thoughts on a sunday morning

I have recently gotten into a Sunday morning habit of reading PostSecret and then the New York Times on my cell phone in bed while listening to NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday. Its a nice way to ease into a Sunday that is usually a mix of work and errands and football. Gets the mind working but in a very relaxing setting. Here’s what I’ve been thinking today thus far.

1) Post Secret is an incredible site for a number of reasons. I like it most for personal reasons. So many of the secrets are about relationships, such as from today:

They force me to reflect on my own relationship (my divorce is soon to be finalized). Even if the reflection is momentary (and the secret I sent in months ago never appeared online) I have found that the site and these secrets have helped me come to terms with quite a bit.

As an aside, I was quite disturbed to read that MySpace administrators had censored the Post Secret MySpace blog: “Last Monday, the PostSecret Blog on MySpace was the most visited Blog on MySpace. The next day MySpace administrators removed postcards and comments from the Blog and prevented more than 100,000 people from viewing it. . . . MySpace has set my Blog so that only friends can see it. If you friend me now I will add you.”

2) Nicholas Kristof continues his streak of outstanding opinion pieces with “Obama and the War on Brains” (his pieces on race—notably “What? Me Biased?” and “Racism without Racists“—over the final months of the 2008 presidential campaign are a must read. Today’s piece made me think of Siva Vaidhayanathan’s article “What’s So Bad About Being ‘Professorial’?” (subscription required) which appeared in the Nov 7, 2008 issue of The Chronicle Review. After pointing out the ubiquity of the word “professorial” as something derogatory about the candidates (and Obama primarily) Vaidhayanathan makes the observation: “This anti-academic phenomenon can’t be because Americans despise professors. After all, spending many thousands of dollars to spend many hundreds of hours in the company of professors seems to be one of the key aspirations of most Americans.”

Kristof suspects that the tide may be turning with the election of Obama—“an open, out-of-the-closet, practicing intellectual” who “has favorite philosophers and poets.” He ends with hope: “Yet as Mr. Obama goes to Washington, I’m hopeful that his fertile mind will set a new tone for our country. Maybe someday soon our leaders no longer will have to shuffle in shame when they’re caught with brains in their heads.”

3) The day after the election, a friend and colleague posted on her Facebook wall, “Is it possible that the US can go forward politically & backward culturally simultaneously?” She was, of course, alluding to the passage of Prop 8 which made gay marriage illegal in California. I responded with:

CA and AZ are terrible, horrible disappointments. But SD and MI came through in big ways last night. I think we’ve gone forward socially and politically even with the setbacks.

The natural progression of humanity now is convergence, not divergence (we did that already with the creation of religion, race, ethnicity, gender, and so forth). Obama embodies this convergence. Marriage will be made equal to all soon enough. Remember, Loving v Virginia legalized interracial marriage just 40 years ago. It will happen, but it will take time.

She responded with “And, I’d like to be as optimistic as you, but with Dole’s attack on atheists (even though Hagan isn’t one), religion is one area where I don’t see the “convergence” happening. The Right doesn’t give up its power easily….” I responded with:

The McCain/Palin end-of-campaign classification rhetoric that located people within artificially constructed labels like Real American, Fake American, Socialist, Name + Profession, the Bradley Effect, and the like, failed miserably.

Power, yes, I have big issues with power. But what this election showed is that use of classification systems to attempt to hold on to / create power no longer works. The right now need to (at least rhetorically) create a platform that embraces rather than displaces human beings. The paradigm has shifted.

Ultimately the conversation ended with her response: “Don’t underestimate the human condition not to want to hold onto power. People may classify ‘power’ in any number of ways, but once power is gained, the holders want to retain. Read Machiavelli’s ‘The Prince.’ Still the best explanation of political power ever written.”

I bring this all up because Frank Rich approaches the same subjects today in “It Still Felt Good the Morning After,” a scathing assessment of the assumptions thrown at Americans by the media primarily during the campaign season but that started after 9/11. His conclusion: “So let’s be blunt. Almost every assumption about America that was taken as a given by our political culture on Tuesday morning was proved wrong by Tuesday night.” With his usual wit and pointedness (and with props to Sarah Silverman) Rich writes:

The most conspicuous clichés to fall, of course, were the twin suppositions that a decisive number of white Americans wouldn’t vote for a black presidential candidate — and that they were lying to pollsters about their rampant racism. But the polls were accurate. There was no “Bradley effect.” A higher percentage of white men voted for Obama than any Democrat since Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton included.

Obama also won all four of those hunting-and-Hillary-loving Rust Belt states that became 2008’s obsession among slumming upper-middle-class white journalists: Pennsylvania and Michigan by double digits, as well as Ohio and even Indiana, which has gone Democratic only once (1964) since 1936. The solid Republican South, led by Virginia and North Carolina, started to turn blue as well. While there are still bigots in America, they are in unambiguous retreat.

And what about all those terrified Jews who reportedly abandoned their progressive heritage to buy into the smears libeling Obama as an Israel-hating terrorist? Obama drew a larger percentage of Jews nationally (78) than Kerry had (74) and — mazel tov, Sarah Silverman! — won Florida.

Let’s defend Hispanic-Americans, too, while we’re at it. In one of the more notorious observations of the campaign year, a Clinton pollster, Sergio Bendixen, told The New Yorker in January that “the Hispanic voter — and I want to say this very carefully — has not shown a lot of willingness or affinity to support black candidates.” Let us say very carefully that a black presidential candidate won Latinos — the fastest-growing demographic in the electorate — 67 percent to 31 (up from Kerry’s 53-to-44 edge and Gore’s 62-to-35).

Young voters also triumphed over the condescension of the experts. “Are they going to show up?” Cokie Roberts of ABC News asked in February. “Probably not. They never have before. By the time November comes, they’ll be tired.” In fact they turned up in larger numbers than in 2004, and their disproportionate Democratic margin made a serious difference, as did their hard work on the ground. They’re not the ones who need Geritol.

And, yet, despite Obama’s landslide victory, one must really wonder what it all means as the country moves forward. The debates have already started about whether the country has shift to the left or is still in the center. The red/blue dyad seems now to be etched in to the country’s collective remediation of political binaries (this color-coded labeling has always seemed a bit absurd to me because up to 2000, I think, the media switched the colors ever year when representing victories on the map). Colors, of course, constructed by shades of other colors, and a blue state on the map has red votes within it that are not being represented (a description that brings to mind Invisible Man).

In 2004 Robert J. Vanderbei posted his map “Purple America” to more accurately represent the shades that exist within American voting patterns:

Purple America: 2004 Presidental Election Results Map
Purple America: 2004 Presidental Election Results Map

The 2008 presidential election results in a similar “Purple America”:

Purple America, 2008 Presidential Election Results

Looking at the two maps would suggest that the country has stayed the same: one center-situated purple-ish blob. Yet, if we look within the colors we can see that there has, indeed, been an overall shift to the left:

Changing America, 2008 Presidential Election Voting Shift
Changing America, 2008 Presidential Election Voting Shift

What this shift means will be understood in the 2012 election. Was it about tolerance or economics? The war or economics? The irony of Califonian’s voting for Obama by overwhelming numbers and 70% of African-Amertican’s voting to ban gay marriage is lost on no-one.

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