Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Next Stop: Michelle

Michelle Obama enjoyed a long grace period from the national media. A smart, engaged women who has formidable accomplishments of her own wholly aside from those of her husband -- what's not to like? Well, being an outspoken Black women is always a position fraught with peril, and Michelle does not have her husband's naturally conciliatory personality. We saw her previously sterling image take a hit with the infamous comments about how her husband's candidacy represented the first time she'd been proud of America. And with a pair of articles out trying to paint her with a tar brush, I think we safely say that conservatives think Michelle Obama may be a point of vulnerability for the Obama campaign.

That doesn't mean that the attacks are just, though. The first is a projection piece by Yulal Levin at the National Review complaining that Michelle Obama articulates a sense of "bitterness" (the ultimate insult!). The warrant is that Michelle's speeches often hit on themes regarding how people no longer feel like they're in control of their destiny, that they can't make change in the world (obviously, the fulcrum to Obama's message that "yes, we can" make change). It's a pretty silly argument, that boils down to "there's no anxiety in America, because many of the people Michelle Obama is talking to are middle class or wealthy, and if there is, it's because we rock that much the harder," which I feel misreads the current sentiment of the American people by reducing the only possible source of anxiousness to money concerns. In any event, as in all arguments that flow from a perception that something is wrong with America, Michelle is being critiqued for daring to mention that all Americans might not exist in a state of ecstatic joy, all the time (how can we not? This is the greatest nation in the history of the world!).

The second is an article by equal-opportunity religion-hater Christopher Hitchens, who tries to blame Michelle for Barack's membership in Rev. Wright's church -- a membership which can only be explained by sympathy to radical Black separatist ideology. Since Barack clearly doesn't believe in separatism (nor, I'd wager, does Rev. Wright, but no matter), it must be Michelle. He spends literally one half of a paragraph providing evidence for this -- and (I'm not making this is up), that one piece of evidence consists of Michelle Obama's 1985 senior thesis (my senior thesis is online for all to see -- am I doomed?). That's it, and it's in the last paragraph. Contrast that to the two opening paragraphs, dedicated to wholly gratuitous references to Louis Farrakhan. This the best you've got? [Note: I strongly recall my argument here being made in a post at The Plank, but I can't find it. Apologies for the appropriation -- particularly if the post wasn't at The Plank and I'm effectively stealing from somewhere else. There it is! Publius from Obsidian Wings. Sorry 'bout that.].

While I'm on that last point, the discussion by PG and myself on the prospect of a Bobby Jindal VP position reminds of something. In addition to the latest go around of "is Obama a closet Muslim or a radical Christian Black separatist? Or both!?", there's been a persistent rumor fest that Obama only converted to Christianity and joined his church as a furtherance of his political ambition. Would Jindal, who converted from Hinduism to Christianity, face the same scrutiny of political motive? I mean, good luck getting elected as a Hindu Republican in Louisiana. Still, my guess is no, both because the pre-existing narrative of a 5th column (radical Hindus are trying to subvert America and Jesus!) isn't there (oddly enough, since Hinduism, as a non-monotheistic [or at least not traditionally monotheistic] religion would seem to be more theologically dangerous to Christianity), and because the arbiters of who is sufficiently close to Jesus to be allowed to participate in American democracy (i.e., the Christian right) seem to have given him the a-okay. Still, fascinating contrast.


PG said...

1) The idea that the Obamas are ungrateful to a country in which they have become successful and wealthy is highly popular on the right, and it's what Levin was picking up. If the Obamas only complained about some Americans' having a tough time, without empathizing with that experience, Republicans would just accuse them of class warfare. But because the the Obamas try to identify with such struggles (e.g. by recalling their own student loans), Republicans accuse them of dishonesty about their own economic situation as well.

2) Is there any modern woman whom Hitchens does admire? After all, part of his notoriety derives from criticizing Mother Teresa and Princess Diana; he has it out for Hillary Clinton; and now he's treating Michelle Obama as a wicked influence on her husband. The essay is moronic on too many levels to get into now, but the most obvious is that Obama met and was baptized by Wright years before he met Michelle.

3) Hindus don't evangelize and therefore are fundamentally less threatening than religious believers who do. They've also never been able to get it together enough to go invade other countries. Gandhi once noted that there was a theory during his youth that vegetarianism was keeping Hindus too weak to throw out the British (and maybe Muslims while they were at it). Even Buddhists have managed to kick more ass (see, e.g., Buddhist rebellion in Japan). Most of the great battles I've seen in Indian movies actually have been from Hindu mythology, depicting wars among gods and demons.

David Schraub said...

"Hindus don't evangelize and therefore are fundamentally less threatening than religious believers who do. They've also never been able to get it together enough to go invade other countries....Even Buddhists have managed to kick more ass...."

"Even Buddhists have managed to kick more ass" is one of the more hilarious things I've read today. But aside from that, you could (I guess until the mid-20th century) have said the same thing about Jews, but that never stopped anyone from thinking of us as the scariest creatures to ever roam the earth.

Unknown said...

In this unstable world we live in it's good to see that Christopher Hitchens remains a hack and a blowhard.

schiller1979 said...

Hinduism, as a non-monotheistic [or at least not traditionally monotheistic] religion would seem to be more theologically dangerous to Christianity

Aside from specific religious issues such as who evangelizes and who doesn't, I think this is, in a more general sense, an example of how people who are closely related can be more brutal to each other than people who are more distant. That is given as an explanation of, for instance, the brutal nature of the American Civil War. It can also be applied to more recent incidents of brutality, such as Rwanda.

Whether you want to call them "peoples of the book" or "sons of Abraham", Muslims, Christians and Jews have, by and large, had more dustups with each other than with more distant groups such as Hindus or Buddhists.

PG said...

It might be worthwhile to compare evangelical versus non-evangelical faiths to see which is more inclined toward aggression. David says that Jews were almost always victims until (arguably) the creation of Israel.

Hinduism never spread much outside South Asia, neither by the sword nor by explicit missionizing. Although Indonesia received substantial Buddhist and Hindu influence through trade activities. Meanwhile, the Hindus themselves got squashed by Muslim invaders. Buddhism is a more evangelizing faith than Hinduism, from which it grew. E.g., a Korean king sent Buddhist monks to Japan to teach the faith.

It's sort of inherent to a newer religion that it would have to talk people into joining, as opposed to Judaism and Hinduism, which have existed much longer and that people mostly get born into.