One of my favorite musicals (and yes, The Snob likes musicals) is “The Wiz.” And while I adore the Broadway version, my heart is with the very frightening, but wonderfully conceived movie adaptation by Sidney Lumet.
The film is a wondrous dystopia of black American life, shifting from the fields of the old south to the northern migration all in garish, colorful but nightmarish fashion. It feels more like a intoxicated dream of perverse stereotypes, which was odd to find in a film marketed as a family flick.
In it a new song was written for “classic” Michael Jackson, who played the Scarecrow. It is the opposite of my other favorite “Wiz” song, “Brand New Day,” are for me the two best songs that typify the black American experience. “Brand New Day” is a joyous number of brilliant elan, fully of soaring, even orgasmic, release.
It the free the slaves number where the ugly, downtrodden masses turn into beautiful, ideal bodies of tan and brown, dancing about in barely nothing as they exalt in joyous rapture over their release from injustice and oppression.
Jackson’s song is the opposite of that tone, but also fits the black experience: “You Can’t Win.”
The song is a depressing mantra to a peppy beat about the hopelessness in black America where it doesn’t matter what you do because life, poverty, racism and an unfairly rigged system will knock you down. The black crows who torment Jackson’s Scarecrow constantly berate him, tease him for wanting to be educated and tell him that he might as well “smoke that smoke” and “drink yourself a glass of wine” rather than be proactive in his release from mental bondage.
This pessimism is also a part of the black American experience as we’ve become accustom to stops and starts. Slavery ends! But Jim Crow begins. Blacks show courage on the battlefield of WWII Europe! But return home to face more discrimination. Brown versus the Board of Education ends forced desegregation! White fight destroys the infrastructure of cities and a new re-segregation based on where you live begins.
One step forward, two steps back.
There’s always a new litmus test, a new hurdle, a new barrier to break through. Hence the hopelessness.
You can’t win.
Constantly alternating between joy and “what the fuck” can be difficult. It’s only natural that some people would become pessimistic and just sit things out.
Which brings me to the 2008 presidential race.
I know a lot of people are frustrated over Hillary Clinton’s tactics in her effort to grasp the Democratic nomination. And I know they’re irritated with the media’s bipolar nature towards Barack Obama and the reporting of rumors and falsehoods as breaking news. But this was expected. These things aren’t new. These tactics of fear and smear have existed since southerners used “slave power” to manipulate the political power structure in their favor.
People want to move “beyond race,” which is a pretty noble, but daunting task, considering that race has defined our culture for hundreds of years. Things have improved, but not enough so that Barack Obama could make the same argument over Farrakhan than John McCain made over Hagee.
In an ideal world, Clinton and Obama would work together for the sake of getting the White House back from the Republicans. But Clinton wants to win. She’s a political animal. She’s not going to alter her course just because there’s another potential history maker in the room.
I feel other people’s anger but if you’ve studied American politics you have to learn to go with the rational over the emotional. You can’t see your favorite candidate as infallible and you can’t forget that even if they’re trying to change politics they are still a politician. You can’t judge your opponents over emotion either. You can hate someone, but understand that their positions fit your beliefs more than the other.
I want Obama to be the nominee, but I fear that if Clinton finds away to snag it loads of black people will just balk and opt out. This is where I ask people to be rational. Opting out is the equivalent of the “You Can’t Win” song. It is the ultimate, “Aw, fuck it,” where you reject the political process and choose not to be active in promoting your needs and causes. I can not tell you dangerous this attitude is. “Aw, fuck it” got George W. Bush into office. I remember back in 2000 thinking, “Maybe it won’t be too bad, right? How much harm could he do?”
So, I get it. Hillary Clinton will do anything to become president. Anything. She’s very open in her desire to win. Both Clintons are cage fighters. I know that they can be pushy, repellent even. But we can’t allow our visceral reactions to Hillary cloud our judgment on McCain. There is an enormous difference between Hillary and McCain. If you can live with another anti-abortion rights, pro-ultra conservative judge appointing, pro-war, pro-preemptive war Republican who will continue to push the Supreme Court so far right they could make sure you’d never be able to sue any business over anything ever again. If you can live with funds being cut for infrastructure, schools, hospitals and communities to fund the wars. If you’re content with our health care system. Go ahead then. Opt out. Vote for McCain. Vote for Nader or vote for no one.
