Monday, April 14, 2008

Democratic Political Follies: "Just Folks" Hillary and Obama's Holy Man

Sometimes it’s hard to resist getting into the political fray.

I had to laugh heartily the other day when I learned of Hillary Rodham Clinton telling stories about her youthful visits to her family’s summer home in Scranton, Pa. Hillary wants to win Pennsylvania (in the worst way), and she proves this by trying to link her past to Scranton, a Middle American town with blue-collar leanings. I also heard that Hillary said that she used to shoot guns with her father. This is hilarious stuff. Anything to win the hearts and minds and votes of a political bloc—the hard-workin’, gun totin’ crowd in the Keystone State.

A few facts. Hillary Clinton was born in Chicago. When her father started to make his upwardly mobile way in the world, he moved his family to Park Ridge, Illinois, a bedroom community on the city’s northwest edge, very near O’Hare airport.

Here’s where Hillary and myself intersect. Somewhere around 1993-94, I was playing piano for Chicago’s Second City comedy theater. Our troupe embarked on a fairly lengthy tour of New England, and one of our gigs was at Wellesley College in Massachusetts. The Clintons were in the White House, and because of that everyone knew that Hillary attended Wellesley as an undergrad. It’s an elite private school with a lovely campus, and being there was certainly an occasion to get reminded that we were gigging at the First Lady’s alma mater.

A couple of years later, I was out of work as a musician and needed a job. After two weeks on unemployment—and having gotten really depressed just walking that one time into the unemployment office—I looked around for something/anything to pay the bills. I ended up very shortly thereafter taking a job driving a cab—in Park Ridge, Illinois.

Park Ridge Taxi Co. was one crazy gig. My four years in that job are worthy of a book in and of itself. But here I was, driving the good upper-crust folks of Park Ridge around the suburbs and also taking a good many of them to and from their many business and vacation flights at O’Hare. Somewhere about the middle of town, on North Prospect St., was the former home of the Rodhams, a characteristically lovely and large suburban house amid where the wealthiest folks lived.

So here’s the 4-1-1 on Park Ridge and its ilk. After driving these folks around for four years, I can tell you that it is, by and large, one of the most financially conservative enclaves you’ll ever see. Nobody is poor in Park Ridge, and a lot of people are filthy, stinking rich. The residents come across as the most obviously Republican-type folks you’ll ever see.

To know Park Ridge is to make it very easy to scoff at the notion that Hillary Clinton is a friend of the working class. Her background is decidedly NOT working class. It is closer to silver spoon. She grew up in comfortable upper-middle-class splendor in an idyllic conservative suburb and later went on to Wellesley. Later, Hillary attended Yale Law School, further cementing her link to upward cultural and financial mobility and classic Eastern establishment elitism.

In other words, Hillary hasn’t worked a day in her life. At least not how most of us define “working.” She is a well-connected conservative elitist parading around Pennsylvania in liberal blue-collar sheep’s clothing. She is doing this because she will do anything to procure the Democratic nomination for the presidency.

I wonder if the folks in Scranton were scratching their heads. “Summer home? What’s that?”

On the Obama front, his reverend, Chicago’s Jeremiah Wright, keeps opening his big mouth. He was at it again on Saturday, when he spoke at a memorial service for the late former Chicago appellate judge R. Eugene Pincham, like Obama a member of Wright's Trinity United Church of Christ.

[Sidebar: I hadn’t heard Pincham’s name for years. When I lived in Chicago, he was an obnoxious, impolitic fellow who presided controversially over court cases, and also had a penchant for saying ugly and/or inadvisable racial things that judges shouldn’t say.]

So, on this solemn occasion, among other things—and on the heels of his prior awful public remarks that have embarrassed Obama—Wright took after the Founding Fathers, claiming they “planted slavery and white supremacy in the DNA of this republic.” He also took after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, described Thomas Jefferson as having engaged in “pedophilia,” and attacked FOX newsmen Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity.

Not too cool for Obama, who has yet to distance himself from this guy.

Will someone please take Rev. Wright out to see the musical 1776? Beside being excellent theater, the show also provides a wonderfully clear history lesson on the Founding Fathers’ struggles to get our nation started. Yes, it’s true that the issue of slavery was not dealt with by the original framers. That is, they were unable to deal with it the way they would have wanted.

In fact, Adams, Jefferson et al. wanted to speed up the abolition of slavery through the wording in the Declaration of Independence. Alas, there were delegates from the South on hand who feared such verbiage and would not ratify the vote for independence as long as the original wording—”freedom for ALL men”—was in place. The reality of the situation caused Adams tremendous consternation. He wanted to assure the end of slavery, but his more immediate problem—declaring independence from England—had to be solved first.

And so Adams, like any good politician, did a bit of horse-trading (or what we more nobly refer to as compromise). The language in the document regarding slavery was struck out in exchange for the Southern votes to separate the colonies from the king. This is surely an unfortunate asterisk in the early history of the U.S., but the exigencies of the moment forced Adams to act practically. It wasn’t what he and others wanted, but first things came first.

It took 86 more years until Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. As a white guy, all I can say is that, yes, Americans might’ve acted more swiftly on the issues of slavery and racial equality. Slavery is a stain on our past. The good news is all the progress that has been made since the Civil War, admittedly never occurring as fast as we’d all have liked. But there are better days ahead, and, well, there’s even a half-African American running for president, and he just might make it.

So don’t be a hater, Jeremiah. Better yet, be a reverend. Talk about God and faith instead. Isn't that what reverends are supposed to do?

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