Monday, November 19, 2012

'South Pacific,' Hate, Reconciliation and the Republican Party


In the summer of 2010, my wife and I attended the Lincoln Center production of South Pacific.   I last saw South Pacific around 1957-8 at the Jones Beach Summer Theater--a teenager on a "big date."   Planted in my memory from that balmy evening were those ever-memorable Rodgers and Hammerstein songs: Some Enchanted Evening, There Is Nothin’ Like a Dame, and I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair.  These songs spoke strongly to me, an inexperienced teenage boy wallowing in abstract ideas of romance.  Their melody and lyrics seduced me and remain permanently embedded in my memory.

Maurice Vellekoop, New Yorker Magazine, Cover for South Pacific, April 14, 2008


 What I didn’t remember, or was too preoccupied to pay it much attention, was Cable’s song in Act II, You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught.   Hearing this song some 53 years later, I was deeply moved, even thunderstruck.  More than all of those upbeat songs that so appealed to my teenage self, here is the song that offers a timeless message, particularly for adults.  In fact, Cable’s song makes South Pacific at least as relevant to today’s 21st century world as it had been for Michener’s world of the mid-20th century: 


“You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear...It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear....You’ve got to be taught to be afraid  Of people whose eyes are oddly made,  And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade. 

“You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,  Before you are six or seven or eight,  To hate all the people your relatives hate,  You’ve got to be carefully taught.”

Hearing Cable sing these words, I thought, “My God, this has as much power as the most moving Martin Luther King sermon.”  The entire world today would do well to listen to these words:  the Serbs, Croats and Muslims of Bosnia and the former Yugoslavia; the Tutsi and the Hutus of Rwanda;   the Sunnis and the Shiites in the Islamic world;   the disaffected Muslim youth who have been carefully taught in their Madrassas or through internet Jihadi sermons;   Right-wing Christian Fundamentalists, carefully taught to view homosexuality (as well as liberal America in general) as a sin;   the Republican Right, carefully taught ever since Reagan, if not Ayn Rand, to hate government--that entity which has made their lives and mine so fulfilling and easy;   and the Tea Party movement (carelessly, reflexively) taught to fear almost everything. 



Indiana (and other states), Anti-Obama Billboard, Sponsored by the Tea Party


How have we come to this?  Why do so many embrace hatred and fear?   In our own country, we enable hate by promoting and encouraging the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.   In South Pacific, in the end, Émile, his children, and Nellie find reconciliation and reach a new, deeper commitment.   If only our country and this world could reach an equivalent reconciliation.


But still, reconciliation remains a long way off.   We have just re-elected Barack Obama, our first black president.   And yet, an irrational hate towards him persists within significant pockets of the electorate.  Nevertheless, if we consider the days after his previous election of 2008, we will recall talk about America entering a “post-racial” period--a period in which our country would rise above racial discrimination and prejudice.  This never transpired.  Instead, we encountered an irrational hatred for Barack Obama that, like the myth of the birth of Athena, seemed to spring, fully grown even before his inauguration.  It is a hatred that persists to this day.

Here are some examples, and let’s begin with the most ubiquitous group, individual citizens who carelessly express their hatred toward a politician, even a president.  Think of the Louisiana woman who, when Rick Santorum visited a shooting range in West Monroe, yelled to him as he took aim at a target, “Pretend it’s Obama;”   or recall Santorum’s wealthy donor, Foster Friess who hoped Obama’s “teleprompters are bulletproof.”   



Gregory Kearney, Cartoon of Foster Friess, 2012 (wyofile)

Moving up from these, we encounter celebrities (who ought to be more circumspect) also indulging in public hate talk.  In October of this year, for example, Ted Nugent told the Discovery Channel, “ I was in Chicago and said, ‘Hey, Obama you might want to suck on one of these you punk.’ Obama, he's a piece of shit, and I told him to suck on my machine gun.”    


John Branch, Cartoon of Ted Nugent, 2012 (branchtoon.com)

A few months earlier, at an Iowa State Fair, Hank Williams Jr. told a crowd of fans, “We’ve got a Muslim president who hates farming, hates the military, hates the U.S., and we hate him!”  His fans cheered wildly. 


David Horsey, Cartoon of Hank Williams, Jr., 2012 (Los Angeles Times)

Most people would never utter such horrendous statements in public, regardless of their feelings.  And it may be that license to voice such profanity comes from people who, by their more exalted position, should serve as role models for the rest of us.  A Pastor, for example, such as Stephen Anderson of the Faithful Word Baptist Church in Tempe, told his congregation the day before President Obama was to make a public appearance in Arizona: “I’m gonna pray he dies and goes to hell.”


Pastor Stephen Anderson, Faithful Word Baptist Church, Tempe, AZ

Shockingly, Anderson is hardly alone among “men of the cloth” who have set a place in their sermons for President Obama (and other liberal politicians) alongside Satan.  Yet, I find it even more disturbing when other politicians and elected officials join in this chorus of contempt.  Mike O’Neal (R, KA) sent out an e-mail quoting from Psalm 109May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow;” and he explained this quotation with these words: At last -- I can honestly voice a Biblical prayer for our president.   So he, too, expresses the wish that President Obama should die. 


Mike O'Neal, Republican, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Kansas

Then there is Judge Richard Cebull (R, MT) who sent out an e-mail to friends that contained a joke comparing African Americans to dogs and implying that Obama's mother had sex with animals.   


