Oklahoma legislators handed out another tax break this week for some of the richest people in the state.
Meanwhile, the state was making national news again, and this time it was not one of Sally Kern’s anti-gay rants. The New York Times ran a story Wednesday about the numerous problems with Oklahoma’s foster care system, problems that have led to a lawsuit filed against the state by the organization Children’s Rights.
Here are a couple of key paragraphs in the story:
“Federal data shows that Oklahoma consistently has one of the worst records in the country of documented abuse of children in foster or group homes. In addition to frequent moves and extended stays in overcrowded shelters, the system is short of foster parents, social workers and needed therapies.
“All this has exposed many children to lasting psychological damage, including an inability to form emotional bonds, according to the lawsuit, a class-action filed in February by Children’s Rights, an advocacy organization, and several local lawyers.”
But why be concerned with bummer issues like this when the NBA is coming to town? To supposedly ensure that happens, the Oklahoma Senate passed a bill giving the Seattle SuperSonics a $60 million tax incentive package if the team relocates to Oklahoma City. (The House passed an earlier version of the bill.) The team is owned by a local business group, which includes Clayton Bennett, who is married to Louise Gaylord Bennett, whose family owns The Daily Oklahoman. (Louise Bennett is the daughter of the late Edward L. Gaylord.) Other members of the business group include Aubrey McClendon, who heads Chesapeake Energy here, and Tom Ward, another local energy company executive.
So we have the continuing right-wing saga of corporate welfare here in Oklahoma. The state faces declining revenues and the reform lawsuit against the Department of Human Services and underfunded educational systems so, of course, it chooses to give tax breaks to millionaires. But a majority of the state’s voters apparently want it this way. Oklahoma City voters, for example, have already voted to tax themselves to fund demanded improvements for the Ford Center, the future home of the SuperSonics.
The right-wing mantra is this: A NBA team in Oklahoma City will help improve the state’s image and this will create economic development.
But the truth of the matter is the state’s image has suffered immeasurably recently, and it is highly unlikely the NBA can repair it. The lawsuit against the Department of Human Services about the child welfare system, filed in February, claimed the state has the worst such system in the nation. State Rep. Kern (R-Oklahoma City) was recently recorded comparing gay people to terrorists. The audio recording, which made national news in March, was listened to by more than a million people and generated disgust and outrage throughout the world. State Rep. Randy Terrill (R-Moore) continues to bring unneeded attention to the state. A bill he sponsored last year created the strictest anti-illegal immigration laws in the nation right here in Oklahoma. In study after study, the state continues to rank low in health care categories. Meanwhile, proposed legislation to help people with health care costs has been killed repeatedly by the Republican-dominated Oklahoma House. The state’s educational systems remain chronically underfunded. I could go on and on.
But, in Oklahoma, we do take care of our rich people. A recent study conducted by the Economic Policy Institute and Center on Budget and Policy Priorities showed the income gap between the richest families and middle-class families in Oklahoma is the largest in the nation. These rich families control the political system here with money and power. This is the circle of life in the state.
As media pundits parsed a recent statement about economic fairness made by presidential contender Barack Obama, the New York Times was running a story about the soaring costs of co-payments demanded by health insurance companies for medications.
Obama used the word “bitter” to describe some people in the country who face stagnant wages, unemployment, and lousy or no health insurance, and that makes him elitist, according to the right-wing media. Last week we found out Obama cannot bowl very well, and that makes him effeminate, according to the right-wing media. This “he’s-an-effeminate-elitist-liberal” Republican political attack on Democrats, dating back at least to former President Richard Nixon, was used successfully recently against Al Gore and John Kerry. Why not Obama? What else do the Republicans have this year? Even Hillary Clinton joined John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, in advancing the right-wing political strategy, leaving herself open for similar attacks if she should win the Democratic nomination for president. Her relentless personal attacks on Obama also risked alienating his supporters, who will undoubtedly become disenchanted if she now gets the nomination.
The elitism charge is the same, tired Republican political frame that currently stifles political debate and dialogue in this country. If Americans cannot get beyond these petty charges and counter-charges about elitism and gender this year, then they could spend at least four more years in the abyss of dead Republican ideologies. Americans need to look outside the mainstream media for decent interpretations of this election. If they do not, they will get the same false Republican frames and only hear Democrats speak when they are on the defensive. That is how it has been in the mainstream media for years now. It will not change this year.
