Some statements made by politicians are just gaffes. We are all human, no matter how polished of a politician some of us may be. Obama’s 57 states statement and Joe Biden’s misstep of asking North Carolina to help win the campaign (while stumping in Virginia) are all such blunders that were mostly ignored by the media and rightfully so.
Some statements are reflective of candidates’ views on policy or politics, that, when taken out of context by the media (either right-wing conservative talk shows or “main-stream” network or cable news), seem to show that the candidate is reckless or dangerously out of touch. Mitt Romney’s “I like to fire people” and “I am not concerned about the very poor” or President Obama’s “You didn’t build that” are examples. Of course, Romney either cares about the poor or is not stupid enough to admit he does not. Also, it should be clear that Romney believes everyone should be accountable for his or her work (or lack thereof), and it is good for the “buyer” of someone’s services (either customers in the private sector or taxpayers in the public sector) to be able to choose to look elsewhere if needs are not being met. Similarly, President Obama was saying the public infrastructure used to move goods to and from a business, the education system used to educate skilled workers that a business needs and any other value-adds provided by the public sector are necessary for businesses to thrive. Of course, entrepreneurs built their businesses and deserve rewards, but they have an advantage in being in America with all of our structural advantages over nations like, say, Zimbabwe (doubters should try starting a new software business in Harare).
An objective citizen should not want to focus on the extreme views from out-of-context statements. TOC disagrees with President Obama on many things, but he does not want to disagree with Obama on a position Obama clearly is not taking. We need a debate on the level of government’s involvement in private enterprise, but it does no good if positions are misrepresented. The same goes for the role of government in charity and provision of individual needs. Mitt Romney made it clear that he wanted to focus on policies to help the middle class and that he felt the “safety net” for the poor is “fine” (and he would consider strengthening it if needed). Arguing that Romney wants poor people to starve is a stretch; misrepresenting his position takes away an opportunity to have substantive debate.
Some statements are reflective of candidates’ views on policy or political approach without any misrepresentation and are dangerously out of touch or are very questionable. We recently saw two examples with Vice President Joe Biden and US Senate nominee Todd Akin. When Joe Biden mentioned that Mitt Romney wanted to put “y’all back in chains,” it revealed, at best, insensitivity towards a race Democrats take for granted. For those who disagree, consider how often Biden has insulted the LGBT community or the Latino community. One would expect Biden’s “innocent gaffes” to be spread across different groups if they truly were oversights. Clearly, these gaffes are calculated; otherwise, how could a near-billion dollar campaign allow them to happen by accident? Perhaps they are meant to be a distraction. If so, it is appalling that the Obama campaign wants to distract from material issues and uses such divisiveness. Perhaps they indicate Biden’s lack of sensitivity for African-Americans –similar to his opinion on Obama’s candidacy in 2007. If so, someone must hold him responsible for such words. Perhaps it is an attempt to excite the emotions of African-Americans with allusions to slavery by using subliminal messaging. If so, shame on this campaign for stoking such emotions and cheapening that history for votes. Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” comments are just as bad, but they raise a key question: How can someone with these views become a major party nominee for US Senate? Contrast the decision to choose Paul Ryan, a conservative with the skills to communicate the virtues of conservatism, to Akin, with his irresponsibility in speaking to abortion limits for rape victims. Regardless of one’s opinion on abortion, the term “legitimate rape” is unacceptable to women, husbands of wives, or fathers of daughters. These words are indicative of Akin’s indefensible feelings.
This view, or some indication of such, should have been exposed during the nomination process. Akin clearly was hidden in a bubble, which allowed his politics to go unchallenged or unchecked.
Bubbles limit our society’s ability to come to common ground and lead to the polarization we see today. Of course, Akin had clearly trapped himself in a bubble, but was there not also a similar bubble that Biden saw? Perhaps Biden sees African-Americans as trapped in the past (with everyone else moving on) and that they will vote based on an evil that ended 150 years ago in lieu of effective policy. That belief would be despicable, but what other conclusion should one draw?
In closing, TOC returns to something he sees as very important. African-American conservatives have the challenge of winning over more African-Americans. Plus, there are too few to hide in bubbles – we will always have to defend our positions at family events and in our communities. We cannot rely on “what is good for the country” arguments since so many African-Americans are struggling. I will not care about China overtaking the US in GDP in 2017 if I cannot feed my kids today. Explaining the virtues of conservatism is tough, but we know EVERYONE benefits by limiting the role of government in our lives. At least, let’s challenge the other side to elevate the conversation and explain why their approach is better. Let’s make sure the debate is based on the merit of arguments and not on cheap plays to emotions. Most importantly, let’s continue to challenge all African-Americans and not let them hide in bubbles either.