only play in favor of those who want to paint him as a scary outsider, "not one of us" etc. "Socialist" as a label in America can be more damaging that "arab" or "muslim".

Al replies:

Amazing. We have just lived through months in which Obama's opponents have tried to tag him as a "Muslim" (to appeal to anti-Muslim bigotry), an Arab (to appeal to anti-"Arab" bigotry) and now a "socialist" but you apparently think that socialists should likewise not be a legitimate part of America (or don't already have a part in authentic American history).

You have your experience in Eastern Europe of a Soviet era. I have mine of an America in an anti-Soviet era. Guess what? Both sucked. They were mirror images of the same big centralized authoritarian beast.

Here, on this side of the ocean, people were imprisoned for suspicion of having socialist or communist views or sympathies. They were fired from their jobs and their lives destroyed. They were the subject of a witch hunt with Congressional subpoena powers. Some were killed. Others destroyed and committed suicide. Does the word "McCarthyism" mean anything at all to you? Because you sound like you are urging me to practice it.

In the rest of this hemisphere, thousands were assassinated - as a result of US policy - for suspicion of holding "socialist" ideas. On September 11, 1973, more than 5,000 were rounded up in stadium in Santiago de Chile, tortured and killed. Don't you dare tell me to go back to those times. It ain't gonna happen.

The guilt-by-association tactics we've seen this year (Ayers, Wright, Phlegler, even a little adventure involving the late Saul Alinsky) are McCarthyism. Should anybody with ideas different than yours be purged from a political movement in the United States because you (errantly) think that's how to win? Your way of thinking sounds disturbingly "Soviet" to me - not the communist part, but the authoritarian anti-dissent part.

I'll give you ten dollars for any and every instance you can document of me claiming Obama has "socialist" ideas. You won't find them. Yet you extend that to even "associating" him with "socialist ideas." What it sounds like you mean is that people who have "socialist ideas" should be purged or swept under the rug in an Obama movement.

Does that include US Rep. John Conyers (D-Michigan), once a member of Democratic Socialists of America?

Does it include US Sen. Bernie Saunders (I-Vermont) who describes himself as a socialist?

What do you recommend we do with or to such people?

Kick them off the stage (like was done with some Islamic women at a rally, something Sen. Obama later called them to apologize for)?

Purge them?

America also includes socialists, just as much as it includes adherents to many other ideologies and religions. All are a question of belief. Discriminating against a "socialist" is no different than discriminating against a "Muslim" (or an Eastern European capitalist, for that matter).

The whole point of all of this, for many of us, should come two weeks for now, when people can say:

"They tried to make this a referendum on disassociating with William Ayers, and William Ayers won. They tried to make this a referendum against 'Socialism,' and Socialism won. They tried to make this a referendum against Muslims, and Muslims won. Every person every hunted down and persecuted by ideological, religious or racist bullies won. So stuff it!"

The United States of America is having, increasingly, a conversation about capitalism and whether it is the system that serves us best. Don't you dare tell me or anybody else to shut up about it.

Even if the intent is to sweep that conversation under the rug in order to serve the short term goals of an electoral campaign, to take it to the next step - as you seem to do - calling for a purge of anybody that thinks that way (different than you) is no different than any other bigotry or prejudice, and I will oppose you and anybody else that suggests it with every last ounce of my strength and being.

You propose dealing with alleged "socialists" the same thing that the right wing proposes we do with alleged Muslims. Both proposals are the exact same evil.

- Al 


here's Obama's response to the "socialist" meme


[How's that for inspiration?! :)]

Bubbling up

This last year has been fantastically exciting to me on a number of levels, and seeing all this latent racism bubble up and rear its ugly head has been one of the best developments.

Like a family that has some bad experience in their past and everyone says in hushed tones, "Oh, we don't talk about that..." as if it'll go away, the quiet racism, largely within DemocratIC circles I might add, has caused a societal dysfunction just as that unspoken family issue leads to dysfunction.

This had to happen for us to move beyond it.  As long as we "stay cool" about it, we'll be able to process it and hand over a more compassionate society to the next generation, and hopefully they'll build upon our efforts to create a more just world.

Early Voitng NC through Sunday

Total early votes-   271,903 out of a total registration of 6,176,006

Democrats-...........167,758   61.2% of the total votes
Republicans.......... 59,193   21.8% of the total votes
Libertarians.........    130     .0% of the total votes
Independents......... 44,822   16.5% of the total votes

AA percentage of the Democrats is an amazing 47.9%.




I have been thinking recently about how the real danger and problem with socialism through history has been its attachment to fascism of one type or another. What astounds me are the folks on the far right who wholeheartedly embrace fascism in their desire to deride and attack "socialist" policies.

