I’ve been trying to take the nation’s pulse of late relative to its new president. I keep getting mixed signals, perhaps because the here-to-fore majority culture in America never thought anyone other than a member of the “Club” would occupy the Oval Office.
I'm not sure most Americans quite know what to make of this gentlemen and his sleeveless dress wearing lady living in the White House. It is a paradigmatic shift of volcanic proportions. Yet, a paradigm deeply rooted in the America dream, albeit, a portion of the dream left out of that seminal document, signed under duress by members of the landed gentry.
Usually, at least in my lifetime, the American president is extended a 100 day window to get acquainted with his new digs and to get a feel for the lay of the land so to speak. This is not so in the case of number Forty-Four. He is a mocha light, smooth talking prez, who points to East Africa and not Eastern Europe when ancestry is discussed.
It would be easy to dismiss the enormous attention that number Forty-forty has received in his first month and an half in office on the accident of birth. But that belies the crux of the conundrum, or does it?
The first signal to catch my eye about how the public views this president differently from others is in the downward movement of the stock market. Historically, the stock market, contrary to popular myth, favors a Democratic president over the Republican one. According to Slate, “since 1900, Democratic presidents have produced a 12.3 percent annual total return on the S & P 500, but Republicans only an 8 percent return.”
Moreover, the majority of bear markets in the 20th century were Republican bear markets; for instance, the stock market crash of 1929, the oil embargo in the early 1970's, and the market correction in 1987. In spite of these market indicators which favor Mr. Obama’s administration, the market lags behind in performance under his first six-weeks watch.
Why is Mr. Obama having a problem instilling confidence on Wall Street? After all, the new president did not wait to see what would develop and bask in the glow of the oval office. He immediately began to address the sagging economy and pushed through a massive spending bill within his first 20 days in office. Was this not a message to Wall Street the president was serious about getting the economy moving again?
Next, Mr. Obama placed all the financial cards on the table and told the America people that the previous administration had one budget for the War in Iraq and another one for everything else American. Still no movement on Wall Street showing it was confident that this “One” was committed to straightening the mess.
Then the president released a plan to help struggling homeowners get a handle on their mortgages. He introduced a plan geared to homeowners who are underwater in their mortgages and another for those who have gotten behind but have the ability to pay once their loans have been modified. He sweetened the pot with $1000 going to the bank for every mortgage the bank modifies.
And the beat goes on.
Thus far, Mr. Obama’s two ardent critics are Sen. John McCain, the first white candidate to lose a presidential election to a visibly black candidate and Rush Limbaugh, a piped piper of conservative Republican thought.
Mr. McCain blind-sided the president with questions regarding the purchase of a presidential helicopter that the president did not order. In his rants with stacks of papers in his hands and on his table, McCain looks to be the perfect sore loser, whining and stubbing his toe over less important issues while the economy tanks. Perhaps, this is a view of what he would have been doing in his first six-weeks in office had he and Gov. Sarah Palin won the job neither, in retrospect, seemed suited to handle.
Rush Limbaugh is an entertainer by trade and by all accounts he is a master at his trade, which appears to be getting primarily white Americans riled up over “them against us” politics. Just when many Americans who did not vote for Mr. Obama were getting into that feel good feeling about the prospects of a black president, Limbaugh rushed to the aid of the conservative cause and publicly stated concerning the president’s plans to stimulate the economy: “I hope he fails.”
What’s that? He hopes the president fails to stimulate the economy so many of Limbaugh’s listeners can get back to work, stay in their homes and profit from their 401 ks. How callous How insulated from the dire straits of his listeners Rush must be with his contract worth $400 million just extended through 2016?
What then fuels these willy nilly assaults on number Forty-four? Could Eric Holder, Attorney General, be correct in his assessment “we are a nation of cowards,” when it comes to race?
I’m just asking. But it wouldn’t be fair to posit this question and leave it to our collective thoughts for clarity.
When I was a criminal defense lawyer, I was often confronted with the dichotomy of race in jury selection. How do you get twelve people to put aside a lifetime of internal biases and prejudices which they do not know they have? I knew that if I could select an impartial jury panel, the presumption of innocence would remain with my client throughout the trial and he or she would walk out of the courthouse doors with me.
