by Reid Fitzsimons
One of the less uplifting constructions in polemic discourse is the one using, “Oh yeah, well…” Such as, upon losing at rock-paper-scissors, the defeated child exclaims, Oh yeah, well my father has a bigger SUV than yours!” Usually one doesn’t find much enlightenment in such a retort. I have an in-law who is a decent sort but a dogmatic, knee-jerk type progressive, quite willing to share his opinion regardless of the circumstance. Sometime during the 2008 presidential primary season he asked my thoughts on Mitt Romney, to which I lamely replied something like, “He seems like a nice enough guy.” His response was a swift, “Oh yeah, well did you know he’s a Mormon and Mormons are for polygamy.”
The “Oh yeah, well…” rebuttal is fairly low in the hierarchy of intellectualism and thoughtfulness. Nevertheless, one need not be an undereducated nitwit to use it: my in-law in this case is a PhD astrophysicist at MIT. In regards to polygamy I’m fairly certain the nebulous masters that determine the course of progressivism will declare it a cause-celebre in the near future. Hence my in-law will quickly evolve and soon enough will be shaking his head and perhaps fists at the intolerant hate-filled polygamyphobes.
I was reminded recently of the “Oh yeah, well…” paradigm of argument while reading excerpts from our president’s speech at the Feb. 2015 National Prayer Breakfast (What is the deal with this event? Do they serve a 2-eggs with toast & home-fries combo?). In his perpetually nuanced remarks he essentially said, while trying to dance around Muslim associated violence, “Oh yeah, well Christians have done bad things too!” He was referring, of course, to the Crusades and Inquisition, and he was obligated to throw in slavery and “Jim Crow” as well. Far be it from me, certainly a plebian in our president’s eyes were he to ever cast his gaze in my direction, to question the scholarship of such an erudite personage, but I’m pretty sure the Crusades, for example, transpiring over a couple of centuries and great distances, require more historical contemplation than can be found in a single sentence or assumption.
Likewise, is it possible our president is unaware that Christianity was the preeminent force opposing slavery, and that hundreds of thousands of people died in a war that finally rid us of that tragic institution? Perhaps he is of the “Everything I Know I Learned in Kindergarten” mindset, and they were using a common core curriculum during his kindergarten years (I think I finally figured out the essence of common core- a replacement of established academic methods and standards with a Reader’s Digest type format of instruction, only progressive in content and ever mindful of a child’s emotional fragility). Has our president just now discovered bad people, from the beginning of time to the present, have exploited ideas, both sacred and secular and good and not necessarily good, for selfish and evil purposes? Perhaps I am a savant of some sort, but this was obvious to me by the time I entered junior high.
Prior to his Prayer Breakfast talk, during a January 2015 visit to India, Obama said that, while he has had extraordinary opportunities, "There were moments in my life where I've been treated differently because of the color of my skin." He too has felt the weight of systemic oppressive discrimination, no different really than the experience of the lowest untouchable in the Indian caste system. I have found two examples our president or his wife have used to demonstrate his personal travails in this regard, where he was assumed to be less than what he was, I guess. At some point he mentioned he was thought to be a valet rather than a restaurant patron, and his spouse reported he once was confused as a waiter at a black tie function and asked to bring some coffee.
It’s always fascinating to observe how people interpret and respond to a particular event. I know someone who, when a complete stranger in a shoe store failed to smile at her, fell into tears wondering why he hated her. The perception of being slighted is a universal experience but generally serves us poorly. The more easily one is affronted the more one is likely to be emotionally immature, closed-minded, or ignorant. Our president was mistaken for a valet and waiter and concludes he was the victim of nefarious underlying racism. Many times I have been in a Wal-Mart or other store and approached by a customer who thought I was an employee. It never crossed my mind that I was being treated disrespectfully or otherwise as an inferior. I don’t view working in a store as something beneath me and furthermore I’m fairly clean-cut in my grooming, wear inexpensive clothes but in reasonable repair, and try to project a generic friendliness. If someone thinks I’m a store employee I’m almost flattered.
I have to admit I essentially never visit a restaurant that features valet service so I don’t know if there is a stereotype, statistically deserved or not, that valets tend to be black males. If an older person, from the age when physicians tended to be males, assumes the female visiting their hospital room is a nurse, do we accuse the patient of being a hate-filled misogynistic bigot? Sadly, the answer is increasingly yes.
Our president’s wife described being in a Target store and someone asked if she would hand them an item off a shelf. She offered two different interpretations of this apparently quite memorable event in her life. One was that, in complying with the customer’s request, she was performing a generous act, which for her perhaps it was. Her other interpretation was that she was a victim of nefarious underlying racism. In my life I have been repeatedly asked to hand shoppers, typically older or short people, things from shelves. I never saw in these instances anything suspicious or pernicious, rather at 6’3” I’m relatively tall and really good at grabbing items from shelves.
Like most people, several times in my life I have encountered persons who presented themselves as well-spoken and educated and sometimes even possessed impressive credentials. As I learned more about them it became evident that, despite being able to make a favorable initial impression, they severely lacked knowledge and substance. More and more our president reveals himself to have little depth academically, to be readily offended, and overall peevish. Though he is likely incapable of introspection, he would benefit from the realization his public speaking engagements no longer reflect well on him. What a change from his magnum opus as keynote speaker at the 2004 Democratic National Convention! I disagreed with most of what he said, but it was impressive. Now he just comes across as a petulant and thin-skinned. Like the grown man whose glory days ended with the last football game his final year in high school, our president peaked prior to ascending to his current office, while he was still making initial impressions.