Over the last couple of weeks I’ve overheard bits and pieces of water cooler and lunchtime conversations – casual gatherings where people who work together often share things that are more personal than they would otherwise in the office.
I was leaving work fairly late last night when I ran into two co-workers standing around the receptionist’s desk (which is usually empty because we don’t have a receptionist), talking about Obama.
I couldn’t quite make out what was being said, but the man was very emphatic, gesticulating as he spoke, his head shaking a little as he brought home his point. The woman smiled when I passed them heading for the door, and the man turned as I put my hand on the door handle.
“What do you think about this…this…this liberal flip flopper Obama?” he asked me. He continued before I could answer. “He would turn us into a socialist state. Am I right?”
“Politics in the office isn’t a good idea,” I said slowly, although I was very curious about their conversation, and how he had gotten to the idea of a “socialist state”. Although I had my hand on the door, I wasn’t moving.
The woman grabbed her handbag. “I need to get home to my son,” she said. I stepped back so she could get out.
“Alright,” I said, “there’s nobody else here. So where did you get this idea that we were going to become a socialist country if we elected Obama?”
“Actually, either Obama or Clinton will take us there. Hell, McCain might too if we take our eyes off of him long enough.” His voice was rising as he spoke, but the way he looked at me was a bit wary, as if he was gauging my reaction to the things he was saying.
“What are you basing that on?”
“Look at their plans. Look at their platforms. All this stuff they want to provide – whose going to pay for it? They don’t have the money in the budget now, so they must be planning to raise taxes. Do you follow me?”
I frowned. “A lot of what they plan to do will never get off the ground. You know that. Kind of like one tugboat trying to move an ocean liner. It doesn’t move it very much. That’s about all the president can do – move us a little bit left or a little bit right.”
“Well, when you’ve got a guy who has sought out the most radical, the most extreme socialists and communists and anarchists all his life, you’ve got to wonder what’s going on in this guys head, don’t you?”
“I’ll admit, I haven’t read more than a few pages of either of his books, but I am pretty familiar with the timeline of his life. So when did all this happen?”
“When he chose to go to the most corrupt, most liberal educational institution in the United States.”
“What school was that? Columbia?” Now I was puzzled.
“Harvard? You mean Harvard University? Do you know what kind of people go to Harvard? The kind of people who want to get somewhere in a hurry. The kind of people who strive for big things. The kind of people who want to ‘join the club’.”
I could have continued, breaking it down further to point out that a graduate student in their late twenties who is a member of the law review has waay less free time than an undergraduate.
But I was simply amazed that in fifteen minutes, this man, who looked white but had a Cuban mother, a man who was the son of a college professor at a university here in the Deep South, had painted a picture for me of a candidate I did not recognize. It was as if he had overlooked all the good stuff, the things we could verify and substantiate, to focus on the conjecture, the rumors, the innuendo, basing his entire view of Barack Obama on these fevered musings of the discontented.
We had been dancing around it for awhile now, so I decided to out it out there, to see how far I could get those eyebrows to jump.
“You know what I think the real problem is?” I think there is lot of America that really didn’t pay much attention to this primary – yeah, there’s a black guy running for president, good for them – until now, when the reality is, this guy is likely to win the nomination and be on the ballot in November. Pushing that button is going to be hard.”
His eyebrows didn’t jump, they flattened out. His chin tilted down. “It’s gonna get ugly. That’s all I can say. It’s gonna get real ugly. You’re going to see people saying things they haven’t said in a long time to each other. At each other.”
“Something like the sixties, I would imagine.”
The wariness continued as we went back and forth, trading euphemisms and vague generalities, until he charged in with a declaration.
“Political correctness,” he said as his eyebrows inched skyward again, “is ruining the way we can communicate with each other.”
We stared at each other for a minute, both of us looking as if we were imagining the coarser ways, the violent ways, the misogynistic ways blacks and whites have communicated with each other in this country over the years. A few more exchanges and I was out the door, headed home to an internet full of anonymous people who were very, very happy to show the world how politically incorrect they could be.
But can this trumpeting of the dark and vile thoughts within your heart, a trumpeting that I too am guilty of participating in, can this be considered communication? Or are we staking out our territories for the battle ahead?
49 48 47 delegates to go, I should feel good. I should be exuberant.
But the struggle, it seems, has only begun.