Monday, September 10, 2012

Texts From My Father

I'm going to give you a brief introduction to my dad. My father is a person who, on the same day he gave me a copy of The True Believer and emphatically insisted I read it, happily displayed the new "Proud Tea Party Member" hat he received at the county fair.

So that pretty much covers everything you need to know for this.

I'd wanted the first time I wrote about Dad for These Gentlemen to be the story of how just this summer we went to a ball game together for the first time. It was going to be part of a larger sports-related post I've been working on for awhile, talking about making a dedicated effort to follow a team this summer, tying it back into my mentioning of the Orioles in my post about Otakon, and making a number of other observations and witticisms. Oh, it was going to be a great post. It'll still come, eventually. After yesterday afternoon happened though, it's taking a back seat.

I woke up yesterday morning to find I'd received a text message from my dad, with the following instructions. "Watch CSPAN2 1030AM this morning, discussion to follow."

My first impulse was immediately to just send back "sorry, don't have TV in the dorm," but for whatever reason, I decided to check CSPAN's website and sure enough, there's a live stream of all their programming. I looked at my schedule for the day. Reading, some volunteer work, and then maybe working on that aforementioned sports post. It was already after 10, nothing I was going to do was going to get started in the next 15 minutes. I waited until 10:30 rolled around and saw that there was some book talk going on, with an author deceptively named John Goodman touting his plan for health care reform. I watched the brief interview, sent my dad a text reading "anyone who says we should open up insurance across state lines is arguing for universal health care and doesn't realize it," and left it at that.

Then, compelled my reasons unknown to me, I kept the stream open. A reflexive groan escaped my lips as the segment ended and the next speaker came on. Dinesh D'Souza, talking about his new book, where he lays out exactly what a second term for Obama would look like. I decided to listen for awhile, but turned it off as soon as he broke out the "you didn't build that" line everybody with any kind of anti-Obama agenda has been ripping out of context for the last month or so. Man, I was glad my dad wanted me to see the book guy and not D'Souza.

So yeah, the next text I got back was "What? Did you see D'Souza?"

Just to sum up, D'Souza's latest argument is that the President has shaped his entire life and ideology through his father, whom he met once, 40 years ago. Not only that, but that his father had a friend who was an anti-colonialist (and Obama never met him at all), and so this friend influenced Barack Sr., who in turn influenced the President, and so now he's a rage-filled anti-American socialist who wants to tear down society. You know, I totally get that from his speeches, I don't see why so many other people don't hear it. The crux of D'Souza's contention comes from the fact that Obama titled the memoir he wrote about Barack Sr. Dreams From My Father. By saying "from" instead of "of," D'Souza posits, he means he's . . . you know what, it's easier at this point to just say D'Souza's entire argument is preposition-based and leave it at that.

What followed was a back-and-forth with my father I found noteworthy enough to record for posterity. I hope you all enjoy it as much as I did.

Me: Oh, I thought you meant the guy before him talking about his health care book. I watched D'Souza make insane extrapolations until he spit out the misquoted "you didn't build that" line and turned it off.

Dad: Contempt prior to investigation ensures everlasting ignorance. Congratulations, you are achieving intellectual smugness at a stunning rate.

Me: The very fact that you'd assume I haven't researched anything, and also that you'd use the term "intellectual smugness" tells me everything I need to know about this conversation.

Dad: Exactly, why be curious, you know.

Me: Ask D'Souza that question. Why consider any conclusion beyond the first one you come to, supported by nothing but your own assumptions?

Dad: Thought you didn't watch? What assumptions?

Me: I already know all about his book and his movie. The entire substance is predicated on the idea that Obama was shaped by the ideas of a friend of a father he met once 40 years ago.

Dad: Not true, there was a man who his step father used to arrange weekly meetings for racial identity reasons. Unless there is another man, but I thought Obama's father left before he was born and only saw him a couple of times in his life. Of course there was letter correspondance, mostly from Obama, that went unanswered.

Me: Oh, so he grew up without his dad around and wanted to know more about him to form a father-son connection. Gee, I wonder what that's like.

Dad: Well, your bitterness has merit and deserves attention, but I fail to see the connection to Obama, he idolized his father and blamed his mother who reinforced this worship.

Me: But that's the assumption! Obama never says anything like that himself in either of his books. D'Souza is putting words in his mouth and saying "well if he said this, he MUST mean that!" D'Souza has never spoken directly with Obama and passes himself off as an expert on all his deepest thoughts.

