On Monday night at the Democratic National Convention, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy rocked, speaking to an adoring crowd. His arrival in Denver could not be kept under wraps, and he had said nothing could keep him away. He was introduced by Caroline Kennedy, who delivered an inclusive, informative, and interesting speech. Yes, Uncle Teddy is not just the lion of the senate but the heart of the Kennedy clan. He has touched everyone’s lives, from the small to the great.
Teachers will forever be in his debt for “NCLB,” and the near-elimination of special education and other subgroups that were floundering, failing, and left behind in the classrooms. Someday, even “tracking” and racial segregation will be a thing of the past in public schools. Interestingly, Caroline did not outline, nor mention, Sen. Kennedy’s collaboration with George Bush on their seminal legislation that put No Child Left Behind into law — too controversial? Or was mum the word on the GOP and George Bush Monday night? For this and for many other reasons Monday night was criticized for being a “waste of the night.” How can that be?
All About the South Side of Chicago
We are all proud Chicagoans. From Jesse Jackson, Jr. who served as an Obama national co-chair, to the diva Jennifer Hudson to my sister and her family, who call Hyde Park home. She called me after the Kennedy tribute. Then I called her after Michelle Obama spoke.
I asked her, “Did you ever think that regular folks from the south side of Chicago would be on the DNC podium speaking about their upbringing?” My family also grew up on the south side of Chicago, probably not far from the Robinson family. They might have been in a grittier neighborhood, but the struggle was the same. Two working parents, non-college educated. We lived in Chatham, filled with hard-working, salt-of-the-earth types wearing both blue collar and blue suits.
As kids, we never dreamed of attending Harvard. We never discussed it at home, and, on Monday night, neither did Michelle Obama. An Ebony article reports that Craig Robinson first went to Harvard and that Michelle followed him there. This is not what ordinary folks do, let me tell you. It is also not something that Harvard people do upon first meeting them. There is an old joke that goes, first they tell you their name, then that they went to Harvard.
We know the Jarrett name so, after a convention interview with Valerie Jarrett who was called “the other side of Obama’s brain” I had questions. So I asked my sister, where it’s a case of “I know you know” anybody who grew up in Chatham or went to Catholic school in Chicago. I thought that Valerie and Bobby Jarrett were the children of the late Vernon Jarrett. I was wrong. My sister said Valerie was married to Bobby, and that he was friends with my brother, and part of his social club in high school. My sister said that in fact, Valerie had married and divorced Bobby, but must have retained the name. He died about five years ago, age 41, after they had divorced. Valerie is only one of the well-disciplined, tough Chicago natives who have helped Obama find his voice.
Playing the “Who’s the Most Liberal" Game
If you listen to conservative radio and TV as I do, you understand how the opposition is framing its argument. You would also be familiar with the games played: who’s liberal and who’s not. Michelle was roundly criticized for reciting the recipe for left-wing liberalism, socialism and pseudo-communism. One conservative observer pointed out Michelle’s liberal upbringing when she spoke of her mom’s concern: “Why aren’t the most educated among us returning to give back, work in the community they left?” Michelle said her mom’s words lighted the path she would later follow. In fact, this is often cited as pathology in the black community — lack of role models within inner cities.
Juxtaposing the right and left for a moment, we find that while both espouse a deep work ethic, the conservative is likely to: start a company, work in corporate America, not pay taxes and live in the community they grew up in or fled to when minorities moved into the old one. They do not bear the burden of their brother. No, that’s the job of the left or the liberal among us. So when Rush Limbaugh talks about teachers and American education (read indoctrination) he is talking about the (mostly white women) who are liberals, Democrats.
“Who Are We Exactly?”
Enter Michelle. It was her job to answer that question in full measure to the satisfaction of the doubting/voting public. Did she accomplish it? I think the speech was designed to dispel rather than to appeal. She said for instance that “Barack had a funny name.” I found that quip disingenuous. Why did she not recognize it as African? Did she not grow up in Chicago where the shift to African names took root? In the 1970s, African names for black children were in vogue. By the 1980s, this meme was cultural. Only in recent decades, in imitation of this practice, did single black mothers begin to invent names and create spelling that launched the familiar “black names.” The Obama family has to define itself and not be shy about it. That definition begins with your name.
So it begs the question: Was Michelle Obama ready for prime time America? Or were we watching the genesis of a new spin master?
What is the job of a spin master? Ask Hill or Bill. Hillary did not say, in her speech, that Obama was “ready to lead on day one.” But who expected a well-prepared, first black president? I didn’t. I mean, they just let us into the Senate! The Democratic party, according to Jesse Jr., still has a long way to go in terms of numbers. He gave it away in an interview, when he said that “we are a small party.” Meaning that it’s a numbers game, and right now the GOP is winning. Thus the Dems can ill afford the loss of Hillary’s 18 million votes.
Clearly, Michelle Obama was not enthusiastic during the Clinton speeches. I watched her watch them — their rousing speeches, which were not perfect, but which were damn good, elicited only polite applause and an occasional smile from her. We know that Michelle is capable of the big smile, the big personality. We saw her feelings and now can imagine her role in the VP choice. Here’s the spin: was it Michelle who rotated Barack away from Hillary as VP choice? What’s more, did he take her advice? If this argument proves true, and the Democrats do not win in November, a candidate’s wife and the wife of a president could have cost the ticket the White House.