When do I get my JFK or FDR? You know, a leader who rouses me to think beyond myself. To ask not what my country can do for me. Who gets me on a boat to Liberia with the Peace Corps or teaching school in Appalachia? After eight years of acting in reaction to the horrifying results of the Bush Administration, I didn’t even come to support Barack Obama initially because of his stand on the issues. Although upon investigation, I decided he was my candidate, I was originally driven to him by The Palin Factor (see this post).
In Obama’s victory speech, I liked his use of the word “sacrifice” and the call to volunteerism. Hey, this was going to be a leader who didn’t give us platitudes in the face of disaster. (Remember: “The fundamentals of our economy are sound”? And how about the call to defeat terrorism by shopping.) Nope, I was finally going to get a leader who, uh, would lead. Like asking me to step up to the plate and help my country. Maybe Obama will be that guy for me…eventually. But lately, I’m still being motivated more out of fear of the radical wing of the GOP.
My latest depression stems from something I did that I knew I shouldn’t do. I read a right-wing blog: Pajamas Media. I have an excuse. A friend of mine, who it turns out is not all that right-wing (although I suspect she votes Republican AND Democratic depending on where her conscience sends her), actually writes for this electronic rag.
Her latest article appeals to Republicans to step away from that high ledge and be a little calmer in the face of President Elect Obama’s call for volunteerism. It’s not Marxism, she posits, and maybe it’s a good thing.
The result was a huge– as in nearly 500 comments — spew of hate, selfishness, disinformation and labeling of Obama as “Nazi, Maxist, Pol Pot, Socialist, Communist” and probably “puppy killer” somewhere in there. (Click on the article and read the comments. Just read ’em.)
If you think my horror is hyperbole, check out the commentator who repeatedly states that volunteerism is ridiculous because poor people are “stupid, dirty, begetters of illegitimate children” and, something I’m not sure we’ve heard since the Victorian Era, “responsible for their own poverty by their own ignorance and laziness.”
Here’s an exact quote from the commenter called uburoisc:
“my position is that the poor are, for the most part, short-sighted, not very bright as a group, inclined to violence, and self-destructive. As it happens, they are also dirty, shiftless, and lazy as well…They are also noisy slobs who have almost no aesthetic sensibilities, litter everywhere, urinate in public, and place almost no value on cognition.”
How about this comment from Robert Bidinotto:
“My individual freedom is a birthright — not a social debt. I was not born an indentured servant, mortgaged at birth to pay off some eternal, arbitrarily defined debt via “service” to anonymous “others.”
My neighbors don’t own or owe me, nor do I own or owe them, merely by the fact that we exist. What I have, I’ve earned through hard work, producing goods and services that others may want; and I exchange these things with them through voluntary transactions that are mutually beneficial. So there’s nothing I possess that I have to “pay back” to them.”
Uh, how about you owe something to your fellow man because you are a member of the human race? How about the Christian doctrine that you are your brother’s keeper? If you aren’t a Christian, I can’t think of a single major religion that doesn’t insist that we owe help and aid to the less fortunate, simply because it is the right thing to do.
If you have no religion, how about Samuel Johnson’s suggestion that “The measure of a man is taken by how much he does for those who can do nothing for him.”
As much as we’d all like to believe that all our success is attributable to our sheer genius and hard work, the truth is that much of it is probably due to the influence of parents or mentors, our advantages and luck. Not to denigrate hard work and intelligence, which surely plays a part. But would we have been able to exercise those if we hadn’t gotten some breaks somewhere along the way. Why are some so resistant to helping others get a leg up?
Ironically, the above lessons were things that were originally brought home to me by a Republican friend. Years ago when we were all in our early twenties, pouring our energies into that first job, climbing the ladder and trying to log as many parties and as much skiiing into our schedules as possible, this guy also had another agenda. He convinced a large group of his friends to start a mentoring program for at-risk youth. They not only spent money, they committed weekly face-time to the kids FOR A PERIOD OF TEN YEARS. His reason for this commitment: “Well, we’ve got to do something. We’ve got all the advantages and should try to do what we can to level the playing field.”
Are the voices of Bill O’Reilly, Ann Coulter and the nutjobs from Pajamas Media just drowning out other voices or are there no more Repubicans like this anymore. Wait, there must be. Silently doing the right things. I just wish we could hear from them.
I got a hint that there might even be a few who were readers of Pajamas Media as a few brave souls floated some intelligent discourse on the Obama volunteer corps plan: who would oversee it, how would it be funded, who would decide what types of volunteering “counted”? All good points and all the sort of thoughtful points adult debate is supposed to elicit. Too bad they were drowned out by the hateful rhetoric.
But enough about Pajamas Media, Bill O’Reilly and their ilk. I should remember my grandmother’s advice: “You can’t argue with ignorance.”
So where does this leave me? I’m now feeling that I’ve got to up my volunteer quotient just to counteract the haters. Tomorrow I call Big Brothers, Big Sisters of the Bay Area.
I’d love to hear responses. Especially from Republicans.