By Mencken’s Ghost
Jan. 13, 2010
I can’t get two scenes from Tucson out of my mind. The first, of course, is the horror of the massacre and what it wrought in the loss of innocent lives, the physical and psychological suffering of the wounded, the indescribable loss and shock felt by family members of the dead and wounded, and even the anguish and soul-searching that Jared Loughner’s parents must be experiencing.
The second is a young woman from the University of Arizona. Interviewed by a local TV station, she spoke about President Obama’s visit to the campus. “By taking time out of his busy schedule to come here, he is showing that he cares about me,” she said emotionally and reverentially, almost to the point of breaking into tears. Other students expressed similar feelings.
“He cares about me.”
Her comment is like a bad headache that won’t go away. I try not to dwell on it but it keeps coming back.
“He cares about me.”
People grieve in different ways. Some need to do something symbolic, such as putting flowers in front of the hospital on the University of Arizona campus where the wounded were brought after the shooting. Some need to join hands with others at a public memorial and listen to a national leader. Others need to reflect in private. There is no right or wrong to how someone deals with human feelings of shock, empathy and sympathy.
But to say that a president cares about me? The sentiment scares me, and I’d feel the same if the president were Republican and white. In fact, it never crossed my mind that George W. Bush cared about me, especially with his policies that have accelerated the decline and eventual fall of the United States. Admittedly, I dislike President Obama even more. Not only is he continuing the acceleration, but judging by the his statements, his policies, and his past associations--especially his 20-year association with the race monger, Rev. Wright--I have rational reasons to conclude that he wants to harm me and my family financially due to our socioeconomic class and maybe even our race.
Putting my personal opinion about the president aside, what scares me about the young woman’s sentiment is the power that the president, or any charismatic political leader, has over the emotions of people who think with their emotions. At best, the woman’s sentiment is naïve; at worst, dangerous.
The sentiment is naïve because it doesn’t seem to acknowledge the possibility that there was a political calculus behind Obama’s visit to the campus, just as there may have been a political calculus behind him not attending a similar memorial at Fort Hood after the massacre there. The sentiment is dangerous because it is naïve about politics and power.
A cynical thought on my part? No, a healthy thought. Being suspicious of those who hold concentrated power is a good thing, whatever the party affiliation of the holder. There was a time when college students were naturally suspicious and even anti-authority. But, oh, have times changed. University of Arizona students even gave Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano a standing ovation when she spoke at the campus memorial. This is the same woman who, as Arizona’s governor, left the state in even worse financial condition than Illinois and California. Yet the students who will suffer from her incompetence cheered her.
Maybe it’s because she cares about them.
“Mencken’s Ghost” is the nom de plume of an Arizona writer who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.