Thursday, June 10, 2010

A Different Light

I have to confess that I have a yen for old-school pop music with memorable melodies and a fairly generous on musical production, a fairly common occurrence on the pop charts from the mid-Sixties to the early Nineties. One particularly bombastic example of the merger between the two was the Phil Spector-produced Christmas anthem “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” performed by Darlene Love from the “A Christmas Gift for You” album. David Letterman apparently loves the song, and has had the sixtyish Love perform it live a couple times on his show in the past. I have only heard the song in mono, preferred by Spector for some reason, perhaps because of the limited number of recording tracks available at the time, mono made his “Wall of Sound” production sound more like a “wall.” However, I always yearned to know what “Christmas” sounded like in stereo; and recently I was able to download the stereo version of the “Gift” album, probably transferred to mp3 from an old cassette tape or vinyl record. The stereo version of “Christmas,” without all the instruments and voices trained toward the center that gave the song a “bigger” sound, seemed rather slim with the instrumental separation, or like a "wall" with a few holes in it. The background vocals seemed like they were coming in from the next room, and Love’s “please, please, please” plea at the end seemingly with less urgency. Still a classic production, still the same song, still the same singing and instrumentation—but just not the same feel. It is as if you are seeing something from a different angle, and it’s not what you saw before.

Soon after I discovered this epiphany, I encountered the news story that Helen Thomas, the so-called “dean” of the White House press corps who often conducts herself as if she is an empress pontificating over presidents. Here again was an example of how a different light can be cast when viewed from a different angle. Thomas’ defenders like to point out her “pioneering” role in the struggle for gender equality, although she has benefited from deferential treatment for decades. But after her videotaped anti-Semitic comments—that the Jews should “get the hell out of Palestine” and return to Europe where anti-Semitic activity has been on a steady rise—were made public, it is possible, perhaps more so for people who haven’t thought about it much, to alter one’s perception. I suppose that Thomas’ frequently short-tempered, uncouth questions and accusatory rants are in part due to her advanced age, or the belief that vast experience has given her license to dispense often crude, insulting opinions rather than ask actual questions at press conferences, or perhaps an unhappy belief that she isn’t being taken “seriously” anymore. But these are just details; Thomas, a Lebanese-American, has for years belittled or attacked Israel and its “right” to exist, as well as U.S. involvement in the Middle East in general. Not that these are not fair questions to ask, but after so many years of expressing such opinions, it is a wonder that only when her anti-Semitism was most crudely “articulated”—God knows what she is really thinking—that “suddenly” some of her colleagues are wondering if they are seeing the same person they believed they knew. Some, of course have chosen to hear one thing, and interpret it as something else; the Pro-Palestinian Huffington Post even has gone to such absurd lengths as to suggest that it is not Thomas who is anti-Semitic, but those who defend Israel, because being a Jewish state implies that it is a racist state, and not one that exists because Jews almost everywhere have been barely tolerated when not persecuted.

Not surprisingly, President Obama has also been seen in widely—and wildly—varying lights depending upon vantage point. To younger voters, he did seem genuinely “fresh,” and spoke to them in a language they could understand. He spoke of the “future,” a concept that younger voters could identify with. I suppose people did expect “change” to happen when Obama was elected, but there were different definitions of what that could mean. Some thought that “change” simply meant the historic election of a black man. Some thought (like me) that the country couldn’t afford to continue with another Republican in the White House, and that at the very least we needed a change in the environment in which policy was conducted; Obama’s claim to wish to bring people together also resonated with me, given the way the Bush administration allowed an atmosphere of racial paranoia (especially against Latinos) to exist in order to keep people’s minds off the crimes it was committing.

Diehard progressives, meanwhile, have chosen to believe that Obama, because he is black (or half black), would be more amenable to “radical” change; the problem is that Obama seems to be sincere about wanting to seen as please “all” the people, including people who hate him (because he’s black). For those people, Obama’s election itself was too “radical” for them to handle mentally; it meant “change” of much more fearsome nature. Obama the black man is going to take “everything” that belongs to them alone away from them, and give them to those “other” people. Obama is somehow going to turn the country into a Third World backwater, like Zimbabwe. This is the white man’s country, after all. Why Obama has to try to get these people on his side is beyond my comprehension, but it should be clear by now that Obama believes that being a “good” president means having the approval of all people—and in doing so has only alienated many people who hoped for “real” change while gaining none of the support of those who will never like him no matter what he does. There should be nothing “radical” about doing the “right” thing, even if some people choose not to know what is good for them.

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