My Morning With Dad

Woke up this morning, and Obama was on my mind.

Largely, I think, because I read this AP article (“Poll: Racial Views Steer Some White Dems Away From Obama“), right before going to bed last night. Here’s the nut:

WASHINGTON (AP) — Deep-seated racial misgivings could cost Barack Obama the White House if the election is close, according to an AP-Yahoo News poll that found one-third of white Democrats harbor negative views toward blacks — many calling them “lazy,” “violent,” responsible for their own troubles.

The poll, conducted with Stanford University, suggests that the percentage of voters who may turn away from Obama because of his race could easily be larger than the final difference between the candidates in 2004 — about two and one-half percentage points.

Certainly, Republican John McCain has his own obstacles: He’s an ally of an unpopular president and would be the nation’s oldest first-term president. But Obama faces this: 40 percent of all white Americans hold at least a partly negative view toward blacks, and that includes many Democrats and independents.

The story gets more depressing from there, and includes this lovely sentiment from my home state:

“We still don’t like black people,” said John Clouse, 57, reflecting the sentiments of his pals gathered at a coffee shop in Somerset, Ohio.

I woke up this morning pissed off at John Clouse and his pals.

I was also upset about Nicholas Kristof’s column in the Times (“The Push to ‘Otherize’ Obama“), which noted that 13 percent of registered voters now think Obama is a Muslim, up from 10 percent in March.

More ominously, a rising share — now 16 percent — say they aren’t sure about his religion because they’ve heard “different things” about it.

When I’ve traveled around the country, particularly to my childhood home in rural Oregon, I’ve been struck by the number of people who ask something like: That Obama — is he really a Christian? Isn’t he a Muslim or something? Didn’t he take his oath of office on the Koran?

In conservative Christian circles and on Christian radio stations, there are even widespread theories that Mr. Obama just may be the Antichrist. Seriously.

This article, too, only got worse. (Neurotic Democrats shouldn’t read this stuff before going to bed):

Mr. McCain himself is not popular with evangelicals. But they will vote for him if they think the other guy may be on Satan’s side.

In fact, of course, Mr. Obama took his oath on the Bible, not — as the rumors have it — on the Koran. He is far more active in church than John McCain is.

And then I came down and found my Dad at the kitchen table, smoking a cigarette, working on the Times crossword puzzle. (I stayed with my parents at my childhood home in Central Jersey last night; I’m heading down to the National Jewish Democratic Council policy conference in DC in a few hours.)

Dad, I said. I’m feeling pretty bummed about this survey I read last night. Apparently, 40 percent of Americans likely won’t vote for Obama because he’s black.  It could cost us this election.

“Those people weren’t going to vote for Obama anyway,” he said.

Okay, but apparently more and more people think Obama’s a Muslim. Obama’s more influenced by his Christianity — and seems more connected to it — than McCain!

“Who’s telling you that Americans are informed?” he asked. “We voted for Bush for two terms.”

Then he paused, taking a drag of his cigarette. “But — we survived,” he said. “We’re still here.”

Isn’t it different this time? With everything we have at stake, from economic meltdown to the results of cowboy diplomacy overseas to global warming — don’t we have so much more at stake this time around?

“Of course it’s different,” he said. The question is: “Are we mature enough to vote for a half-black, half-white man for president?”

“We’re making progress,” Dad said. “The fact that he’s on the ticket means progress.”

“We had a depression, once, Josh — things were much worse than what we’re doing now. Hopefully, we won’t get there this time.” He paused before adding: “The country will surivive.”

“The other thing,” he added, “is that Americans are not really happy about electing people of intellect. Stevenson lost twice.” (To another war hero — Eisenhower.) “He was probably our brightest candidate. We have also elected an elitist, though. JFK was definitely an elitist.”

“I mean, you never know. My all-time favorite choice for president was Johnson. I figured he knew how to wring Congress’s neck, that he could get great legislation. Turns out, it’s a two-edged sword. He got great social legislation from Southern Democrats” (including, of course, the Civil Rights Bill of 1964) “But he also pushed the War in Vietnam. It was an unexpected twist.”

