For the better part of 2010, I’ve been working as part of an editorial team to help produce a series of history books on America’s antebellum South. Like many of us who delve deeply into the past with hopes of retrieving something useful for the present, my attention became so absorbed by the issues and happenings of the mid 1800s that I overlooked some of the more pressing issues and events of the here and now, including the 2010 midterm elections.
Then I received from Barack Obama via his MySpace profile, an email notifying me that the president had just posted a new blog. I went to the page and read: “We’ve said it all along: when you ask a voter to commit to going to the polls, they’re more likely to actually vote. And that’s why we’re so excited to launch a new tool to help you tell your social network that you’re committed to vote…”
Now how did he know I was committed to voting? It has nothing to do with his new techno tool but quite a lot to do with memories of freedom marchers sleeping on the floor of my family’s project apartment in the 1960s. It also has to do with stories of my mother taking older siblings to a public park in Savannah, Georgia, where non-Blacks tried to force them out; and with my personal American biography in which so many paragraphs have been shaped by racial and socioeconomic considerations. The only way Obama could have known any of these things would be if he’d read my books and certain blogs.
But I have serious doubts about that.
I was less interested in this assertion by Mr. Obama than I was in the way he said it:
“By getting our own social networks committed to making their voices heard on November 2, we can have a major impact on the outcomes of elections all over the country.”
See what I mean? Cool, calm, collected–as always. It couldn’t be easy to maintain such a balance in the face of pressure from managing wars, wrestling with a runaway economy for which so many seemed to hold only him responsible, shielding his family from personal attacks made public, and battling to establish a workable comprehensive national health care program.
To Do Angry Well
His response to issues and attackers seems to always be with a precision-cut sense of clarity and informed intelligence that has led some to characterize him as aloof and perhaps too cool. One NBC commentator put it this way: “Obama doesn’t do angry well.”
Imagine that Barack Obama did “do angry well” and then allow yourself to speak the words that would then be used to describe him for throwing a political tantrum in the mode of an exemplary white counterpart. With intent to neither idolize nor demonize the man, it seems fair and evident enough to say that the current president of America is not a leader whose way is that of violent public outbursts. It appears to be more that of a warrior-philosopher who practices the art of political persuasion by authoring acclaimed books, delivering well-crafted speeches, assembling unified coalitions, passing historic legislation, signing well-aimed executive orders, and cultivating a poised but accessible demeanor.
How much of what can be said of Obama can also be said of the Tea Party attendees who hope to swell the U.S. Congress with their ranks come election day next week and the years glowing in the not-so-distant future? The art of their political persuasions tends to go beyond folksy chats via email or even raw expressions of outrage described as justifiable. Their stated purpose, as presented on the Tea Party Patriots website, is noble enough and one which many Americans support:
“A community committed to standing together, shoulder to shoulder, to protect our country and the Constitution upon which we were founded!”
The Party’s primary political bone of contention, that government spending and “interference” in the private sector has gotten out of hand, is a plausible argument for individuals who possess some degree of wealth which they rightfully wish to maintain, protect, and possibly increase. The main problem with the “movement” overall seems to be the means employed to promote their platform; specifically, making appeals to citizens based on hyperbole, hysteria, and self-interest to the extreme rather than their opposites.
NEXT: Obama, the Tea Party, and the Art of Political Persuasions Series part 2