Privilege

Cross posted on The Obama Diary.


I did not grow up in an atmosphere of privilege. My dad owned his own barbershop, and my mom was a seamstress in New York’s garment district. I wanted for nothing, but I knew we were solidly working class. If I and my brothers wanted to go to university—and with our parents, it was expected—we would have to work for it. There were no college funds, and no rich uncle was going to swoop in and save us. All we had was each other, our willingness to work, and our native intelligences.

Not coming from a place of privilege, I know instinctively that most things in this life for most people come at a price, the price usually being hard struggle. The world gives up very little for free. Short cuts, when they do exist, are far and few between. As I said in my post yesterday, at first that made me a practiced cynic. Fortunately I grew out of it, and embraced the rewards that come with struggle; the struggle makes the reward all that much sweeter.

But just as cynicism infects our modern politics, so does a culture of privilege.

As it has made it all over the media, last night at a Democratic fundraiser Michelle Obama was heckled by an activist from Get Equal, a gay-rights group. Ellen Sturtz interrupted Mrs. Obama’s speech, demanding that her husband sign an executive order guaranteeing non-discrimination in employment. Forget the fact that any executive order could be overturned by the next GOP president; and forget the fact that Obama has done more to advance gay rights in this country than all other presidents put together. Also forget the fact that rights which are enshrined by law—such as the lifting of DADT—are the rights which will last, not those done away with by executive fiat. No. To Ellen Sturtz, all of the President’s achievements are nothing, because he has made the strategic and democratic decision to work through courts and Congress to solidify gay rights. When George W. Bush signed executive orders, the likes of Ellen Sturtz would have called him a dictator. Now they want President Obama to be a dictator from the left.

But something strange happened. Mrs. Obama didn’t stand there and take her guff. She very politely offered those gathered a choice: they could listen to her, or they could listen to Sturtz. Suddenly, her bubble of privilege was punctured. She didn’t, in her wildest imaginings, think that Michelle Obama would actually stand up to her. She thought that because she had bought a $500 ticket she had the right to be rude to the First Lady, and to the other attendees who had bought their tickets to hear her speak. She was “taken aback” as she whined later at Mrs. Obama’s polite but forceful confrontation. She was quite ready to talk at Mrs. Obama; she was completely unprepared to be talked back to, as if she were the teacher and Mrs. Obama some unruly child.

Obviously, those on the Right who back the GOP, like the Koch Brothers, come from a place of ultimate privilege as scions of wealth. But a large segment of the Left also operates from that place. Ellen Sturtz is emblematic of that privilege: she thought that, simply because of who she was, she had the right to speak disrespectfully to Mrs. Obama. Forget that she is the First Lady; first and foremost she is a human being, with strengths and failings. The Right feasts on dehumanizing its opponents, painting them as Others; some on the Left fall into the same sin, believing that their worldview is the only correct one, and anyone who doesn’t agree with it is “uninformed” and must be taken by the hand and shown the truth. What Ellen Sturtz did last night is not see Michelle Obama as a woman, a mother, a wife, a strong supporter of equal rights for all; to Sturtz, Mrs. Obama was a cypher upon which she could load all her anger and ideology. She wasn’t a person, but a wall upon which she could post her theses. No wonder she was “taken aback” when the wall turned out to be a strong human being who had had enough of the disrespect shown to her, her husband, and her family for six years, much of that disrespect coming from people who were supposed to be allies.

The megaphone Left swims in cynicism and privilege. With every stunt, they prove the stereotype most American have of them, a stereotype shared by the President’s real base. The vast majority of people who voted for Obama have no time for the antics of Get Equal or Code Pink. The concerns of those groups are not the concerns of Obama’s base. But, it gets them on television, gets them a few more meager clicks on their websites, keeps the donations flowing in, and makes them feel as if they’re fighting giants.

They’re not fighting giants. They’re fighting the dwarfs within themselves. In six years of yelling at Obama, they’ve accomplished nothing. And every time Obama achieves another progressive milestone, the common reaction from them is “Yes, but what about this? Why didn’t you fix it already?” The Left has been so used to “confronting power” that it doesn’t know how to take advantage of having the most liberal American president since FDR in power by aligning itself with him. Of course, there will be disagreements; for all the prattle of the Right, Barack Obama is not a socialist. He is a realistic progressive. And it’s that realism which incenses those quarters of the Left most opposed to him. He doesn’t take on every pet cause. He chooses his battles, the ones which he knows if he wins will affect the most people for the better. He believes in the Constitution and the separation of powers; he’s not going to do Congress’ job for it and act like a liberal autocrat, thus fulfilling all of the Right’s worst fears. For this he’s called “spineless” and “weak”; but those are adjectives best reserved for the ankle biters on the Left.

A progressive President needs a progressive Congress. Instead, he has a legislature mired in dysfunction. All of those attacking him from the Left would put their energies to better use if they organized to put forth candidates for Congress who had a chance of winning. They might not be as liberal as desired; but politics is a game of the possible. And that’s where the Left fails. It wants the impossible, wants it now, and brooks no excuses. And it will “educate” anyone who doesn’t toe the line.

People don’t like to be talked down to. The Obamas are no different. Which is why they and their real allies have all but tuned out the screechers on the Left. Obama knows he can’t rely on them; he also knows he doesn’t need to, as they’re probably the people who sat on their hands and didn’t go to the voting booths in 2008, 2010, and 2012. They won’t vote in 2014 either. Expending energy on them is a waste; he will continue to do what he does, building a common-sense coalition which will hopefully propel Democrats to take the House in 2014. And the Left will again be left wailing incoherently, declaring that they’re “the base”, and wondering why they affect nothing. They will wallow in their privilege, watching the world move around them and past them. It’s a fitting end.


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