“Don’t forget, Obama’s got good people working for him. He’s a lot better candidate than Kerry, or even Gore for that matter. His speaking ability, his youthfulness.”

A key, he said, is getting that energized youth vote out to the polls.

“It’s your country, Josh,” he said. “Get them out to vote.”

My Dad is 78. He was born in August 1930, in the middle of the Great Depression, just three years before Hitler came to power. He reads a ton of history — he particularly enjoys books about the Founders. He will periodically drop something in casual conversation about Washington or Jefferson, and the problems they faced in their day.

He has wisdom that make the latest blips in the polls seem pretty insignificant. Talking to him about politics is soothing. The inconceivable idea that’s been haunting me of late — that Obama could lose, because he’s black — is somehow, at least, endurable. We’d survive.

My Dad’s a retired cardiologist who helped thousands of patients over the years, from a private practice in New Brunswick. He used to come home from work every day, and I’d say, “What’d you do at work today, Dad?” and he’d say: “Stamped out disease, saved a few lives.” It was a humble response, coming from him. He was being funny. You never really stopped to think about what the words meant.  But he was a beloved physician, known by many in town simply as “doc.” I imagine he always managed to do for his patients what he did for me this morning.

“Josh, just get out there and do your thing,” Dad said. “That’s all you can do.”

I know, Dad. Thanks — thanks — for reminding me.

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6 Responses to “My Morning With Dad”

  1. Barbara says:

    Great post. I try to pretend I don’t know any of the cast of characters in your posts when I read them, but of course, I DO know many of them. He’s always been wise and generally terse. I see today was no exception! Jon still quotes things your dad told him 35 or more years ago! It’s great to hear him weigh in. I didn’t get a chance to ask him myself during all the commotion of the weekend.

  2. Neurotic Dem says:

    Thanks, Barb.
    He really did help. It’s a post I know I’ll go back to and re-read, in the tough days ahead.
    PS: Jon — feel free to post some of those things Dad told you 35 years ago, if appropriate! Would love to hear.

  3. Becky says:

    Kristof’s column was distressing not only because of the amount of people willing to count Obama out because of his religious views, but because Kristof says “In fact, of course, Mr. Obama took his oath on the Bible, not — as the rumors have it — on the Koran. He is far more active in church than John McCain is.” Those statements are supposed to defend Obama, as if to say that because he swore on the bible and goes to church, Obama is, in fact, an OK guy after all. But, speaking personally, it is not OK that the answer to “is he Christian enough” is “yes.” I believe the only answer can be, “It doesn’t matter what he swore on or how many times he went to Church or if he believes in any dieties at all … what matters is that he is a good person.”

    The wisdom you heard this morning does calm the soul. This afternoon, I had another reassuring experience. I went to a “Women of Valor” luncheon hosted by the ADL and honoring Linda Whitlock, an amazingly accomplished black woman and CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston. She closed her address to a room of over 200 women by quoting Jewish scholar (and your fave!) Abraham Joshua Heschel: “Remember that there is a meaning beyond absurdity. Be sure that every little deed counts, that every word has power. Never forget that you can still do your share to redeem the world in spite of all absurdities and frustrations and disappointments.”

  4. Neurotic Dem says:

    I don’t think Kristof was saying Obama’s an okay guy because he goes to church. He was merely pointing it out, as a fact of his biography. It’s no more distressing to me that Obama is deeply informed by his spirituality than that Heschel was deeply informed by his.
    Love that Heschel quote, by the way. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Susan says:

    I remember words of wisdom from that same Dad just over four years ago. I had just listened to Kerry’s concession speech. I was depressed. Really depressed. I called that same Dad, lamenting the state of the country, incredulous that Bush could be elected again. Who are these people voting for Bush? What on earth are they thinking? Dad’s response, “The pendulum swings left, the pendulum swings right. Don’t worry. It’ll be back.”

    Leaving me to realize yet again that with age comes wisdom.

  6. Neurotic Dem says:

    Sue —
    Love it. Thanks for sharing.

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