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The Audacity of Ordinary People

John Pilger in the New Statesman (H/T Seriously) :

The heresy of Greece is that the uprising of its ordinary people provides an authentic hope unlike that lavished upon the warlord in the White House.

The entire piece is a must-read in its own right, as an essay on Greece and modern class warfare (“rarely reported as such” writes Pilger). But, while reading the excerpt above in particular, I was reminded of another entirely different quote about ‘ordinary people’ that I had read somewhere else not too long ago.

Valerie Jarrett’s description of Obama from David Remnick’s The Bridge (H/T Pilgrim) :

“He knows exactly how smart he is…. He’s been bored to death his whole life. He’s just too talented to do what ordinary people do.”

President Obama paid some pretty lip service to those ordinary people in his inaugural speech:

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the fainthearted — for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated, but more often men and women obscure in their labor — who have carried us up the long, rugged path toward prosperity and freedom.

Sweet words. Good words. And, sadly just… words.

Again, remember that peek behind the curtain that Jarrett gave us:

“He knows exactly how smart he is…. He’s been bored to death his whole life. He’s just too talented to do what ordinary people do.”

First we had a faux cowboy for president who flaunted as an asset the fact that he was too full of his own swagger and too entertained by his own smirk to do what intellectually curious people do. Now we have a faux philosopher king for president whose own inner circle brags that he is just too bored and too talented to do what ordinary people do.

The last decade of presidentin’ has been characterized by the worst of both worlds: Bush’s anti-intellectualism and Obama’s ivory tower arrogance. I long for the days when we had intellectuals living in the White House who actually welcomed being thought of as ordinary Americans blessed with extraordinary opportunities. Love or hate the Clintons, they combined intellectualism with populism in a way that has been absent from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue since their moving van pulled away.

Bush dumbed down the level of discourse. Obama just dumbs down himself. Both have been nothing but corporate stooges, hard at work on their vacations away from their vacations, distracting Main Street from the puppet strings being pulled by Wall Street.

Ordinary Americans: U.S. History Through the Eyes of Everyday People, by Linda R. Monk.

I do not know exactly what kind of history education either Presidents Bush or Obama were privy to growing up, but when I was in high school I actually had the privilege of studying from a supplemental history text called Ordinary Americans. It is the American story told through hundreds of first-person accounts from voices that have often been left out of the history books. With all the Texas textbook insanity going on right now, I’m relieved that I was able to get a decent public school education–deep in the heart of Texas as a matter of fact. I had a great American history teacher, and I really shudder to think what would have happened if I had to study the whacko curriculum (less diversity of voices, more Christian Nation brainwashing) that’s being debated today. I doubt I would have related to anything being taught at all. I am a woman and one of those hyphenated Americans that so gets on the right wing’s nerve. I am double-divisive! And, if I had been assigned to read about how our country was founded on the story of Adam and what a bitch that Eve was instead of about Thomas Jefferson, I think I would have just taken a big nap instead. Sorry, I don’t do bible study, as is my right as an American.

From the foreword of Ordinary Americans, by PBS filmmaker Ken Burns:

American history is a loud, raucous, moving, exquisite collection of noises, that in aggregate often combine to make the sweetest kind of music, and I have tried to listen as much as I can in putting together the Civil War series and my other films. More than anything else, these myriad voices remind us that history is not just the story of wars and generals and presidents, but of ordinary people, like you and me, who form the real fabric of our history and society.


History–especially personal, ordinary Americans’ kind of history, as revealed in these pages–is alive, breathing, contemporary. This is the way history should be told.


We have begun to speak of a synthesis of the old and new histories, a way to combine the best of the top-down version, still inspiring even in its “great men” addiction, with the bottom-up version, so inspiring too at times, with the millions of heroic acts of women, minorities, labor, ordinary people.

This is what the wingnuts on the Texas State board of Education fear: the millions of heroic acts of women, minorities, labor, ordinary people.

Recall Pilger’s description of Obama:

The heresy of Greece is that the uprising of its ordinary people provides an authentic hope unlike that lavished upon the warlord in the White House.

Though Obama tries to sanitize his worldview for public consumption with very pretty words, he seems to fear the same thing that the wingnuts on the Texas State Board of Education fear:

The audacity of ordinary people.

In fact, just a couple weeks ago, Obama warned us that the cacophony of voices out there are a threat to our democracy and Donna B echoed that sentiment. I guess the “loud, raucous, moving, exquisite collection of noises” that make up America is not music to their ears.

