135Journals Political Soapbox: I finally got why I couldn’t stop thinking about Rudy Giuliani’s “Obama Hates America” Comment

10 Mar
Suffragist Emmeline Pankhurst knew how to work a soapbox.

Suffragist Emmeline Pankhurst knew how to work a soapbox. (Wikimedia commons–Public Domain)

DISCLAIMER: My fingers are shaking. I am about to write about POLITICS on 135journals. This is going to be a first for this blog, so dear friends, please let me warn you: I am sharing my opinion and I am a Democrat. If you would find this kind of material offensive, please read no further! There are so many lovely topics we can share over a nice cup of tea and a hot laptop! I mean no offense to my delightful Republican relatives, friends, readers, strangers, and any others. This includes Tories, members of the Tamil Tigers, the Bull Moose party, or What Have You. I just feel like opinionatin’ and I wrote a whole long post and I don’t feel like wasting it. I’m putting a line below here just in case so you know where to hop off the Rant Train before it starts moving. Anybody who cares to remain, please get a snack, take your seat, and settle in . . ..

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For several weeks my mind has been turning to Rudy Giuliani’s verbal attack on President Obama. In fact, it has taken me so long to formulate my thoughts that readers may have forgotten exactly what it is that made such a stir. ( This is why political columnists make the Big Money—because they can think of just the right thing to say right away.)

Here’s a refresher. Basically, on February 18, Giuliani said at a Republican fundraiser in New York,

“I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America. He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country . . . with all our flaws we’re the most exceptional country in the world. I’m looking for a presidential candidate who can express that, do that and carry it out.”
(http://www.politico.com/story/2015/02/rudy-giuliani-president-obama-doesnt-love-america-115309.html#ixzz3Tx2eGKqA)

When I heard these words, they sounded beyond nasty. I understand that politicians are fond of lobbing insults at each other, but this one was so . . . primal. So personal. So melodramatic. So jaw-droppingly hypocritical. And yet, so poignant and pained. There was some real emotion there, too. Was it justified? My first instinct was to say absolutely not. But as I have been running this through my head, I think I know what he’s getting at and I don’t entirely disagree. I am at least willing to walk myself (and you, too, dear reader, if you care to join me) through the journey I have undertaken in trying to understand what it means for Rudy Giuliani to lob these harsh words at the president, and what is just and unjust in what he says.

Family Drama

 

I saw a play called the Country House not long ago about a family of successful actors—all except for one brother, who was constantly bitter and whining and tearing everyone else down. It wasn’t until the end that it was revealed that he didn’t actually just hate everyone, he was really very vulnerable and felt like a loser. A lot of families have that dynamic. It’s interesting that Giuliani’s first test of whether or not Obama loved America was whether he“loved” a group of Republican donors. And then, whether or not he “loved” Rudy Giuliani. I’m a Democrat, so if the President is going to go around loving every single American, he’s probably going to love me a tinge more than he loves Rudy. But I feel pretty sure he doesn’t love me and I don’t give a damn. I have other ways of getting my emotional needs met. If he could do his basic job of presidentin’ this country, which he seems to do okay at more or less (I’m not his biggest fan, trust me), I would really rather have him concentrate on that. Why is Rudy weeping over this—what—unrequited? Hopeless? Hungry?—desire for Barack Obama’s love? Besides, even if Barack Obama DOES love him, will he believe it or not? The love thing creeps me out. But it is definitely one of the key to the dynamics of Giuliani’s statement.

I was trying to wrap my mind around this love business and I thought—O.M. G. It’s like the Dysfunctional Family Hour. Rudy had this moment of glory where everybody cared about what he said, right after 9/11. He ran for president in 2008 and started out strongly, but was dragged down by various scandals, a poorly run campaign, and being too liberal for Republicans and too conservative for Democrats. He spent $40 million and got 1 (ONE) delegate. http://articles.latimes.com/2008/feb/03/opinion/op-luntz3. Where did America’s love for HIM go? It must have hurt like hell. He must have had a brutal shock.

And meanwhile, while Rudy is all intensity and emotion, Barack Obama coolly sweeps into office. He’s aloof, he’s intellectual, he’s got an air of being complete in himself. It is almost impossible to imagine him answer Giuliani’s provoking words with “I do TOO love America.” He might have People speak out for him. But he is not one for showing too much excitement either way. This is one part of what seems to drive Giuliani nuts. I disagree with Giuliani on this score. I actually think it’s kind of okay to have a spicy, hot-tempered, emotionally vivid, extreme personality like Rudolph Giuliani AND that it’s okay to have a reserved temperament like Barack Obama. In fact, I think that when there is a team working together, it’s very useful to have people with different styles and strengths. (This is a prelude to a point I’m going to agree with Giuliani on later just so you know.)

So basically, the Rudy Giuliani Love Cry feels to me like the cry of a desperate little brother trying to get the attention of his more successful big brother. He’s trying to get noticed, and to feel important and not ignored. But the more he tries to bother the big brother, the more repelled the big brother, who has his own concerns, gets. Like the characters in the Country House, it is easy to miss the vulnerability and pain expressed in the unsuccessful brother’s cry. In that case, the loser brother belittles their achievements and tells the family members they’ve sold out. But they are also his possible ticket to having his own endlessly discussed/rarely revealed screenplay produced. Giuliani’s voice has become increasingly unimportant in the public debate. Throwing some incendiary bombast at the President is one of the few ways he can publically have a voice nowadays.