In truth there is so much ground between pure capitalism and socialism slinging the concepts around like they are dirty words is simply absurd. Then again, most people doing the slinging have very little use for an actual discussion of the merits of each philosophy, they're mostly just looking to instill fear and doubt in others.


@ Melissa

2 of those 45,000 Independents were my wife and I voting for Barack on Friday.  It was a pleasure.

Don't forget to count us Indies!  :)

Sure it's hard to stay cool

But once you realize that the behavior of these people comes from fear, that all hate comes from fear, it's much easier to try and defuse.

I don't look at them as hateful racists, I look at them as terrified people. People that are afraid of the change we look forward to.

How do you calm a frightened person? You do it by showing them you have no fear and you explain why in a calm and measured way.

I will say it took me a lot of years to get to this point, but it's where I find myself now.

$50 in the hopper

$50 in the hopper to send Al to Florida.  Getting close!


Thanks to Agoram for the link to the soccor game story and to We Won't Get Fooled Again for the sage comments about racism equaling fear.  Put together in my mind, I wonder: Are the people who flock to Palin, the fearful ones, are they the ones who don't feel included in this new age of change we all work for?  Maybe it's up to us to reach out to them and help them feel like they, too, are a part of the America we invision.

The More Hateful

and worked up the racist nut jobs become, the more resolved we must be that we will not lay down and give this country over to hate and intolerance.

We can not let them win.

MI foreclosure/suppression story

Great news today where MI Repubs reached a settlement in the case where they were attempting to suppress the votes of those with foreclosed homes.  Wasn't this a story brought to light by a reporter trained in "Authentic Journalism?"

The settlement acknowledges the existence of an illegal scheme by the Republicans to use mortgage foreclosure lists to deny foreclosure victims their right to vote

Good example of community supported journalism and organizing stopping tricks that in the past would've worked.  Now we're starting to cook.  Let's keep it up!

Be Like Barack

Sorry to take this to the personal, but I've been thinking about scenarios like the diner story related above -- and now I have a concrete example of it!

Since I jumped on the O-Train (Decemeber 07), I've been thinking of the many hundreds of diners and cafes and coffee shops and bbq joints Barack has gone into and shaken hands, and maybe got a piece of pie. And how many thousands of meet-and-greets he's attended, or how many spot conversations he's had, and through all of these encounters, how often he must encounter racism. People who won't shake his hand because of the color of his skin. People who insult him to his face because of an evolutionary adaptation to intensity of sun exposure.



Me? I'm easily offended and often veer into the negative. I see one person litter intentionally and I'm angry for an hour, forgetting the 9 people who threw away their trash all proper-like.


Think of how many times Barack has had to face this racism through this campaign and through his life, and look how he handles it. Look how he takes it not necessarily in stride, but as a chance to have a discussion. To talk about change. He engages. He converses. He's wise and patient and yet, no doubt, he knows when to walk away. Or even when to throw a punch.


I think of the petty and small things that set me going one way or another, and I'm almost ashamed to compare my reactions to a man like Barack Obama.


He's already changed the way I think in a few specific ways; but today I feel another step taken on the path - Be Like Barack.


Few of us could hope for a better model of behavior.

Today's Tampa rally

I am constantly blown away by the planning and organization of this campaign. From the top, down to the event organizers and volunteers, I see the makings of an administration ready to get to work on the nation's problems quickly and efficiently.

The rally today was at a minor league baseball stadium. Today is no ordinary day in Tampa Bay. The Rays beat Boston last night, and head to the World Series vs Philadelphia. Four members of the Rays introduced the next President. (There was also a shout out to a member of the football Bucs, in attendance.) This sort of intro can be planned in advance, but not confirmed until The Rays won late Sunday evening. Local recognition is important and this was a grand slam. When Senator Obama's speech ended, a new song was heard, John Fogarty's "Centerfield", honoring the local heroes for a final time. It may seem a small gesture, but nothing is left to chance.

For us, leaving nothing to chance is a reminder to hit the bricks, as usual, for 15 more days. Off to the campaign office to drop off phone logs from the weekend.

Stay cool, indeed. I look at

Stay cool, indeed.

I look at Obama and three things stand out about him:  His intelligence, his patience, and his nerves of ice-cold steel.   He understands strategy as no other Democratic candidate I've seen, for any office.

Al's response to Dan in Europe


Your response rocks.  I appreciate your voice.  Its so good that you've come home to offer your commentary this year. 

Thank you.

The times, they are a'changin.

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About Al Giordano


Publisher, Narco News.

Reporting on the United States at The Field.

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