March 19th, 2008


Thoughtful commentary on Obama's speech


It was not his repudiation of small thinking that struck me. It was the fact that here we had an American politician speaking with both candor and compassion about the proverbial elephant in our national living room.


It's funny, but I found myself thinking of the same "elephant in the room" image while listening to the speech.

Years ago I was a member of a political group whose focus was on body image/fat acceptance activism. I proposed that we host a public discussion group on a series of other, related, body image issues that hold women back. I got no resistance when I suggested that we include women with disabilities, but the room fell silent when I suggested that one of the discussions, entitled "Beyond Blue Eyes," deal with issues of the white beauty standard and how it affects women of color. The objection? "We might offend somebody." I argued passionately that the real offense would be leaving the issue out and sweeping it under the rug. We had the discussion and it went really well. It turned out that women of color were dying to finally have a place to talk about this issue.

Liberal white people may not have the active prejudice of other white people, but our fear of being thought racist can sometimes hold us back from speaking out or doing the right thing in an emotionally risky situation. Silence seems safe--but it is destroying our society. All of these isms--racism, classism, sexism, ableism, heterosexism, looksism, and others--flourish in silence, unchallenged.

It's time to speak up.

Challenging another "Ism"

I used to respect John McCain as a plain talking guy who regularly worked well with Democrats--someone who put his country before blatant partisanship, in other words. I think that much is still true, but I am increasingly concerned by his pandering to the religious right wing of his party and some of the deficits of understanding he is displaying during this campaign.

However, I deplore the tactics of those who use his age as a weapon against him, as well as the comedians who are jumping on the bandwagon with jokes about how ancient he supposedly is. Men like Bill Maher who like to remind us that we ought to focus on the issues and not on personalities or extraneous issues still make jokes about McCain's age, as if "McCain's OLD!" will win the November election. Do we really hate old people that much? It reminds me of Reagan's line that "I won't hold your youth or inexperience against you."

There are so many real reasons to oppose McCain. Here are just a few:

A.) He admitted publicly that he didn't know that much about economics and therefore he was reading Greenspan's book. If you've run for president before, and had eight additional years to prepare yourself for the job, don't you think you should have read up on the subject in that time? You don't have to be an economist to be president, but you do need to know enough to intelligently discuss the issues with your economic advisers. The fact that the current president can't is probably one reason why we're in a recession.

B.) Not once, not twice, but three different times John McCain said Iran was allowing Al Quaeda operatives to train there and return to Iraq. Only when Joe Leiberman corrected him did he apologize for his gaffe and substitute the word extremists. He's either doing this out of genuine ignorance (and this stuff is supposed to be his strength!) or he's deliberately trying to makes us all think that Iran and the people behind 911 are in bed together, just as Bush did with Saddam, so we'll get behind another useless war. Either alternative is alarming. (Source.

C.) He wants to stay in Iraq with substantial forces, when our forces are depleted, have been on active duty too long, and we no longer can afford to fund such a sustained effort. Additionally, occupation and colonialism just exacerbate our strained relations with the entire middle east. The Iraqi government will lean on us as long as we allow them--and we need to make it clear that it's time for them to grow up and take charge.

D.) His stated intentions to cut spending overall but continue the war and Bush tax cuts (to the wealthy) mean that services to the poor will likely be cut and any steps towards national health care will fail for lack of funds. Here his lack of knowledge of economics or basic budgeting really shows.

E.) His stated support for "right to life" (except on the battlefield) means that the next Supreme Court Justice will likely feel the same on this issue.

As we continue to listen to his plans and ideas for the future I am sure I will have other comments.

Deadly Misinformation

Last night I was shocked to hear a statement that in the Tuskegee experiment, black men were given syphilis by scientists in a government experiment. That's not how it happened! The men had syphilis and at the time the study began, the only treatments available were very toxic and even harmful. The study was meant to address whether or not the treatments were worse than the actual disease (something we often wonder these days).

The crime, the unforgivable, heinous crime, was that when penicillin became available as a standard, successful treatment for the disease, the scientists withheld it and any knowledge of it from the men in the study. It only ended when the whistle was blown in 1972.

The distinction is important because this experiment has forever affected the ways in which African American people view the government and health care. Even now a study has attempted to figure out if memory of this experiment is what prevents more African Americans from participating in medical studies. Let's not make it even worse, or give fuel to the "government created AIDS" conspiracy theory by spreading misinformation!

I wish I had caught the name of the person making the statement so I could write in. I was bouncing back and forth between stations, watching coverage of the Obama speech, so I don't know who it was. It was not corrected on air, either.

I first read about this in the book Bad Blood: The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, by James H. Jones, New York: Free Press, 1981 & 1993.

ETA: The mistake was made by Ed Gordon, host of "Our World," as a guest on Hardball with Chris Matthews on 3-19-08. I have written to Mr. Matthews and Mr. Gordon to correct the record.