Dad: Obama describes in his book Dreams From My Father, how he openly wept on his father's grave after his sister informed him of the facts of his father's life. He further explains in his own words, I am assuming he did in fact write the book, that that day he divided his father into the deeply flawed human being and heroic anti-colonialist.

Me: Being an anti-colonialist in Kenya, at the time his father was, WAS heroic. Kenya was a British colony almost all of Barack Sr.'s life. Sr. also worked as an economist for the Kenyan government wrote a treatise criticizing the plan for African socialism.

Dad: Because it wasn't socialist enough, he was fired. Colonialism is foreign to most Americans but you're right, there were many true heroes in many colonized territories.

Me: Honestly, if Americans can't get behind a guy who was against being a British colony, then I don't know what to think.

Dad: Yes, personal feelings loom large in history for those who suffered oppression. Obama never did. Upon his arrival back from his first trip to Africa, Muhammad Ai was asked what he thought of Africa and he responded "Thank God my great-grandaddy got on that boat." Combating oppression and enforcing ideology are two different birds.

Me: A mixed race kid growing up poor in the 60s and 70s never faced oppression? So then who does understand combating it? Romney?

Dad: To mix oppression of a whole people subjugated to another country, another culture, with the experience of poverty is to minimalize colonialism. Are you suggesting that Obama grew up poor?

Me: His family was never more than middle class and the schools he attended he paid for with need-based scholarships. He's certainly got a better grasp on what it means to be an average or lower-income American than Mitt does.

Dad: Maybe so, but I wouldn't consider him poor, and according to anti-colonialists he would be in the 1%.

Me: Well, if we're talking Kenya, we're all in the 1%, comparatively.

Dad: It appears that you believe a man's environment contributes heavily on his abilities to identify or not with a particular ideology.

Me: Well, there are a lot of factors. Environment could absolutely be a big one, but if an ideology someone is told to believe is simultaneously keeping them oppressed, it depends on whether or not that person is able to see through what they're being told to truly perceive their environment. Catholics in Ireland are a great example of this.

Dad: Yes, I agree.

Me: Just so you know, I'm really enjoying this talk.

Dad: Politics of bitterness never turn out well.

(As an aside, I thought my dad meant this as that he took my last statement sarcastically, but looking back on it now I realize he was saying that Obama is an anti-colonialist looking at the 1% of America - and compared to Kenya we are all the 1% -with bitterness and running his politics based on that lens.)

Me: I'm serious, I wanted to say something because I didn't want to sound bitter. This has been fun.

Dad: What do you think of Muhammad Ali's statement of "thank God great-grandad got on the boat?" Do you think there should be global reparations as anti-colonialists believe? (Pause) Ok, ok, enough. Go study. I love you.

Me:  I think Ali's 1) the greatest, and 2) making a remark that could be perceived two ways. Either offensive and minimizing to the experience of slaves, or trying to tell the world "yes, slavery was awful, things in Africa are SO bad that it's even worse and we should be thinking about that."

(Pause, saw his text telling me to go study)

Me: Love you too, Dad. I've had my phone on silent this whole time, in the library right now.

Dad: Or maybe it's not about slavery, Africans were not opposed to slavery. I hear it still exists in some places. Maybe he was talking about the living standards, and severe oppression of ruling regimes.

Me: That's what I mean, he was saying that it was better his granddad become a slave and he be born in America than staying in Africa and living in those conditions.

Dad: Okay, enough, I am going to Friendly's for a bite. Study well, keep an open mind and read True Believer when you get a chance.

Me: You got it, Dad.

Dad: It can be demonstrated that living conditions were better under colonial rule. Once India won its freedom it sunk into the mire of socialism, now that it has embraced capitalism it is fast approaching the 1%. We however seem to be going in a different direction.

Me: Go to Friendly's!

You know, I do not dislike Dinesh D'Souza as a person if the stories he tells about his life are true. He seems like a man with great religious conviction and an abundance of charity in his heart. He also writes like an Indian Glenn Beck with half the research and double the leaps in logic. Regardless, I have to thank him for something. Because of him, for the very first time, I had a discussion about politics with my dad and was heated up enough about the topic to not back down for fear of damaging our relationship.

So thanks, Dinesh. I hope that whole movie thing works out for you. In fact, I hope you get another four years worth of material to work with so that your life stays easy.

Until next time.

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