Sunday, August 26, 2012

Sunday Reading

Ta-Nehisi Coates on the delicate balance of racial tension in America and equal opportunity as framed by the first black president.

The irony of Barack Obama is this: he has become the most successful black politician in American history by avoiding the radioactive racial issues of yesteryear, by being “clean” (as Joe Biden once labeled him)—and yet his indelible blackness irradiates everything he touches. This irony is rooted in the greater ironies of the country he leads. For most of American history, our political system was premised on two conflicting facts—one, an oft-stated love of democracy; the other, an undemocratic white supremacy inscribed at every level of government. In warring against that paradox, African Americans have historically been restricted to the realm of protest and agitation. But when President Barack Obama pledged to “get to the bottom of exactly what happened,” he was not protesting or agitating. He was not appealing to federal power—he was employing it. The power was black—and, in certain quarters, was received as such.

No amount of rhetorical moderation could change this. It did not matter that the president addressed himself to “every parent in America.” His insistence that “everybody [pull] together” was irrelevant. It meant nothing that he declined to cast aspersions on the investigating authorities, or to speculate on events. Even the fact that Obama expressed his own connection to Martin in the quietest way imaginable—“If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon”—would not mollify his opposition. It is, after all, one thing to hear “I am Trayvon Martin” from the usual placard-waving rabble-rousers. Hearing it from the commander of the greatest military machine in human history is another.

By virtue of his background—the son of a black man and a white woman, someone who grew up in multiethnic communities around the world—Obama has enjoyed a distinctive vantage point on race relations in America. Beyond that, he has displayed enviable dexterity at navigating between black and white America, and at finding a language that speaks to a critical mass in both communities. He emerged into national view at the Democratic National Convention in 2004, with a speech heralding a nation uncolored by old prejudices and shameful history. There was no talk of the effects of racism. Instead Obama stressed the power of parenting, and condemned those who would say that a black child carrying a book was “acting white.” He cast himself as the child of a father from Kenya and a mother from Kansas and asserted, “In no other country on Earth is my story even possible.” When, as a senator, he was asked if the response to Hurricane Katrina evidenced racism, Obama responded by calling the “ineptitude” of the response “color-blind.”

E.B. White — In remembrance of Neil Armstrong, a note from the July 26, 1969 edition of The New Yorker.

The moon, it turns out, is a great place for men. One-sixth gravity must be a lot of fun, and when Armstrong and Aldrin went into their bouncy little dance, like two happy children, it was a moment not only of triumph but of gaiety. The moon, on the other hand, is a poor place for flags. Ours looked stiff and awkward, trying to float on the breeze that does not blow. (There must be a lesson here somewhere.) It is traditional, of course, for explorers to plant the flag, but it struck us, as we watched with awe and admiration and pride, that our two fellows were universal men, not national men, and should have been equipped accordingly. Like every great river and every great sea, the moon belongs to none and belongs to all. It still holds the key to madness, still controls the tides that lap on shores everywhere, still guards the lovers who kiss in every land under no banner but the sky. What a pity that in our moment of triumph we did not forswear the familiar Iwo Jima scene and plant instead a device acceptable to all: a limp white handkerchief, perhaps, symbol of the common cold, which, like the moon, affects us all, unites us all.

Carl Hiaasen on keeping your distance.

As the Republican delegates this week struggle to stay six feet from the strippers, Romney is trying to put about 600,000 light years between himself and Todd Akin. However, the presidential nominee has a big problem, and that problem is his running mate, Paul Ryan.

The Wisconsin congressman, another “social conservative,” joined with Akin to co-sponsor anti-choice legislation in the House. The bill would ban all abortions “unless the pregnancy is the result of an act of forcible rape or incest.”

Last week, during the Akin fiasco, Ryan clammed up when he was asked to explain the term “forcible” rape in relation to other rapes.

“Rape is rape,” he said over and over in the tone of a constipated macaw.

Like Akin, Ryan doesn’t really believe rape is rape. He and many anti-abortionists favor a narrow definition of the crime. For example, they think statutory rape involving teens is different, and that pregnancies resulting from those acts should not be terminated.

The philosophy is pure Akin and Ryan. They want to be in your bedroom, in your doctor’s office, in your church. Forget privacy. Forget personal decisions.

A 14-year-old girl who gets pressured into having sex with her boyfriend must have the baby. Same goes for a wife forced by threat to have sex with a violent husband. Same goes for any woman with a medical condition that makes pregnancy dangerous.

Meet your new Republican Party, hijacked by reactionaries.

Doonesbury — Take me to your leader.