Richard F. Cebull, United States District Judge, Montana

Or Paul Broun (R, GA) when asked by a constituent in a town meeting of 2011, “who is going to shoot the president?,” merely smiled and answered in sympathy with those who felt "frustrated" by Obama.   Or, possibly among the best remembered, Joe Wilson (R, SC) who interrupted the President's speech to a joint session of Congress in 2009 with his now infamous, “You Lie.”   Obama had not lied, by the way, in his comments regarding the issue of health care and illegal immigrants, but that is almost beside the point.  No member of Congress should ever talk to his President in this manner.  In fact, Joe Wilson actually violated the House Rules on decorum, which state explicitly that a member cannot "call the president a 'liar.'"  No action was ever taken on him, and he later parlayed his indecorous interjection into a successful fundraising effort. 


Terrence Nowicki, Jr., Cartoon showing hypocrisy of Joe Wilson (thisishistorictimes.com)

Most of us would agree, I think, that directing comments such as these to the President of the United States is inappropriate at any time.  However, given the fact that, by the time of Obama’s election in 2008, the country faced the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, one would expect a democratic America to rally behind its newly-elected president.   Obama had inherited a $1.3 trillion deficit, rising unemployment, a housing foreclosure crisis in which one-in-six homeowners was “underwater,” an auto industry facing bankruptcy, a shaky stock market, two on-going wars, difficult relationships with Russia and China, and the epochal threat of global warming.  Shouldn’t every member of both parties eagerly back our new President for the sake of the country? 

Apparently not.   The Republican party didn’t even have the courtesy to wait until after Obama’s Inauguration to up the level of hate.   We now know about the meeting of January 20, 2009--Inauguration night--in The Caucus Room restaurant, where Paul Ryan (R, WI),  Eric Cantor (R, VA),  Jon Kyl (R, AZ), Tom Coburn (R, OK),  Jim DeMint (R, SC),  Kevin McCarthy (R, CA),  Dan Lungren (R, CA),  Pete Sessions (R, TX),  Jeb Hensarling (R, TX),  Pete Hoekstra (R, MI),  John Ensign (R, NV), Bob Corker (R, TN),  Newt Gingrich and conservative journalist Fred Barnes met with Republican pollster, Frank Luntz, who had organized the event.    Four hours later, this group of plotters emerged, “almost giddily” in one description, having agreed to “stand in unison and oppose every idea put forth by Democrats.”

This act, on the day of Obama’s inauguration, before he even met with the new Congress, without extending him a honeymoon period, is, by itself, a hateful act.  Just weeks before the mid-term elections of 2010, Mitch McConnell (R, KY), the minority leader of the Senate, would reveal the basic strategy of this secret meeting when he told the Heritage Foundation: “Our top political priority over the next two years should be to deny President Obama a second term.”

But what took place in this secret meeting of January 20, 2009 was really more than a hateful act.  It placed at risk the ability of the United States of America to recover from the enormous economic challenges that it--and the world--was facing.

In their obsession to deny President Obama a second term, Republicans had to make sure that he failed at everything.   After all, an incumbent president is almost always blamed for a poor economic performance, and that would give them the Presidency.  So, they opposed most of Obama’s stimulus measures, payroll tax breaks, unemployment insurance, loose money policy, and other policies for growing the economy and creating jobs.   They mainly pushed for tax cuts and policies of fiscal austerity, both of which would have sent us into a full-fledged depression.

This is why that secret meeting in January is more than a mere hateful act.  What grew out of it was a Republican party unified in hate against one man--our President--much more than it was committed to rescuing our country.  As John Reed wrote in September, in an article entitled “A Republican Dance of Treason?”, “when the clear purpose of the meeting is determined to be to act against the best interests of the American public in its entirety...and to violate en masse their Oaths of Office, one must ask if the end result of such a meeting might be considered a conspiracy to commit treason.”

Reed continues to press the issue of treasonous behavior by the cabal of Republicans with these comments:  “When conspirators gather and agree to purposely harm the public, or the public purse, particularly in time of war and international economic crisis, one must ask whether it is mere partisanship we sense, or the more rarefied scent of treason that lingers in the halls of Congress.    What is the difference between planning to win the next election and conspiring to intentionally collapse the American economy, if necessary, merely so the conspirators' party can regain the Office of the Presidency?   On such razor sharp edges the Republicans decided to dance.”

The Republicans, fortunately, did not take back the Presidency. Barack Obama won a second term--decisively--and Democrats even increased their seats in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.   A party that hatched a secret strategy four years ago,  a party that mainly was energized by its hate of an opposition leader,  a party that was fixated on his destruction,  a party willing to destroy the American economy and the livelihood of its citizens merely to attain a vindictive goal conceived out of hate,  is not a party that deserves to win anything.

Hate distorts, and in this election, the Republican party distorted truth in the campaign statements of its candidate, Mitt Romney, and it distorted democratic principles, in its multi-pronged efforts to suppress the vote of hundreds of thousands of American citizens.  



Mitt Romney, Republican candidate for President, 2012

Randall Enos, Cartoon of Republicans suppressing the vote, 2012 (The Cagle Post)

Let us hope that this party soon gets over its hatred of Obama, of democrats, of government, of a social contract, of...(you name it).  Only then will it reclaim its position as a positive force in American politics.  America needs this.  And, once there, the parties will attain that reconciliation so necessary for them to jointly direct our country forward, toward better times.

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