That’s your right.
But it’s not very rational. That’s very “Aw, fuck it.”
Very, “You can’t win.”
I believe after all the drama is dead and done, Obama will be the nominee. I think Hillary Clinton will accept that and I think things will move on. I don’t know when that will happen. Hopefully not in Denver, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it did.
You can’t make it to the “Brand New Day” portion of “The Wiz” if you can’t fight off the “You Can’t Win” situation, where the game is rigged against you and everyone is throwing mud in your eyes. No one ever got anything done throwing up their hands and quitting. We have to keep marching forward, whether or not Obama is the nominee. If we want to end the war. If want to end conservative rule, we have to march on.
Just because Hillary is selfish, it makes no sense for us to be narrow minded too. We have much more at stake. Hillary loses, she goes home to New York and continues to be an influential and wealthy senator. If McCain wins, we get a man who’s goin
g to continue to drive us into debt with an unjust war and will be an agitator, looking at an unnecessary fight with Iran. A president who has no ties and no reason whatsoever to care about black issues. He’ll be under pressure to appease his constituency which is far more conservative than he is.
He’s already neutered his anti-torture stance by skipping out on the vote to adopt the anti-water boarding, Army field manual guide and affix it to the CIA’s guide for dealing with suspects. Now he’s cuddling up with anti-Catholic, anti-Muslim, pro-Apocalypse ministers. Granted, I don’t think McCain is as bad as Bush. The latter has already set the incompetence bar exceedingly high that it would be difficult for any future president to touch it. But McCain does not equal Clinton.
I’d prefer to see all this energy generated by the Obama campaign to be utilized to further modernize the Democratic party, to use our influence to have the needs of our communities met, and continue to develop and support a diverse field of political leaders and politicians so we can continue progress rather than take our traditional two steps back out of disappointment.
Don’t be discouraged. Keep working, keep pushing, keep supporting Obama. But remember we are not only trying to get man into office, we’re also trying to change our country and our role in the world. One man does not trump the world. The movement has to be more than about Obama, but about wanting a better life for all Americans irregardless of class and color. For wanting a different future.
Or at least that’s how I interpret Obama’s message. It doesn’t make sense to drop a message just because our political system sometimes sucks, is exclusionary and discriminates against smaller political parties. We have to keep pushing that message no matter what.
It’s like when John Edwards dropped out and Hillary Clinton jacked his “fighter” message. (The media never seems to point this out, but it was patently obvious to me.) She did that because she knew it was a good message and she would need that message to get blue collar whites to vote for her. Edwards’ “movement” was supported by unions and minorities and had value. After he bowed out those groups were willing to realign with either Barack or Hillary if they met their demands.
And if the Clintons go nuclear and somehow get the nomination, which I still don’t see happening, it’s our job to basically force Hillary Clinton to accept our agenda to get our support. That’s just how it works. That’s how it’s always worked. There may be a better way. If there is I’d like to hear some suggestions. But you can’t change America if you stop fighting for change.
Fight for the dream, not the dreamer.
Politicians are humans. They will falter, they fail. But the fight has to go on.
Although the term has been hijacked by ideologues, demagogues and extremists, the Islamic term “jihad” simply means struggle. Trying to change the political structure, the racial constructs and the gender issues of our country has been effectively the “jihad” of blacks and women since the country was founded. This is a long, treacherous road we have traveled. Now that we’re finally at a moment of ascension we’re fighting over who gets to go first, when the “movement” should go first.
Stay positive. Stay motivated. Make this more about what you want, and less about who you like. Be prepared for trouble. Don’t be surprised by anything and save your outrage for the Republicans.
You can win if you choose to stay in the game.