I began the first week of this brave new century driving up to northwest Georgia to select a jury in a capital murder case. My client was the oldest of three brothers who along with a friend, were accused of shooting to death a white teenage male and severely wounding his black friend.
When the trial began, I was certain that someone sitting at the defense table was guilty of murder, and I was equally certain my client was not the guilty person. The prosecution had poisoned the jury pool with pretrial talk of “them” and “they”, which were code words for the black defendants.
Conversely the media, as far away, as Atlanta was full of the pristine life lived by the teenage wrestler who ventured out one Saturday afternoon to pick up the family dog from the veterinarian and ended up in a gully with a bullet in the side of his head.
My job was to get the jury not to see race, but to see the defendants individually. We had several hundred to voir dire ( to interview) where we hoped to select a fair and impartial panel of twelve and one alternate. The judge put twelve citizens in the jury box at a time and the other several hundred were in the courtroom.
The State and defense took turns interviewing the panel. I quickly asked for a show of hands if anyone had any bias or prejudice against my client because he was accused of murdering a white person. I did not get any show of hands, nor did I expect people to open up in a room full of strangers and admit they harbored ill-will toward someone just because of race.
I followed this up by telling a true story of a lesson I learned on the baseball field. It was my last collegiate season of baseball at Tuskegee University. We were playing Savannah State University one Saturday in April of 1973. I had reached base on a single and promptly stole second base. The next batter hit a ball in the gap in left center and I half-heartedly ran towards third, where Coach Martin yelled at me to put it in gear and score. As I approached home plate, I could feel the baseball beaming toward me, like a heat-seeking missile. I saw the catcher come up to block the plate and I went into a fade away slide and entered the home plate area in a cloud of dust.
When the dust cleared, the catcher was coming towards me to tag me, I was not sure if I was safe or out. I did not want to be out, because I had not hustled on the play and Coach Martin had to yell to get me to turn the juice on; so I moved towards the catcher, picked him up and dumped him on the ground. The umpire called me safe and the fans went wild.
I reached the steps of the dugout, my teammate, Steve Duval, came over to me and pointing his finger in my face said: “You are a racist.” I had never thought of myself as a racist before that day. My mom did not raise me to be a racist. Nothing in my past suggested that I should react in a racist way. Yet between innings, I had to come to grips with what my friend had said.
There was no reason I dumped the catcher other than the fact he was the only white person in the ballpark. None of the adults involved said a word to me. Not one, including my coach who always taught us to make good moral choices. Nor the umpire who worked for the post office and was well respected in the Tuskegee community.
After telling this story I did not ask the jury for another show of hands, but you could tell from the expressions on their faces I was calling upon them to dig deep and root out any sign of prejudice. I told this same story to every panel of twelve citizens we interviewed and the whole courtroom heard the same story over and over again. During the recess the deputies came up to me and would say: “I’ve heard that story several times and I still can’t figure out if you were safe or out.”
Then on Wednesday, after a long day of jury selection, the judge sent everyone home and asked the lawyers to remain. He then proceeded to tell me earlier in the day a deputy came forth and told him of a conversation he had with a certain juror on the first day of jury selections. He said juror number 68 asked the deputy “what do you think of that Nigger lawyer from Atlanta.”
Juror number 68 was stricken from the panel. On the ride back to Atlanta, my wife, whose keen insight into human nature helped me select this jury, said we had won the panel because the deputy had held on to that information for three days and only decided to reveal what he knew to be wrong after being confronted over and over with my public admission of how easy it is to be prejudice without giving a thought to it. She was right, three weeks later, my client was acquitted of malice murder.
What should this tell us? It should tell us that racism grows deeper than the surface denial that oh “it doesn’t have anything to do with his skin color.” “I have lots of black friends, besides that he is half white.” “I just hope the man will fail... just like I hoped that Kurt Warner would fail to rally the Cardinals and win the Super Bowl.” Can’t you just see the banality in these shallow responses?
As if he sensed America is about to blow a tremendous opportunity to escort the world into the 21st Century, British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, flew across the pond recently to address a joint meeting of congress. He urged this August body to put aside petty bickering and get behind the leader of the free world. Perhaps, that is as it should be. A Brit telling his American cousins it is time to bury the slave mentality of the 18th Century, for the world waits to get behind America as America exhibits the best in all of humanity.
(c) Copyright March 11, 2009