Point of View Columns

Time to Take Off the Gloves

We know the movie genre. The good natured hero endures endless taunts and jibes from the loons and goons at the bar. He remains impassive, even oblivious as the insults rain down. The more intrepid tormentors may toss an ashtray or splash a drink in his face….and then it happens……….the hero has had enough and he takes on all comers, beating into submission those who don’t beat a hasty retreat.

During the past two and a half years Barack Obama has been the object of a constant deluge of scorn, disrespect and outrageous rhetoric. He has been labeled a communist, a socialist, a fascist and the anti-Christ. There have been outrageous (and potentially dangerous) allusions to “the blood of tyrants (guess who?) watering the tree of liberty” and even his citizenship has been questioned.

Through it all President Obama has maintained his seemingly eternal cool. He did deliver a pretty humorous backhand to Donald Trump, but even attacks on his wife and his two daughters have barely gotten a rise out of him. But something must have clicked during the past few weeks because he is now on the offensive.

While touring the country President Obama derided Rodeo Rick Perry as the governor of a state that is “on fire while he refuses to believe in global warming”. Ouch!

He appeared at the annual Congressional Black Caucus dinner and exhorted the crowd to “stop whining” and to “put on their marching shoes”. One can imagine Travis Smiley and Cornel West wincing as President Obama assumed the mantle of leadership that has not always been so evident.

He has asked crowds to look at the current roster of Republican presidential candidates. And he commiserated with Republicans who have such an array of poor choices. He also took time to criticize the debate crowds who cheered the prospect of uninsured Americans dying and who booed a gay American soldier who was serving in Iraq.

On that last item, it should be noted that on three separate occasions the nine Republican presidential candidates have had an opportunity to demonstrate compassion, intelligence and an adult mentality. At recent debates the crowd cheered when Rodeo Rick Perry bragged about having presided over 243 (now 244) executions in the state of Texas. Where was the Republican who might caution against celebrating the death of another human being? Not one of the Noble Nine uttered a word.

On another occasion Congressman Ron Paul was asked whether he believed that an uninsured American should be allowed to die in the emergency room. Before he could answer G.O.Tea Party zealots loudly cheered the notion. Neither Congressman Paul nor any of the other candidates would say a word about compassion and the need for a civilized society to find a way to take care of men, women and children in distress.

And last week, a U.S. soldier on active duty in Iraq asked a question regarding gays in the military via video conference during another G.O.Tea Party crazyfest. He was roundly booed by the audience and not a single member of the Noble Nine – all of whom proclaim to be patriotic Americans – would take the audience to task for dishonoring a man who was risking his life in the belief that he was protecting the rights and liberties of the braying mob. No profiles in courage in that bunch.

And so it seems that President Obama is not going to play rope-a-dope anymore. It might seem presidential to be above the fray, but the fray is too loud and too much a part of the daily national and international discourse. When the Noble Nine continue to repeat untruths it is important for supporters of the president to speak up. But it is also well past the time for the president himself to speak up.

It is clear that the entire timetable for presidential politics has changed. No sitting president can employ a Rose Garden strategy, staying in the White House and making a few speeches in the months just before the election. The Republicans have been running against Barack Obama since January 21, 2009 – the goal has been to make him a one-term president regardless of anything he might have achieved.

This mindless negativity has impaired the federal government and the United States at every turn. The debt ceiling debacle is just one example, the recent near disaster regarding the funding of the Federal Emergency Management Administration is yet another. The G.O.Tea Party has adopted a destructive strategy that includes blaming all consequent suffering on Barack Obama.

It has been time to take the gloves off for a long time. Now that Barack Obama has done so, things should get interesting.

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Be My Guest

Be My Guest Column by Dr. William Pollard

Reflections on 9/11

A quiet, bright, sunny, September morning.

People were going about their routine business. The warm sun’s glow seemed to comfort all.

Suddenly in a horrifying instant the peace was shattered — a loud explosion, screams, flames spewing out of windows, smoke clouding the streets obscuring vision amidst the panic and chaos.

Sirens screeched as police and firefighters rushed to the scene while people frantically searched for loved ones in the mass of confusion.

In that terrible moment more than brick and mortar, more than glass — even more than lives were shattered. Peace and hope and freedom from fear were also torn apart that September morning.

The Date: September 15, 1963
The Place: 16th Street Baptist Church; Birmingham, Alabama
The Dead: 14-year-old Addie Mae Collins; 14-year-old Cynthia Wesley;
14-year-old Carole Robertson and 11-year-old Denise McNair
The Injured: Some 20 others, 10-year-old Sarah Collins who lost her right eye

This act of terrorism was by no means the first on American soil and far from the first in Birmingham, where there had been three other bombings in 11 days following a federal court order that had mandated the integration of Alabama’s school system. In the previous 18 years there had been at least 50 bombings there. It should come as no surprise that the town was nicknamed “Bombingham.”

Subsequent violence in the city led to the killing of two Black boys, one by police bullets, prompting the National Guard to be summoned in to restore order.

This came just thee months after the assassination of Medgar Evers, for whom the college is named. Evers was a civil rights activist and an NAACP Field Secretary.

As we mourn the losses of those who died on September 11, 2001, and honor those who were involved in heroic acts on that day, we should not lose sight of the fact that acts of terrorism in America did not begin on either of those September days.

The moral outrage over the vicious murder of four little girls who were sitting in Sunday school, led to outrage around the country. It helped provide a momentum of support behind the struggle for equal rights and end to segregation. Within two years there came passage of the Civil Rights act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Bill of 1965.

What then has been the legacy of September 11, 2001? What can we point to that has spawned some lasting good?

Many may express despair with reports of acts of harassment and violence against Middle Eastern and Muslim people here in the United States. Or the feelings and attitudes of apprehension and suspicion that many harbor since the September 11 attacks. Those unfortunate facts cannot be denied.

Then came the 10th anniversary commemoration. I was stuck by the images of the powerful and tasteful memorial at the World Trade Center site, as well as the progress made on the new towers being built. It occurred to me that we are all in a rebuilding process.

It is a rebuilding of the spirit of America and of freedom that cannot be destroyed by bullets or bombs. It is a freedom that the people in Birmingham and places throughout the south sacrificed so much for. They managed to build more than the buildings – they rebuilt their faith and dedication to freedom.

And that is what I see happening here in New York City.

When you look closely — when I walk the halls of Medgar Evers College and the streets of its Crown Heights community, I see something happening. I see a glass that is more than half full with students and faculty, and staff and folks on the block, learning, working, playing and living together. People who are trying to manage, people trying to succeed and excel.

The rebuilding is usually not a dramatic process, but it is evident in those most simple, routine, things.

After all isn’t that what freedom is — being able to go about your routine in peace? Shopping, working, playing, socializing, traveling – even going to Sunday school on a bright September morning?

And although there is still much rebuilding to do, when I look at Medgar Evers College’s diverse community I know that we are all sharing in the rebuilding Medgar’s dream and that of many others out of the some dark days of our past.

Dr. William Pollard is president of Medgar Evers College – http://www.mec.cuny.edu

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