25 Feb Five Honest Questions…Barack Obama’s Congressional Address
It’s not the Oscars or the Grammys or the Superbowl. It’s better! The only thing missing last night was a bowl of popcorn. My (fat) butt was right in place on the couch, ready to hear what my president, (isn’t that crazy how we say that? I always say MY president. Not THE president), had to say about the economy and his plans to get the country out of the recession.
But my first question had nothing to do with his speech…
1. Why the constant standing ovations? WHY?!
My favorite James Baldwin book is The Fire Next Time, a collection of essays. In one, he visits Elijah Muhammad, from the Nation of Islam, at his home in Chicago. Though Baldwin took issue with some of the Nation’s beliefes, he respected Elijah Muhammad as a leader and wanted to meet him. They had dinner. And the table was filled with other Nation members as they began to discuss current events. Baldwin writes.
Whenever Elijah spoke, a kind of chorus arose from the table, saying “Yes, that’s right.” This began to set my teeth on edge.
That line made me chuckle back in 1990, when I first read it. I could see Baldwin at the dinner table, open to hearing Muhammad’s beliefs and have an intelligent discourse. And being uber-annoyed at his yes-men chiming in at every turn.
This is how I felt last night.
Every time Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden rose to applaud, my teeth were set on edge.
Needless to say, by the end of Obama’s speech, I think I scraped all the enamel of my molars. And I have a headache from rolling my eyes so hard.
I know this isn’t new. It’s part of government culture. Like the wigs on judges in England.
But it doesn’t make me any less annoyed. I stopped counting the ovations after number twelve. Can someone please explain to me why the Democrats have to do this? I love Obama. I could listen to him convince me why I should try hog maws and chitlins for the first time. And he could probably convince me to douse ’em with some hot sauce and dig in. I get it. He’s an awesome speaker. And very convincing. But my lord in heaven, sit down people!
2. Does anyone out there have Obama-love?
I love TH. He’s my best friend. We’re identical twins in many ways. Blah blah blah. But he does not look at me the way Obama looks at Michelle. Did you see how he shouted her out last night? And she was sitting there, draped in her signature purple, mouthing the words I love you and blowing him a kiss and looking like she was gon’ put it ON her man after that address.
If TH ever won an award or had to give a big speech, I think he’d say, “oh, and um, I’d like to thank my, um, family. I think my wife is here…somewhere. Oh, there she is. Word. Thanks Aliya. Good looking out.”
Or he might pull a Sean Penn at The Oscars and not thank me at all.
I am not doubting TH’s love for me. But dang. Did you see that look Obama gave old-girl? Dang.
3. And how much did you love Ty’Sheoma Bethea?
She sat there, stoic and unsmiling, while Obama recounted the letter she wrote to him about her crumbling school in Dillon, South Carolina. I loved how composed and calm she was. Michelle leaned over and smiled at her. And homegirl still didn’t move. Love it! She wasn’t mugging for the camera or looking like, yeah, woe is me. I go to a crumbling school. Nope. Homegirl sat up straight and kept her eyes fixed. That girl is going places. She didn’t let go and smile until Obama was done and she got (ugh!) a standing ovation and a hug from The First Lady.
But I have to say, the whole letter-to-the-president thing was totally staged. The story sounds sweet: she walked to the public library with her mother because the family doesn’t have a computer. She wrote the letter by herself. Asked a teacher for the stamp to send it. It landed on Obama’s desk and the rest is history… But I’m not buying it. Obama campaigned at her school last year. So there was a connection. Now don’t get all up in arms. It doesn’t take away anything from Ms. Bethea. I just had one eyebrow raised as Obama related the tale…
4. If you got a sixty million dollar bonus when you sold your company, would you give it away to your employees?
Obama recognized Leonard Abess during his speech. Abess is a banker from Miami who cashed out his company and got a sixty million dollar bonus. In return, he gave it all away to 399 of his employees. And even tracked down 72 former employees to give them their share! The best part? He never talked about it. Didn’t have a ceremony with a big oversized check. He just did it. Months later, in an interview with the Miami Herald, he said…
”Those people who joined me and stayed with me at the bank with no promise of equity — I always thought some day I’m going to surprise them,” he said. “I sure as heck don’t need [the money].”
From there, the truth of his generosity was unveiled and a reporter uncovered all the details. Abess’ story reminded me of a Jay-Z interview I read years ago. He was talking about the levels of generosity. And how the highest form of giving was to give without anyone knowing about it. This has always intrigued me. In Abess’ case, his employees knew where the money was coming from, even if he chose to keep the gifts private from the outside world. But imagine donating millions to someone who doesn’t even know it’s coming from you. Would you be able to do that? I’d like to think I could. But another part of me wants praise for being so wonderful. If I were Abess, I think I would have been rolling up to each person’s house with an oversized check and a camera crew, Ed McMahon style.
5. Does Obama’s plan actually make sense?
The one line that stood out to me last night was the no-new-taxes for those who make more than 250,000 per year. Let me make it abundantly clear. We ain’t pulling in them kind of bucks in the aliyasking household. But it’s definitely in the 5 year-plan to get there. I’ve mapped it out. And I can see it. (Unless we’re all selling apples in the street of course…)
If I do get into that tax bracket, will I morph into a Republican? Will I suddenly resent public works programs and tax breaks for people who can’t pay their mortagage?
I haven’t received a tax refund in years. Every April, I have to write a very large check to the federal government. Lump forms in the throat. But then I realize that I don’t get a refund because I make a decent living. (And because my income comes tax-free and I never pay it quarterly like I should. But I digress.)
Here are some points from Obama’s speech:
And tonight, I am grateful that this Congress delivered, and pleased to say that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is now law.
Over the next two years, this plan will save or create 3.5m jobs. More than 90% of these jobs will be in the private sector – jobs rebuilding our roads and bridges; constructing wind turbines and solar panels; laying broadband and expanding mass transit.
Who can argue with that? Sounds great, right? Whoo-hoo Obama, as my two year old would say.
But if we’re in a recession…And our money is not backed by a gold standard…where is this money coming from? Are we just printing it up? Does it have any real value? Are we playing monopoly at this point? Can’t it all just…collapse?
I’m not an economist. I know next to nothing about how this all works. But I’m confused. And I’m scared. Can someone please explain to me how this will all work in the long run?
Dear readers…Did the standing ovations work your nerves too? Do have an Obama-love in your house? (Those married or dating for less than one year need not respond.) Do you know what the name Ty’Sheoma means? And does Obama’s plan make you feel more confident about our future? Or are you still stuffing dollars under your mattress?
I’d love to hear from you…