The larger issue is this: Obama spoke the truth. He is right. The New York Times story, for example, showed how health insurance companies are “asking patients to pay hundreds and even thousands of dollars for prescriptions for medications that may save their lives or slow the progress of serious diseases.” But this type of information somehow never makes it into the “serious” media coverage of the presidential election. National political reporters and their editors have become so accustomed to exaggerating these non-events, these he said/she said petty ironies and contradictions, they have obviously forgotten what is important or not important to American people. Co-payments on medications going up by “thousands of dollars” is a real story in this country. This seems directly related to the 2008 presidential campaign. What type of people would not be bitter or at least emotionally distraught if they suddenly discovered they were going to die because they could not afford a medicine? Obama’s use of the word bitter is not a big story, but it is the truth.
Speaking at a fundraiser in San Francisco, Obama talked about the country’s declining economic conditions and the people who are suffering the most. Here is the supposed offensive comment:
"It's not surprising, then, they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."
The logic or argument behind this sentence has been presented countless numbers of times by politicians and writers and academics at least since Richard Nixon’s presidency. Recent books like What’s The Matter With Kansas have essentially argued that some financially disadvantaged voters often vote against their economic interests, and they displace their economic frustrations in scapegoating and racism or in the anger generated by fundamentalist Christianity, which is politically focused on abortion and homosexuality right now, or in the irrational fear generated by the National Rifle Association and others about gun rights. This is a socio-political argument, for sure, and there are nuances and exceptions within this description, and most people do not want to be stereotyped, but Obama did not invent these ideas. He just possesses the courage or inspiration to say what needs to be said in today’s economic climate. In a better world, it might lead to a real dialogue.
The word bitter I think is an especially appropriate term for where much of the electorate stands right now regardless of their interest in guns or religion. For example, I know plenty of people—liberals and conservatives—who have become bitter about their health insurance and care in recent years. A majority of doctors in this country now want a national health insurance program because of this bitterness. Do you think the children of the three remaining presidential candidates will go without appropriate health care in their lives? It will never happen. Yet millions of children suffer in this country because they lack health insurance or their health insurance does not cover certain conditions or they do not have access to decent doctors and health care facilities. Does that not at least have the potential to create bitterness?
Clinton jumped on Obama’s comments and essentially argued that those people facing unemployment, major increases in health care costs and the loss of their homes are, in fact, “optimistic” and “positive.” Americans steeped in radical fundamentalist religion ideas are apparently “spiritually rich.” Some people might argue this is not a fair reading of Clinton’s comments. If so, then the fair-reading doctrine applies to Clinton’s interpretation of Obama’s comments as well.
McCain’s comments, of course, were the standard Republican talking points about how the Democratic Party, the party that does the most for middle-class people and those on the lowest rungs of the economic ladder, is made up of members too elitist to understand regular people. McCain kept it simple. Why go all out when you have Clinton doing all the work?
So this then is the continuing absurd political world in which we live. The political party that does the least for the middle class and the most for rich people is perceived by many people as non-elitist. The political party that wants to make sure you have decent health insurance is perceived as elitist. This illogic, this irrationality, has brought us eight painful years under Bush and his corrupt courtiers, a senseless military occupation now in its sixth year and the continuing endangerment of our democratic structures.
Here we are, again, talking about everything but the real issues when Obama’s comments might have actually created a dialogue.
(Will Oklahoma escape the major economic downturn affecting other parts of the country right now? If not, how should the state government respond to reduced revenues and stagnant or shortfall budgets? Read DocHoc's commentary this week in the Oklahoma Gazette.)
How we define ourselves in terms of gender or outside gender constraints creates much of our identity. Popular perceptions of gender in our culture are important for a number of reasons, which include personal physical health and psychological stability. Most superlative versions of gender—mythical but conscious ideals—in our culture, for example, should include basic concepts such as a healthy body and a sense of comfort within one’s self-definition and awareness.
But distorted right-wing media attacks on presidential contender Barack Obama’s bowling capabilities have once again raised the larger issue of how masculinity and femininity get socially constructed under political deviousness and opportunism in American culture these days.
