There is no doubt in my mind that the most important Message I’ve written in 2006 was “What’s wrong with Barack Obama?” That is not to say it was the most popular. That honor definitely belongs to “I’m Tired of Today’s Strong Black Women” (Feb. 8, 2006). Coming in a distant second was my annual tongue-lashing of Derby cruising advocates (April 16).
Believe it or not, from time to time I still get notes from angry black women about the former (most of whom still miss the article’s point). They’re probably desperately clutching their Prada bags and swilling over-priced Starbucks beverages as they hammer the computer keys. Unfortunate. Surprisingly, I didn’t get a single note from the women or the cruisers engaging the Obama piece. Guess politics just aren’t as important as cruising or rather vacant concepts of black female strength.
One comment that did come in, however, reflected a troubling but common approach to our political malaise. The reader commented that the piece was “interesting,” but struck him as “simply raising again the age-old debate between working within the system or crashing it. At the presidential level of politics, is that even a choice?”
I say “YES” we not only have a choice, but a duty! Sit and think, gentle readers. Let us set our party differences aside. For one second, let us forget that we are black or white, Democrat, Republican or Independent. Let us dispense with conservative, liberal or radical labels. Let us, for a moment, think as Americans of good conscience who live in the most powerful country in the world. Let us, for one hour, be responsible.
Political novices read the Obama article and thought I was simply talking about Obama. The more sophisticated minds knew I was only using Obama as an illustration to speak to a much larger problem. He is not the sickness. He is simply the latest and most popular symptom. Interrogating our approaches to the Obamas of the world tells us much more than individually examining these political opportunists ever could.
We are now a nihilistic nation with little belief in the possibility for change and decency through politics. This hopelessness — this perception that we have no personal or collective efficacy — has led us to a place where we not only accept mediocrity, we celebrate it. Think of what I’m asking us to do as we ready ourselves to go to the polls. I’m not asking us to destroy our government or the democratic ideals upon which it rests. I’m not advocating communism, socialism or anarchy. All I’m advocating is us, the citizens, forcing politicians to reach for the ideals this country was built on — freedom, truth, liberty, decency and the never-ending search for how we can make the world a better place.
Think about it. Were any of us really shocked by the recent Mark Foley madness? Were any of us surprised that there exists not the possibility, but the probability, that leading members of our government attempted to cover it up? Have we really been disturbed by the ever-increasing list of our leaders caught up in the Jack Abramoff scandal? Have we been angered by Randy “Duke” Cunningham, William Jefferson or Bob Ney? Does anyone remember “Scooter” Libby and what he did? Does anyone really believe Dick Cheney wasn’t involved? Do we think the president didn’t know?
Do we care that the Bush administration lied to get us into Iraq? Do we care that the Democrats were complicitous (even though they’d like us to forget that now)? Did we note the contradiction when our president stood on an aircraft carrier and declared “mission accomplished” but kept sending our fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters and friends off to die? Do we really believe every leader who disagrees with our government is a tyrant or madman? Do we care that politicians, no matter their party, flip-flop more than fish out of water? Do we believe them … any of them? When’s the last time you actually voted FOR a candidate rather than AGAINST one?
Is this what we’ve become?! We’re Americans, damn it! We deserve better! All I’m asking for is a politician who stands for something. One who doesn’t insult us with safe positions and empty political clichés. All I want is someone who tells us the truth — be it good or bad. Don’t you? That’s not crashing the system. That’s making it work properly. So, the greater question isn’t what’s wrong with Obama or any of the rest — it’s what’s wrong with us? We can change this. We must change this!
Remember to vote, because we can’t continue to leave the people in the hands of fools.
Dr. Ricky L. Jones is associate professor and chair of the Department of Pan-African Studies at U of L. His LEO column appears in the last issue of each month. Contact him at [email protected]