Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Ants Taking Over Texas

That was the headline I saw on a fellow traveler's newspaper on the subway this morning. I can only say, it would probably be an improvement over the present administration down there. It got me to thinking I should weigh in here on politics. Lately I've been leaving it to others who specialize in that sort of thing, and I still need to deal with the Man and Superman thing, the rest of Stem Cell Century, and current public health news. However, this will be the most critical election for public health in my lifetime, so it requires attention.

I didn't post yesterday because I was too busy during working hours and too filled with bitter loathing for the malignant dwarf who has fraudulently occupied the office of president to put anything up in the evening. That the toxic slimeball would thrust itself back into the public discourse at this particular moment, to inject more narcissistic sewage, serves to remind us of why we have despaired for the American polity. The Republicans were actually able to build a cult of personality around a sociopath with the mentality of a three-year-old and all the charisma of a leech. The corporate media joyfully joined in the conspiracy, and the voters actually made two successive elections close enough for the conspirators to steal. Hitler and Stalin at least had a certain gravitas, but this clown couldn't be elected president of the fourth grade. Yet there he sits.

And now we're going to have a candidate who is smart, charming, incorruptible, visionary, eloquent; who truly comes from humble beginnings; who is truly a citizen of the world, yet with a life-long record of service to America and proven patriotism; who has inspired a whole new generation of young idealists; who has energized a long-oppressed community to a level of commitment and determination not seen for forty years, since they brought about a great transformation in American society; who has spoken directly and out of complex personal experience about the greatest wound in American society and culture, in a way that every other politician has avoided; whose money comes from millions of small donors, who is storming the ossified Democratic Party establishment and sweeping away the cynical and failing imagemakers and poll parsers in favor of honest discourse and frank confrontation with the hard realities of the day.

And we're afraid he has no chance.

I was a community organizer in my youth, a street organizer, knocking on doors and getting people to sit in at city offices and block streets over trash filled vacant lots and real estate speculators trashing neighborhoods. One of the places I worked was Fishtown, a poor white neighborhood in east Philadelphia on the Delware River. Fishtown was in rough shape, with lousy municipal services, deteriorating schools, unemployment, a bad drug problem, you name it. But the number one issue on most people's minds, as soon as they opened their mouths, was The Niggers. There were two things wrong with The Niggers: they don't like to work and they're all on welfare; and they're taking all the jobs. I usually got this in the same sentence. These people normally voted Democratic, but they liked Republican Mayor Frank Rizzo because he was sending the cops into the black neighborhoods to beat people up -- or, as Rizzo himself put it, Spacco il Capo.

So, the question is, today, are these same people going to vote for the colored guy in November? You know what? I think they just might, or anyway a lot of them will. Partly, it's just because they've gotten more used to the idea. Philadelphia has had two black mayors since then, and Fishtown's white ethnic residents have not been pushed into the river after all. They probably aren't any better off, but they're no worse off either. But more important, they aren't going to be voting for an abstraction, they'll be voting for a candidate, who I absolutely believe will find a way to speak to them.

The Obama presidency will represent a huge historic transformation for this country. The main reason we're so politically and socially backward is that the working class has been divided by race, a fissure that politicians and capitalist have exploited with almost perfect success since they used it to destroy the populist movement of the 1890s. The strategy broke down to some extent during the Great Depression, and again in the Civil Rights era, but it came back with a vengeance thanks to Nixon and Reagan and their clever use of racism. Now we have a chance to really put an end to it.

If we do, Attorney General Edwards will have a chance to put the bastards in jail. Now that will really be sweet.

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