It is the very voices that we need to hear from most that they fear, which brings me to a recent Huffpo blog entry about the Gulf Coast Oil Kill (that’s what I’m calling it), written by none other than Linda R. Monk–she is the editor of the Ordinary Americans text that I referenced above. Her current piece is aptly titled “The Coming Black Death: BP Destroys Both Nature and the Human Spirit” :

“Delta people are notoriously tenacious and self-reliant,” says Mark Martinez, an engineer whose family has lived in New Orleans for five generations. “Many of the people in coastal Louisiana ended up here because there was no other place for them to go.” French colonists who were expelled from Acadia in the 1700s became two-stepping Cajuns, Canary Islanders brought Spanish flavor to the mix, and the coffee-colored roux of the native-born Creoles combined both imperial French and enslaved African cultures.

“Our folks simply refuse to be beat down,” Martinez told me recently. “It’s like a jazz funeral — everyone is somber on the way to the cemetery, but once the deceased has been laid to rest, the band breaks into an upbeat selection, a second line forms, and the mourners dance.”

People in South Louisiana have “an almost superhuman resilience and a hopeful outlook in the face of almost every kind of imaginable hardship — hurricanes, yellow fever, backbreaking poverty, exploitation. Even the national disgrace of watching our families being separated in the aftermath of Katrina.”

Sounds to me like Invisible America, whose resilience has been taken for granted.

Monk’s article goes on to paint a very bleak picture:

But even Martinez notices a new attitude among his neighbors and friends. “It’s like their fight is gone,” he says, “and I can honestly say I have never seen this before, not even after Katrina.”

“I don’t know if it’s that we haven’t had a chance to properly recover from Katrina, or if there is a shared perception of this oil spill being sort of like finding out you have terminal cancer. There is just a kind of hopelessness everywhere.”

“People were stunned by Katrina for a long time, but they came out of it. This is different. I hate to say it, but I think this oil spill will make a lot of people give up for good.”

I’m from the Houston area, but I practically lived in New Orleans at one point, back before Katrina, back before Bush altogether. It was only for a few months, but it was my home away from home when I needed to get away from a toxic situation. I got around by streetcar half the time, and there was something therapeutic about that–it was my piece of zen. The carefree spirit of the Big Easy was exactly what I needed then–it helped to nurse my spirit back. It just doesn’t seem right that New Orleans is now the scene of unprecedented despair and helplessness. How can the American president sit by while an oil kill destroys the spirit of people who have persevered through so much?

In 2005, during a benefit concert for Katrina, Kanye West said George Bush didn’t care about black people. Who does Barack Obama care about? (And, who is the ‘jackass’ now?)

In 2008, Jesse Jackson Jr. went on national television and said that “Mrs. Clinton’s tears” on the campaign trail in New Hampshire needed to be “analyzed,” noting that she did not cry for Katrina.

What is there to even “analyze” with Obama? He scheduled his anger at BP for one day. He later announced a panel that will take six months to figure out how to prevent the circumstance that the Gulf Coast is already in and needs a solution to right now. This is what he calls Hope, but there is nothing there except a hollow emptiness.

Speaking of hope, Monk concludes her Huffpost piece on the following note:

On Saturday President Obama announced the creation of a federal commission to examine the causes and extent of the BP disaster. But what residents of the Gulf Coast need now is not a commission, but a solution. Helplessness breeds hopelessness.

Monk told progressives to suck it up when it came to their complaints about Obama’s healthcare reform. She got into a kerfuffle with Glenn Greenwald on the Elena Kagan pick. Yet, even she is calling attention to Obama’s inaction on the oil spill, because the bottom line is so clear. The aftermath of the oil kill is about the lives of ordinary Americans who have been invisible to both the Bush and Obama Administrations.

What did we elect a community organizer for if he cannot organize a real response to this crisis?

So, which is it? Is Obama too bored to find a solution for the residents of the Gulf Coast? Or, is he too talented?

The chattering classes love to dismiss Hillary Clinton as nothing more than a boring Methodist girl who makes silly to-do lists. So they help Wall Street install fascinating characters in the White House, like Bush and Obama, who put the concerns of ordinary people on their To Don’t list and send tingles up Chris Matthews’ leg.

Mission Un-accomplished.

Then a crisis hits, and Matthews acts outraged that the president is behaving like a Vatican observer.

It would be a comedy of errors if it were not for the fact that the consequences of the media’s dysfunctional relationship with both Bush and Obama have been so grave. Oil. It keeps on killing. And, the media only asks questions after the damage is done.

Authentic hope is a call to action, and that appears to be above the paygrade of “the warlord in the White House.” But, ordinary people get it. Their survival has depended on it.


One Response

  1. It’s like what I was saying on FB today, isn’t it great how just when you think things can’t get any worse they do? I thought it couldn’t get any worse after health care. Silly me.
    I’ve been trying not to think about the Oil Spill because it’s just too much. Thanks for posting this.

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