Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Joe Biden: America's Golden Retriever

Listening to Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden is like watching an old golden retriever--you know it doesn't mean any harm, and you don't expect great things. 

Yesterday's speech was the habitual barking: Biden, who ran for president in 1988, began well and meant well, but soon reverted to his old playbook. In a talk timed to support freedom of speech and association, not to mention racial justice, Biden began praising unions and "essential workers" in the same sentence, unaware his linguistic separation exposed a harsh truth: that the rise of the "warrior cop" and failures of K-12 education nationwide can be traced to teachers' and police unions, which have created separate and unequal disciplinary and compensation terms disadvantaging dispersed voters. If that's too much information for you, let's make it simpler: the more complex a government--especially one with three different layers--the easier it is to hide institutional corruption and to create jobs benefitting only loyalists. Though I switched to a different channel soon after, it wouldn't surprise me if Biden also mentioned the value of lawyers, judges, and rule of law in an outing meant to address the fatal black boot of a white police officer on the back of a black man's neck for eight minutes and forty six seconds

As voters, we must reject the usual platitudes and demand to know why, if politicians have been sincere or awake for the past thirty years, we're seeing an exact replay of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, but with George Floyd replacing Rodney King

We average a major war every 20 years in this country so we’re good at it! And it’s a good thing we are [because] we’re not very good at anything else any more! Can’t build a decent car, can’t make a TV set or a VCR worth a [damn], got no steel industry left, can’t educate our young people, can’t get health care to our old people, but we can bomb... your country, all right! Especially if your country is full of brown people. Oh, we like that don’t we? That’s our hobby! That’s our new job in the world: bombing brown people. Iraq, Panama, Grenada, Libya, you got some brown people in your country, tell them to watch... out or we’ll goddamn bomb them! -- George Carlin, Jammin' in New York (1992) 

Such historical repeats do not occur without each part of the legal ecosystem considering its own needs above the public's over a substantial period of time. In 2018, New Jersey's Senator Cory Booker identified the results of decades of political inefficacy: a lack of empathy combined with excessive ego. 

What I often find is we’re at a point in our society right now where we have just stopped listening to each other and stopped being empathetic, and instead are leading with... judgment. The problem with that is it disables us and our ability to come together to do the kind of things that need to move our society forward. That’s why I think now more than ever... in America we need a courageous empathy, where we are willing to let go of our own ego and tune into another human being, to really listen to them. I may not agree with that Black Lives Matter march. They may offend me, but we’re all wired the same way. So why are they out there yelling and screaming? Is it because they’re bad and I’m judging them, or am I taking time to really try to surrender my own position for a minute and listen to that person in the Midwest who is a serious Trump supporter and try to really understand where they’re coming from. 

Fortunately and unfortunately, Biden's problems do not stem from a lack of empathy, but a failure of pro-active thinking and, like many Catholics, a preference for colorful stories over accountability. On the same day of Biden's flaccid performance, Booker delivered a speech for the ages, one befitting a presidential candidate. Though we are told race and religion should not matter, I must mention an inconvenient truth: Booker is young, Baptist, and black; Biden is old, Catholic, and white. Verily, if Congress be the den of insiders, compromisers, and lifers, then Biden's comfort--and lack of discernible principles--can be understood just as easily as Booker's undeniable appeal. Indeed, it has always been this way, the conscience of America colored with the blood and sweat of black and brown bodies, even as the descendants of white Catholic Spaniards and white Frenchmen try to convince us San José and New Orleans represent not slavery and Dum Diversas but terracotta tiles and religious freedom. 

There are only two kinds of men: those who compromise and those who take a stand. -- Muhammad Ali 

Such deliberate schisms between black/brown and white experiences in America necessitate if not a cover-up, indecent propaganda. Consequently, American citizenship requires school-mandated brainmucking, and ones who manage to break free often find their way to other inconvenient truths, becoming sufficiently disillusioned to march forward independent of whiteness or America, choosing Islam or Southeastern France. (In the absence of substantive changes, an Ice T or Calvin Cordozar Broadus Jr. album purchase was the path of the white suburban teen.) 

My first rule. Never believe anything anyone in authority ever says. None of them. Government, police, clergy, the corporate criminals. None of them. And neither do I believe anything I'm told by the media... I don't believe in any of them. -- George Carlin, 3 x Carlin (2011)

And it is only after we remove the muck from our eyes that we find ourselves not in 1992 Los Angeles, but further back: at Vietnam, at Kent State, at the Watts riots, at Jackson State College, and at the Martin Luther King, Jr. speeches our teachers never taught. Such is the way of the military-industrial complex: deflect criticism, harass opponents, admit nothing, and when all else fails, murder and imprison "The Other." Seen properly, Mr. George Floyd is the victim of not only the police, but every lawyer, judge, and legislator who looked the other way when America repeated Vietnam by invading Iraq, preventing substantive reforms at the national level and allowing eventual conflation between local police and national as well as international military

My conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor hungry people in the mud for big powerful America... Shoot them for what?... How can I shoot them poor people? -- Muhammad Ali 

The invasion of Iraq was a bandit act, an act of blatant state terrorism, demonstrating absolute contempt for the concept of international law. The invasion was an arbitrary military action inspired by a series of lies upon lies and gross manipulation of the media and therefore of the public; an act intended to consolidate American military and economic control of the Middle East... We have brought torture, cluster bombs, depleted uranium, innumerable acts of random murder, misery, degradation and death to the Iraqi people... How many people do you have to kill before you qualify to be described as a mass murderer and a war criminal? One hundred thousand? More than enough, I would have thought. -- Harold Pinter (2005)

How did Biden vote when the time for independent thinking arrived? By now, you know the answer. Biden joined 76 other United States Senators in authorizing Iraq's invasion. Mind you, not all 77 were golden retrievers--some were surely Rottweilers and German Shepherds. At least when Biden enters the Senate Chamber and most likely the White House, one must admit to warm feelings when he stumbles, eager to please. The old boy just can't help himself; after all, don't we all know an old dog can't learn new tricks?

© Matthew Mehdi Rafat (June 3, 2020) 

Dedicated to political columnist George F. Will, who found a conscience in his later years. 

In my beginning is my end. In succession Houses rise and fall, crumble, are extended, Are removed, destroyed, restored, or in their place Is an open field, or a factory, or a by-pass. Old stone to new building, old timber to new fires, Old fires to ashes, and ashes to the earth... Houses live and die: there is a time for building And a time for living and for generation And a time for the wind to break the loosened pane... humility is endless. -- T.S. Eliot, "East Coker" 

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