Remember that "one world" harmony and tolerance wave that washed over 53 percent of Americans when Barack Obama was elected? Lately it seems to have become particularly polluted.
As the president slips around struggling to find his footing on the politically treacherous BP oil spill by demonizing an unresponsive government he now runs, the inaugural promise of a more open-minded and accepting society feels like it's drowning under a gusher of retrograde incidents over the last week.
In South Carolina, State Senator Jake Knotts said about his Sikh opponent in the gubernatorial race, "We already got one raghead in the White House, we don't need a raghead in the governor's mansion." He later compared his statement to the permissive atmosphere of Saturday Night Live, which I'm sure he watches religiously. But what's the joke?
Then there were the seven seniors at a La Quinta high school in Southern California who were disciplined for their game of "Beat the Jew" in which losers were "subjected to incineration or enslavement," school officials explained to the AP. Who says budget cuts have drained imagination from our educational system?
Arizona, already suffering from the withering rebuke of a hissy San Francisco threat to boycott businesses because of the state's heavy-handed immigration laws, couldn't wait for its next turn on the racial controversy hot seat. Prescott City Councilman Steve Blair roused residents during his radio talk show to pressure artists into "lightening" the faces of kids on a mural at Miller Valley Elementary School. "To depict the biggest picture on the building as a black person, I would have to ask why," Blair said. The Arizona Republic cited Blair's comments from a show transcript: "I think it's pathetic. You have changed the ambiance of that building to excite some kind of diversity power struggle that doesn't exist..." The school's principal later reversed the order, allowing the more colorful work of art.
On CNBC, anchor Mark Haines said his female colleague's compliment about an umpire and pitcher "graciousness" over a blown call proved "why women aren't in charge of sports." Erin Burnett, the co-anchor, suggested she might punch Haines' lights out for the remark. In a perfectly ironic response, Fanhouse blogger Ryan Wilson wrote, "There's nothing quite so awkward as an entitled, chubby, balding, middle-aged man explaining his unenlightened view of the world to his younger, attractive co-host on live television." So there.
Even attractive shapes and styles are fodder for rebuke and reaction. The now famous Debrahlee Lorenzana sued Citibank because she said they told her "she must refrain from wearing certain items of clothing" that accentuated her serious curviness. Too distracting to the men in the place. The web, in its own spasm of avaricious digital creeping, immediately served up as many provocative photos of Lorenzana as it could find on her Facebook page and elsewhere, including a "hot, sexy video" of stills she'd posed for that weren't exactly demure. Of course I watched only for the legal issues.
Maybe some people are just stewing over the difficulty of change you can't control. Women, even curvy ones, may actually run sports some day. And the California Department of Finance released a study last Friday that the state's white population has taken a huge dive in the last 10 years. White people are now "below replacement" level, demographer Hans Johnson told the SF Chronicle. And in case that wasn't clear enough, he went on to say, "They're simply not replacing themselves."
But fear of change, bigotry and intolerance can't explain the most shocking insensitivity of all last week: Republican House leader John Boehner insisted Paul McCartney apologize for disrespecting the George W Bush Administration. The insult in question? At a White House awards ceremony attended by Mr. Obama, McCartney said it was "great to have a president who knows what a library is." That kind of conduct, Boehner insisted, "demeaned him, the White House and President Obama."
OK, so maybe Laura Bush was herself a librarian and Sir Paul hadn't done his homework.
But how, in a huggy, post-partisan, Obamerica, could anyone stoop so low as to trash the "nice" Beatle?