Even though Obama won by a substantial margin there still seems to be a great deal of division among the conservative “white folks.” At one local restaurant that caters to the predominantly white working class, I couldn’t help but notice the sour looks of disappointment and disbelief because a black man would be their president. Personally, I think a green man would be a better president than George W. Bush.
At another casino snack bar the attitude was about the same. For the first time in ages I heard the names of Abraham Lincoln, Malcolm X , Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and the Ku Klux Klan in one conversation.
I met one of my retired political friends at one of those upscale coffee shops on the pseudointellectual circuit. It was filled with college kids who seemed to be just learning conversational skills in public places. They had laptop computers, foul mouths and each one of them knew more about everything than anyone else in the place. But they didn’t know much about straw men.
The kids at the next table overheard my friend say “Obama might be just another straw man.” One of the kids interrupted us and told my friend “You’ve been watching ‘The Wizard of Oz’ too many times.”
He proceeded to castigate both of us for thinking Obama didn’t have a brain. So much for higher education. He was probably a football player.
Always ready for an argument, I gave him a quick lesson in history, fallacy, fact and political logic.
One meaning of “straw man” is martyrdom. During our Civil War, men were chosen for the “mission of no return” behind enemy lines by randomly pulling the short straw hidden in a handful of long ones. The involuntary martyr was called the straw man.
Historically, the ancients used the straw man technique for military training. They dressed scarecrows to resemble the enemy, attacked them with their primitive spears then cut off their heads.
Politically, candidates are trained in the rhetorical methods of persuasion using the straw man technique of debate.
As an example: In a debate between two politicians, Politician A presents his position on health care. Politician B responds with a distorted version of A’s premise. Then, Politician B goes on to attack the fallacy of his own distorted version, never actually responding to the original idea of Politician A's plan for health care, thus leaving the impression that the original premise presented by Politician A was false. Lawyers use the same technique to win over jurors in court.
But is my friend right? Could Obama be a straw man?
Obama’s acceptance speech was laced with gratitude, political compromise, grace and his hope for our future. His first “Sermon on the Mount” in Chicago gave us a good indication of his preaching style, personal goals and captivating persuasiveness. It also set the tone for his White House Rose Garden pulpit during his first and probably second term as president.
When I first overheard the five names of assassinated President Lincoln, segregationist Malcolm X, the integrationist Martin Luther King Jr. and the two Kennedy brothers, I realized they all had something in common with Obama: They were all preachers, straw men and leaders of movements for change.
Lincoln freed the slaves from the South where they had food on the table, clothes on their back and a roof over their head. After the war, they were guided by the government into bondage in the north, providing cheap labor for the industrialist supporters of the war, working for almost nothing.
Malcolm X believed blacks should have their own businesses, finance their own banks, live in their own middle-class neighborhoods, attend their own schools and compete with the white population on an equal foundation. He preached for division between the races. He wanted black power to be separate but equal.
Martin Luther King Jr., on the other hand, wanted complete integration, class without distinction, a rainbow coalition of humanity with one goal: unity.
President John F. Kennedy and his Attorney General brother, Robert, brought the Kennedy family’s ideals of Liberalism and Socialism to the halls of the White House. Sen. Ted Kennedy is still the leader of the socialist movement in this country. He was one of the first to support Obama and betrayed the Clintons. It was Sen. Ted Kennedy who had Sen. Kerry use Obama as the keynote speaker at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.
Cynically, we could argue that all five of these leaders of reform were martyrs, straw men who were responsible for starting political and social movements.
President-elect Obama is now the leader of new social reform. Instead of demonstrating in the streets, he used the sound of his voice, the inflection in his speech and his lawyer skills of logic and rhetorical persuasion to become President of the United States. Hopefully, for the sake of national pride, progress and peace, he is not just another political straw man.
David Farside is a Sparks resident and political activist. The polemics of his articles can be discussed at firstname.lastname@example.org. His Web site is www.thefarsidechronicles.com.