Obama has been depicted as effeminate by some right-wing media pundits for not bowling well. Obama went bowling recently at a campaign stop in Altoona, Pennsylvania, and he threw gutter balls. For this, he was called “dainty” and “prissy” by a right-wing media pundit. The right-wing attacks Obama as girly as it also mocks and distorts femininity for its own political ends. Consequently, “effeminate” is an always shifting right-wing marginalization term for both Obama and Hillary Clinton, who has been castigated by the right this campaign season for shedding a few tears in public. Clinton is often criticized as too masculine as well. (No right-wing pundit yet has called Obama overly masculine.) So, essentially, the right-wing continues to twist and distort gender codes and constructions in an effort to win votes. This is an old story. The right-wing pundit cabal did this with both Al Gore and John Kerry.
Of course, this is typical political deception and lying, a now-sanctioned discourse embedded in the current corrupt American media culture through a conservative avalanche of multi-media disinformation techniques and propaganda. Obama, for example, was an accomplished basketball player in his younger days and still plays in pickup games. Who would not consider him fairly athletic, in pretty good shape and a solid example, if using gender constructions, of masculinity? This is obvious.
Here is how the conservative discourse—I take into account conservative political screech, corporate advertisements and corporate-sponsored television shows and movies—defines an the quintessential American “real man”: He drinks beer, watches television and eats fast food. He is unable to articulate complex thoughts. He is overweight. He is incapable of legitimate feeling or expressing emotion. He is someone who bowls adequately.
Under the conservative rubric, a less than ideal man, someone who actually possesses attributes of femininity is, well, someone like Obama, who is intelligent, articulate, athletic and fit. He watches his weight. He possesses empathy and understanding for people. Maybe he does not bowl well because, well, he does not like to go bowling and so he never practices.
Conservative media discourse does not create an ideal woman because women, under its rubric, are “naturally” hampered and flawed by their gender. Women, according to this discourse, are overly sensitive. They cry. They are, in essence, effeminate, which limits women's abilities and marks men as “unnatural.” If women take care of themselves physically, they are vain, according to the discourse. If women speak up against this definition, do not cry, or do not stay in shape or worry about their appearance, then they are too masculine, unnatural. Under the conservative rubric, certain right-wing, female pundits like Ann Coulter are given passes despite the obvious contradiction between their self-identity as supposed strong women arguing points in a man’s world and their obvious anti-feminist rhetoric.
Consequently, the out-of-shape, emotionally vacant man is privileged. The physically and emotional healthy man is marginalized. The implications of this obvious conservative reversal, this contrarian discourse, of ideal masculinity has always carried with it large implications and problems in terms of health and education in our culture. Certainly, there are subversive elements of irony and camp within this reversal, but it is not difficult to see the contrarian definition manifest itself now in the country’s staggering obesity rates and the declining numbers of young men attending our nation’s colleges. The conservative discourse says real men do not go to college; they drink beer and bowl. The conservative discourse, as absurd as it can seem, takes itself seriously. Rational discourse is eventually forced to respond, though it has often been late in recent years.
As I mentioned, the conservative discourse about masculinity also criticizes the effeminate, thus marginalizing femininity—Clinton cannot be president because her eyes watered up in tears—as it presents its rigid definition of gender in general. Yet if Clinton does not show emotion, she is considered cold, manly, according to the discourse. Women, then, are effectively trapped under this right-wing definition of femininity. This is an old story, true, but it bears repeating. In truth, people live and function outside the stereotypical ideas of gender presented by the right-wing media pundits, who use clichés and repetition to influence a segment of a complacent citizenry in order to boost their audience and earning potential and get votes for Republicans.
All this talk of Obama’s bowling skills or Clinton’s tears among the conservatives is another attempt to marginalize liberals, for sure, but it also tries to rewrite healthy models of masculinity and femininity, and this is lasting and dangerous. It is long past time for mainstream media outlets, health professionals and educators to publicly disavow the right-wing harangues on this issue. They need to counter the right-wing pundits by arguing it is okay to be in shape, obtain an education, become intelligent and voice your opinions and ideas however you define yourself or others define or misread you on the gender spectrum. There is an important political point to be made here as well.
Obviously, there are other important issues like health care, stagnant wages, the mortgage crisis, the Iraq occupation, the threat to our civil liberties, the ongoing lies of the Bush administration to discuss this election year, but Democrats need to be ready for more gender-related attacks on both Obama and Clinton no matter who becomes the Democratic nominee. Gender issues and definitions are significant components of this election season.