Glass House, Meet Stone

Even though I think it’s a little strange for Mr. Giuliani to say that the President doesn’t love America, I can at least imagine that he felt some kind of bubble of emotional pain welling up and that it escaped his mouth in words that made some kind of language of the heart—that even if it wasn’t nice, provable, or coherent, it was at least sincere. But this part bugged me:

 

He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country.”

 

Even if Rudy Giuliani and every single person in the room had been brought up by Ward and June Cleaver and their neighbors, this would still be a very nasty and unfair thing to say. The president was brought up largely by his grandparents who were notably and traditionally loyally American. Other parts of his upbringing—living in foreign countries, being the child of divorce, etc., being multiracial are also experiences that are commonly had by many Americans, particularly millennials. I personally have noticed that my own children, who are of mixed religious heritage, have large webs of friendships with other young people of mixed race, international background, and wide knowledge of the world. This does not diminish their love for America. In my own experience, there is nothing that made me love America more than living for a year in England as a college junior. This accusation of “otherness” is both outdated and has an ugly undertone to it. Multiculturalism is America’s future and it is America’s gift. The idea of America is very often expressed more purely, sincerely, and devotedly by immigrants than it is by natives who live in complacency without the stimulus of mixing with different ethnic groups.

I also find his statement disingenuous both because when he talks about “the way we were raised,” I think—“Excuse. Me. The way I was raised was NOTHING like the way you were raised, Mr. Giuliani. My father was a hardworking independent businessman. My mother raised five children and then returned to nursing. They were honest, honorable, and law-abiding people. They most certainly loved America, they loved each other, and they taught us good values.” Of course, even if I did not have the benefit of good parents, I could still rise above my cirumstances. Rudy Giuliani did. After all, he was responsible for putting mobster John Gotti in jail. That was quite an accomplishment, and a proud day for Italian Americans. What Rudy got in terms of parental role modeling wasn’t quite as savory as the image he tried to present in his speech however. His father was a felon who spent time in Sing Sing prison for holding up a milk man and later became a mob “enforcer.”

http://www.nydailynews.com/wayne-barrett-rudy-giuliani-love-article-1.2122253

And as a family man, Mr. Giuliani has not exactly been very savory himself. He was cruel and unscrupulous in his first two divorces and for many years neither of his children would talk to him. I don’t think Andrew and Caroline’s first thought about their childraising was “I was raised through Love of Country.” But even if he was the dad of the century, so the heck what? Is there anything more unfair than judging people by their upbringing? There are few parts of a person’s life that are more out of his or her control. Plenty of wonderful human beings arise from adverse circumstances. The only reason Mr. Giuliani could possibly have to bring this up is to make some kind of appeal that his audience would understand. Its implication is ugly.

Okay, the Part I Get About What He’s Saying

 

As Benjamin Franklin or somebody said, “Even a stopped clock is right twice a day.” And I think I understand what irritates him about the President. I don’t agree that the president doesn’t love America, or that he doesn’t think it’s exceptional, or anything like that. However, I do think that Barack Obama really likes to be “the one in the middle.” Part of his staying cool strategy is to put himself in the position of the “reasonable” one, who can see all the different sides, and not advocate forcefully (at times) for what he truly believes in. I have felt that frustration not as someone who thinks he doesn’t stand up for America enough, per se, because I do think that our nation is both grand and terrible, a great beacon of hope, possibility, and creation, and a land soaked in blood and sin. It has given, it has taken away. To me, some of the richness of our history lives in its pain and sorrow. We should never forget the wrong we’ve done and we should never forget the amazing, vibrant, searching, forward-looking people we are. We should not fear other cultures, and never feel inferior, but just take pride in ourselves, in the fullness of our humanity and our own special way of being. I don’t think we need to jump up and down and remind people all the time that the U.S. is special. I’m pretty sure they know. We are the most powerful nation on earth. If you get TOO braggy, you end up sounding like someone who introduces themselves as “DR. John Smith, M.D., graduate of Johns Hopkins”  in a social situation. It would really be a little more sophisticated to say, “Hi, I’m John.” And yet, certainly, while we are aware of our wrongs, there are plenty of other countries whose histories are not lacking in sin, either. So it is entirely possible that Mr. Giuliani could point to examples where the President could have been less self-effacing on behalf of the U.S. The way I understand his argument is that I sometimes felt, during the 2008 election in particular, that Obama was so intent on becoming the “great compromiser” that he wasn’t sticking up for values I believe a spokesman for the Democratic party should uphold. I remember feeling that he was ceding the “family values” argument to Republicans, for example, implying that only Republicans really value families. I do not believe that to be true at all, and I resented “my guy” downplaying the good things that parents like me and many of my friends did that were pro-family. So that part of the argument did, in the end, at least have SOME sense to it, from my point of view. Or, at least enough sense for me to understand where he was coming from.

So in the end—what? I guess Rudy Giuliani can say what he wants. And I guess I can say what I want, too. And I say, if you have a point to make, Mr. Giuliani, you might want to phrase it more elegantly than you did. Because you revealed a lot more about your heart by what you said than you did about Mr. Obama’s. And what it revealed was hauntingly pathetic. It was as sad as a baby’s unanswered cry. And that’s not what a mouthy, tough New Yorky guy really wants to share with the world, is it?

 

Writing Prompt: Um, do you have an opinion about anything?

 

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