If I had a smile like Barack Obama’s, when I gave speeches I would smile all of the time.
Even with a speech like the one he gave today, for Flag Day, where he gave a professorial and serious dismantling of Republican economic policy, I would smile often, to remind people that they are watching with many other people who do get it, who will not be fooled.
The President was not smiling much in the speech today. He was serious as a heart attack, even-handed as a judge, lecturing to the American people about how if they wanted to repeat the errors of economic policies that had failed — not in the distant past but less than five years ago — they could vote for Mitt Romney, because he’d deliver.
But he didn’t smile at the absurdity of it. I caught him smiling about halfway through the speech, to which I was originally listening while making myself coffee in another room, and didn’t react quickly enough to grab the screenshot. I waited and I waited. It was more than five minutes, I think — it seemed more like ten — before I caught another fleeting smile, which I barely managed to capture.
If I had a smile like that, contemplating the absurdity that a Mitt Romney Presidency would bring, I’d have been using it all over the place today.
Most of the President’s speech was not new, so far as I could tell. His visage was mostly stern as he lectured people on the folly of just letting the rich do whatever the hell they want to do and let the rest of us sink into the mire. They barely pretend that giving the rich more money will even do any good. “Job creators” seems less like a promise now and more like a threat: “do what we want you to do — or we will park our money with Mitt Romney’s in the Caymans.”
If I were Barack Obama, I would mention the Caymans like that, and I would smile, because I would know how people would react to someone with this “me first” approach to live asking for people’s votes.
Those of you reading this who consider yourself middle-class, upper middle-class, lower upper-class: do you have children about to enter college? How much do you think that you can pay in tuition? The increase in community college tuition from $0 a unit to now it will be something like $44, is it?, that’s not beyond your ability to pay. And with savings and student loans, maybe you can afford $30,000 a year in college tuition, right? So why should you worry? You’re safe.
No, you’re not safe. Can you afford $100,000 a year? Can you afford $250,000 a year? What force of nature or of law or politics do you think stops tuition from rising to where you have to make the decision that others have made, about whether you really can afford to send your children to college?
If I were Barack Obama, I would point out the need to keep college affordable — and I would smile.
You are playing poker and you don’t realize it. The wealthy parents of stupid and diffident spoiled children — and yes, there are many of those — want their kids to go to a good college too. (George W. Bush went to Yale, for God’s sake — although in the years just before women were allowed in — and it wasn’t due to his academic accomplishments or potential.) Is your intelligent, ambitious, hard-working child standing in the way of their precious’s advancement into a good school? They have a solution to that: keep on raising tuition until you and those like you give up. Your kid will go to a lesser school. A trade school. No school at all.
It’s called a “class system” and we were supposed to be past that by now. We were supposed to be the land of social mobility. Now we have less social mobility than in Europe, where many of the countries still have kings and queens. And it’s due to the philosophy of people like Mitt Romney, who thought as a youth (rightly, it apparently turns out) that his family’s wealth bought him the ability to impersonate police officers and pull people over, to assault a kid who looked different, have his friends hold him down, and then hack off the kid’s hair, and more. “The rich are different.”
If I were Barack Obama, I would tell those stories, and then I would smile beautifully while shaking my head at the people who think that that should be the character of a President.
Young Mitt grew up to be Older Mitt, who thought as an adult that sucking the wealth out of companies, firing people wholesale, and then reneging on the debts owed to small business creditors by tricky use of the bankruptcy laws and shoveling the company’s pension obligations onto the federal government — all or most of it legal because of laws written by lobbyists working for people like Mitt Romney and laws unenforced because of politicians bought by people like Mitt Romney — was just fine, thanks! A society that prides itself on ethics and fair opportunity is supposed to ride someone like that out of town on a rail, not vote for them!
I might only hint at that, if I were Barack Obama and had a smile like his, but then I would be sure to smile.
My wife is worried because she came here less than a decade ago from the Philippines and she knows what a plutocracy looks like. She knows how a populace can be fooled by rich men promising nothing or nothing but lies. She had always assumed that this didn’t happen in the United States. We were so smart. (She knew this in part because American tourists would come to the Philippines and explain how smart they were.)
But now people she knows from work and elsewhere blame Obama for not being able to run fast enough — despite the fact that Republicans have been tying his legs together. They worship the likes of a business tycoon like Romney — even a fundamentally crooked one — just as many of them previously did with Lee Iacocca and Larry Ellison and Ross Perot and Donald Trump. They want these people to save them. They don’t know how it will happen, they just have blind faith that it can be done. They repel questions and arguments like raindrops off of a waxed car.
“We live in Orange County,” I tell her. “The rest of the country is not like this.” She can tell that I’m not entirely convinced of this myself, and she remains worried. I start singing to myself, without even realizing it, the bridge from “If I Were A Rich Man” from Fiddler on the Roof, in which the protagonist Tevye sings:
The most important men in town would come to call on me
They will ask me to advise them like Solomon the Wise
If you please, Reb Tevye … Pardon me, Reb Tevye
Posing problems that would cross a rabbi’s eyes
And it would not make one bit of difference if I answered right or wrong
When you’re rich they think you really know
If I were Barack Obama, I would summarize that in a snappier way, something like
Being rich doesn’t mean you’re smart.
Being rich doesn’t mean that you understand or have compassion for people who aren’t.
Being rich just means that you have a whole lot of money.
And if you’re rich, the measure of your character is how you use your blessings treat those who aren’t.
And then I would smile. People like it when an honest and caring man smiles. And people are smart enough to connect these particular dots.