October 26, 2012

In Defense of Hope & Change

Making the case for the re-election of Barack Obama--
so that we may not leapfrog backwards in time
            Imagine for a moment if you can, if in the immediate aftermath of September 11, 2001 we, as a country, closed our eyes, paused, took a long deep breath and with the lens of history thought about what had just occurred. We were attacked by a group of desert rats who waste no time in filling their hearts up with hatred for our values, our conquests, our loudness, our flexing. It was always our destiny as the country with the biggest muscles to get attacked in such a way. Let’s not kid ourselves.
            Now imagine if you can, if the Bush Administration had the foresight not to rush into enemy territory bombing whatever moved in infrared light. If they had not played upon public fears to flex their own muscles in an act of hot-headed revenge and instead made a more concise, calculated response, rather than the bumbled, disorganized mess we got, maybe we wouldn't be stewing in the financial calamities we stew in today. To think of the lives and the surplus money that could have been spared is to pound a fist angrily on the desk until it is nothing more than a bloody mound of flesh. The cloak of government in the Bush era was thick and black and draped over the public’s eyes to put into motion a misguided plan of attack. Troops were sent out and stationed aimlessly. Bumper stickers were pressed on mightily. We as a country were duped and we as a country suffered. Let’s not forget where we’ve been.
            Enter Barack Obama: the exact opposite of a boot-stomping, redneck, C student President. On the campaign trail he preached hope and change and caused rivers of tears from ecstatic supporters thrilled with the idea of being part of the electoral process, some for the first time in their lives. The landslide victory was always his for the taking because the contrast was just too strong to ignore.
The idea that his transcendent nature wouldn’t be dampened by the hard reality of politics, however, is just plain naive. If you thought he’d accomplish all he touted to get into office then you deserve to have the sinking feeling of shattered expectations follow you. No man running for president has ever been able to get done in four years what he promised he would. How could he? The world is a fluctuating jumble of variables. What matters is the intention.
From the very moment Obama took office, he advocated for a government of transparency. With his election the cloak of government came down and this country received what it so badly deserved: a truly open democracy. The relationship between you and your government is now, with aid from the Internet, more direct. Read about the Open Government Initiative here: www.whitehouse.gov/open. Everything this administration has done, plans to do and hopes to accomplish can be found online. It doesn’t matter if you agree or not with the policies, the point is that you, citizen, are being entrusted with the information to make your own conclusion. No filter. No Chris Matthews or Glenn Beck trying to sell it to you. You take what you learn, sculpt it and realize your own values. 
Overnight the global perception of America improved. We regained respect that had been backsliding because the election of Barack Obama meant we were willing to move on from where we’ve been and inhabit new terrain. Ushered in was a new era of focused thinking. The Obama Administration has been willing to analyze their failings and not run from their detractors. There have been no photo-ops beneath banners proclaiming the war over while the blood of troops dries in the dirt of Afghanistan. There have been no disinterested expressions reflecting off airplane windows as hurricane destruction appears, then disappears, below. This President genuinely cares, at least, as genuinely as any man in politics can care (and by the way, he did do a whole lot of what he said he would: end Iraq War, pass universal healthcare, trim the burden of student loans, refocus the terrorist effort, etc.). He’s built an administration that values honesty and reflection and wastes no time in assessing the events that come hurling forward, both domestically and abroad.
            And so it comes with great frustration that the race between Mitt Romney and President Obama is as close as it is. The onetime governor and lifelong business magnate worth millions—and with millions more stashed away in the Cayman Islands—is as conniving and robotic as they come. Romney hides a lot: his taxes, his religion, his unpopularity in the only state he’s been elected to office, his real agenda for the future of the country. His curtains have been up. His motives hide in the bushes. Virtually everything about the man is shrouded in secrecy and yet some people think his business experience alone gives him a leg up to fix the problems that’ve been gelatinizing for the past decade. The oil-can business man will march into office erasing the deficit by cutting programs here and regulations there and we’ll never know the specifics of these cuts until one day we realize those programs are gone.
To elect Mitt Romney as the 45th President of the United States is to have that cloak of government strung right back up again and go hurling back to the dark days of hunting for phantom weapons of mass destruction and limiting the rights of individuals. We as a society will be sent back to the shadows to allow our government to lurk in secret arm-in-arm transactions. With all policy aside, this alone should make your spine shiver.

October 22, 2012

Comic Wyatt Cenac Teases Somerville

SOMERVILLESCOUT.COM--Wyatt Cenac, the stand-up comedian, traveled from Brooklyn—“the Somerville of New York City,” he teased—for his show at Johnny D’s Uptown Restaurant & Music Club (17 Holland St.) last Friday night. His smile grew with the jab and the audience could only laugh bashfully at the inside joke.
If you’ve seen The Daily Show with John Stewart in the last three years or so, chances are good you’ve witnessed the dry, race-flavored segments of correspondent and writer Cenac. He’s been on the show since 2008 after being passed up by Saturday Night Live when they went with Fred Armisen’s Barack Obama impression rather than his.
Immediately Cenac came out and reminded the audience of his hatred for Massachusetts’ sports teams, most especially the Red Sox. Given his heritage, he couldn’t help but take a couple swipes at the faltering team. Dressed in plain neutral colors and with an afro reaching for the ceiling, Cenac had a calm presence. He looked out from half-closed, uncaring eyes and scanned the crowd effortlessly. His delivery was cordial, even while joking about the Klu Klux Klan and their early monikers.
Cenac is highly aware of the world and culture he lives in and dissects it intelligently. He expressed disappointment that Kim Kardashian, on the merits of a sex tape alone, was now forever locked in the Zeitgeist. What’s the point of Twitter, he argued, when he can get a group of people together, charge them ridiculous amounts of money and read Twitter posts to them aloud? One example: I want to open a racist bakery and name it Cake Cake Cake. Tunneling inward, he discussed disillusionment with the nightclubs of the world. They were pointless, he argued. You’re charged an entry fee even if you won’t be dancing and before long the place becomes atrociously uncomfortable when all the ladies seem to leave at once.
He is not a simple one-dimensional comic ready to hand out one-liners. He stews in the moment and leads his audience into a trap of absurdity. At one point he sounded more like a columnist in Time magazine than a comedian when he philosophized on the potential backfire of over-sharing on the Internet, something everybody does, but him. He predicted political attack ads in the very-near future would only consist of the secret nude online photos of candidates and nothing more. When Cenac brought up the election he found a sweet spot when the room screamed for President Obama and only a couple hands clapped for Mitt Romney. He held frustration and befuddlement that the election was so close and used the alarming contrasts between the two men to his comedic advantage.
Jermaine Fowler, also from Brooklyn, broke the crowd in early hitting them hard with race and slave jokes. The laughter quivered at first but roared by the end for the up-and-coming comic, who relied mostly on personal tales growing up on the streets. Both comics took pleasure in pushing the boundaries for what was a mostly (probably) white audience. Indeed, much of the humor came from the discomfort of the crowd squirming in their seats, but still, it was nice to be recognized.