On the bus ride home to the Shenandoah Valley with some of the nearly two hundred people who made the hours-long journey to the Rally for Sanity, October 30, we were fired up. We were talking politics, the Democratic Party, The Tea Party, Republicans, and, well, passion. Mostly where the passion of two years ago went. Many of those on the bus had campaigned heartily and heavily for the president. Some were disappointed. But none were willing to switch party affiliation or fail to vote. Most were on the same page. Except for one thing. There seemed to be disagreement as to the question of "marketing," for want of a better word ,the message that the president had actually done a lot of what he had promised and why so many people were unable to grasp some of the historic legislation he had ushered in.
I agree with Obama's statement on the Daily Show recently that the health care bill, while far from perfect, shared many similarities with social security. It also shares the same similarities with early civil rights legislation: it's a great first step that can be built upon. And I also disagree with the many pundits (including Maureen Dowd in the New York Times) that putting so much energy into health care instead of jobs was a mistake. In fact, most people on my bus thought that Obama should have pushed through health care (and an even more comprehensive bill at that) in the early months of his administration, rather than trying to make nice with the Republicans. The argument came in the form of whether people knew exactly what was in the health care bill, or, for that matter, the financial legislation bill. And that is when the conversation turned to marketing and public relations, or, as more than one writer recently has put it, politics. Where is Obama's political savvy? People want to know. Why isn't he making sure the American public understands what he's done for us?
Because he doesn't believe in spoon-feeding grown ups. And neither do I.
The quarter of a million people who turned out to for the Rally for Sanity (along with the thousands who never made it because of Metro malfunctions and highway traffic) and President Obama have something very important in common. And it's not politics. Not at all. It's the deep-seated belief that we have the duty and responsibility to educate ourselves. To read. To think. To pay attention. It's the deeply-held notion that Americans are, or should be, able to parse information and get the gist of it. Just like we used to read texts and respond to them in school; just as we used to learn math formulas and then use them to solve problems.
But, it's clear, the American public finds that just too too tiresome. Rather, both the media and
"ordinary people" (whoever they are) delight in calling Obama an elitist and sport snark the lefties who, carrying often erudite and ironic signs, attended the rally.
As one middle-aged black woman, as ordinary an American as I, or anyone else, argued: "Look, the health care bill was big and somewhat complex, but I took the time to look at it and see what was in it that affected me. I thought, if I can find one thing that would make a difference in my life, then I can support it." She found that one thing, extended coverage for her children, both in their twenties. And then she went on to find more.
Yet, according to pundits the bill was too large and cumbersome for ordinary people to understand. Those same ordinary people who spend, on average, seven hours a day with the television on, don't have the time to do a little thoughtful reading. Those same ordinary Americans who pass around you-tube videos of kittens just can't find a half hour a day to look at more than one news source, read deeply into the issues, and come up with something more than talking points. From any one side.
That's elitist, right? To say that people should spend some time paying attention, read a little, think a little, tamp down the anger and the rhetoric and the slurs and the stupidity? That's elitist. And it's more than a little elitist, right?, to say that anyone who is an "ordinary American" (that is, anyone who makes the average $50,000 a year for a family of four) would be a fool to vote for the Republicans or the Tea Partiers, because to do so is so clearly going against their own self interest. Oh. Oh.
Yet the facts are there. The people who angrily joined the Tea Party because government is out of control need that same government even more than the leaders of those parties because the leaders of those parties don't need social services, Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid. Because the leaders of those parties talk about jobs jobs jobs but are the chief outsourcers of American jobs. Because the leaders of those parties are financing their own campaigns with millions of their own dollars along with millions more from corporations who don't give a damn about ordinary Americans. And yet, millions of ordinary Americans will vote back in Republicans. The same Republicans who got us into this mess in the first place and the same Republicans who have held up over 200 bills in the Senate and recently voted against tax breaks for companies who keep jobs in this country. The same Republicans who will cut taxes on the rich again and still promise to balance the budget, which anyone with a modicum of common sense realizes is an impossibility.
Those same people who will vote back in the Republicans must be among the 92 percent who don't' know that Obama gave them a tax cut. Those same people who have no idea the contempt with which the Republicans hold ordinary Americans.
It's no secret that the Republicans who paint Obama as an elitist because he is an intellectual are elite in a profoundly more sinister way: controlling influence, money, power, big media, and pouring billions of dollars into buying elections.
But logic is elitist.
It requires critical thinking. And critical thinking is beyond ordinary Americans, right? We would rather have our information spoon fed. We would rather have our president act more like a politician, or, even a huckster, and sell himself to us one more time. Rather than work to get things done, we depend on our politicians to both sell themselves to the people who finance their campaigns and again to us so that we keep them in office.
Wonder why so many on the left are cynical? Why so many turned out for a rally that was both ironic and political? The answer is simple. As ordinary Americans ourselves we are tired of being told we are elitist for thinking. The other ordinary Americans should be tired of being told they are too dumb to see who really is working for them and who against.