24 September 2010


By Andy Weddington
Friday, 24 September 2010

                "Professors simply can't discuss a thing. Habit compels them to deliver a lecture." Hal Boyle

School's in session.

A few weeks ago Mr. Obama welcomed our nation's children back to the classroom. During his 2nd annual pep talk to our youth stressing the importance and value of an education he said, "Your future is in your hands. Your life is what you make of it. And nothing--absolutely nothing--is beyond your reach. So long as you're willing to dream big. So long as you're willing to work hard. So long as you're willing to stay focused on your education..." Well, okay, nothing wrong with a little encouragement. But, 'the oh, by the way' he didn't mention was for those who do really well in school and later in the workplace he has big plans to spread their wealth. A discussion for another day.

Monday, in a setting similar to a college lecture hall with a carefully selected and screened friendly "student body"--of voters, Mr. Obama planned to give another pep talk--about our economy. Or so that was his intent.

But it was the professor, Mr. Obama, yet again, on the receiving end of a "teachable moment."

Velma Hart--an educated, articulate woman; a veteran; a wife; a mother; a professional in the workforce; and a believer in and supporter of Mr. Obama--rose, looked him in the eye, and confidently and politely schooled him. Respectful but pointed Velma described her family as middle class. She expressed "deep disappointment" in his economic policies and record, and that she was "exhausted" defending him. She went on to say she and her husband had worked hard to move beyond the 'beans & franks' stage of life for themselves and their children but those times where knocking at the door. She told Mr. Obama she's not seeing or feeling, even a little bit, the change and hope he promised. She wanted to know if today was her new reality.

Velma caught Mr. Obama completely off guard. He smiled and chuckled--nervously--body language compromising. He answered and wrapped up with his standard sound bite, "We're moving in the right direction." His opinion. But he bothered not to clarify his definition of "right direction."

In an earlier Commentary I mentioned Mr. Obama's dictionary differed from that used by most who speak American and the Queen's English. Though his words are spelled and pronounced identically there is no common understanding. How clever, though shortsightedly so, to use words but with different definitions knowing most will assume, not think to question; until it's too late.

So I pause to offer a relevant and amusing true story about Americans and Brits not communicating when using the same word. I remember an incident in a hopping nightclub in Narvik, Norway, about 30 years ago. After completing weeks of rigorous cold weather training in the dark, snowy, bitter cold winter above the Arctic Circle I, and a few other eligible U. S. Marine lieutenants, enjoyed an evening of a cold beer or two, some music, and the warm company of pretty Scandinavian women. We befriended the disc jockey and his girlfriend--both from London. A couple of hours into the evening David, the DJ, came up to us and anxiously told us his girlfriend was "pissed"--"really pissed." He seemed concerned and not sure what to do. The context in which he spoke led us to assume he or someone had done something to anger her. So we asked him, "Where is she? What's wrong? What happened? How can we help?" He looked puzzled. After a few exchanges we figured out she was not angry but had way too much to drink and "pissed" meant "drunk." We laughed. Moments later we saw her--she was indeed "pissed."

Velma is the concerned voice of sober America. Fact is her reality bites. So does most everyone's--to some degree. She spoke a dialect of English the vast majority understands. She spoke not from a mug or bottle but from the heart, from the school of hard knocks. And she spoke for most everyone in that "classroom," and  most of America, too. Frankly, though her perspective different, she sounded a lot like the Tea Party folk.

Velma's emotion and sincerity told of sacrifice and hard work achieving something substantive in life that was now disappearing--at the hands of the man sitting before her whom she had believed in and voted for--right before her eyes. She sounded frustrated. She sounded as if she was just about at wit's end. She sounded a bit frightened. She sounded as if she'd been hoodwinked and was on the verge of losing hope; at least hope in Mr. Obama. Who knows what she and her family faces day to day--a mix of pride, privacy, and personal responsibility may have masked greater difficulty.

Velma's sketch of her family's situation did not sound like there's been any recent vacations jetting off to Spain or Martha's Vineyard. That too relates to core household economics but she was gracious enough not to swing--jab, cross, uppercut, or hook--at Mr. Obama on that one. Though she probably felt like coldcocking him. It'd have been a fair punch, but she showed too much class to risk being wrongly accused of a cheap shot. How would Mr. Obama have parried that one? Likely not well. Neither junket was particularly impressive presidential nor First Family leadership during these hard times. For sure the Hart family noticed.

That Velma Hart eloquently, but with a tinge of alarm, spoke her mind could not be more troubling--near and long-term--for Mr. Obama. The media jumped on it as a Joe the Plumber moment. I don't see the analogy. It was Mr. Obama--in a revealing gaff during an impromptu run in--who told Joe that he intended to spread the wealth. Joe, and the cameramen, just happened to be at the right place at the right time. To the contrary, it was Velma who made her case; convincingly. And did so in what was a carefully staged and controlled "promote the president" Town Hall. So much for the best of plans. Velma's no Joe the Plumber. She's far better, and will endure.

Velma, who happens to be black--making her the consummate messenger, delivered her short, no nonsense lesson in plain ol' American English. Having written an Executive Summary or two in my day, I came up with a two-word summation: She's pissed.

As she said, she's waiting. But not for Mr. Obama's raised hand sporting two fingers shout to the White House barkeep, "Yo, Mac, dos cervezas por favor" and cozy lawn chair time. No, sipping suds while pontificating will not solve this one. What Velma's waiting for is the better life promised. And she's not alone. Think tens of millions just like her, too, await the promised better life. 

A concerned Velma understands economics and believes her family's future is precarious--her words made that clear. A restless America understands economics and believes her future is precarious--unemployment, a disastrous housing market, and skittish consumer behavior proof enough.

Mid-term elections near--too near for some ... not near enough for others.

Regardless, we wait while the vainglorious professor lectures on and feigns interest in an unworthy student body.

But, we'll see. The unworthy are unhappy and rebelling. That's not good for professors or presidents. When all said and done, there just may be another surprising professorial and presidential "teachable moment."

Yes, we'll see.

Thank you, Velma.

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