New Hampshire Primary Day Plus One, and The Invisible Man
It’s an anniversary of sorts. It was four years ago this week, the day after the New Hampshire primary when I first began to become an invisible man. It all started when I fell down dead on the living room floor.
Apparently, a lifetimes of cigarettes, brownies and Italian sausage has consequences. At midnight, without any warning other than mild heartburn, I collapsed and heard my wife call 911. She alternated between assuring me that I was fine and telling the 911 operator that if they didn’t get there soon, I would be gone.
Within minutes there was the loud confusion of firemen, paramedics and a defibrillator and I remember the ambulance techs talking to the hospital by radio phone and explaining that I didn’t seem to be responding. Halfway to nearby UVA hospital, I lost consciousness.
When I awoke at 5 am, I was alone in a hospital room with an oxygen mask and tubes in both arms. I knew what had happened, and checked quickly to see if they’d cracked my chest. They hadn’t. I felt great, and was ready to get up and go. I didn’t yet realize that I had started to become invisible.
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Four years ago this week is also when we watched the deeply charismatic junior senator from Illinois let his mask of affability slip during the last Democrat debate in New Hampshire.
TV Newsreader: “My question to you is simply this. What can you say to the voters of New Hampshire on this stage tonight, who see your resume and like it, but are hesitating on the likability issue, where they seem to like Barack Obama more.
Hillary: Well, that hurts my feelings…
TV Newsreader: I’m sorry Senator, I’m sorry.
Hillary: …but I’ll try to go on. He’s very likable, I agree with that. I don’t think I’m that bad.
Obama: You’re likable enough, Hillary, no doubt about it
Hillary: I appreciate that.
That seemed to be the moment when Obama gave away his edge in the New Hampshire primary and allowed Hillary to claw her way back into contention, a view that was well articulated at the time by Richard Cohen of the Washington Post.
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“I am an invisible man… I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids - and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.”
So opens one of the very best American novels of the 20th century, Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, the story of a young, nameless black man, and his sweeping journey through an America at mid-century that was cruelly racist and intolerant. The protagonist sees himself as invisible because as a black man he believes he will always remain unseen and unappreciated in America.
Some 60 years later, our first African-American president found that the very cloak of invisibility Ellison wrote about was key to his election.
One imagines that after the candidate left the spin room on debate night in New Hampshire, the demure and thoughtful Michelle and his other advisers must have bitched slapped him hard for the gaffe. Of course they all agreed with what he had said, as much as they believed in the invincibility of the Candidate from Cool, but there was just no point in being so… up front about it all.
“Keep your cards close to your vest, Barry,” they likely advised him. “No good can come of letting the voters know who you really are.”
In other words, stay invisible.
From that moment right through election day, Obama and his deputies did everything they could to keep the public from focusing on the obvious, and the reactionary leftist press had no greater powers of observation that they had had in the 1950′s. People refused to see him.
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20 years a member of Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s racist church? Obama claimed to have missed the hate that Wright had spewed from the pulpit week after week.
“ I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother,” he told us in March 2008, only to declare in April that “Whatever relationship I had with Reverend Wright has changed as a consequence of this.” The press gave him a pass.
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A political career launched in the living room of the self admitted terrorist Bill Ayers? Just an acquaintance from the neighborhood whom Obama hardly knew. The media wasn’t interested.
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Caught on tape running down middle American voters by describing them as people that “cling to guns or religion or (have) antipathy to people who aren’t like them …? Although Obama was eventually forced to apologize, saying: “If I worded things in a way that made people offended, I deeply regret that,” the fourth estate didn’t really care.
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Comfortable in front of supporters in San Francisco, when he let slip that “Under my plan of a cap and trade system, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket?” That hardly made the news.
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Nothing about the eager Republicans jostling for the right to challenge Obama for the presidency is likely to be as invisible. After Newt, Perry and Huntsman finally give it up in the near future, and after Ron Paul takes the bus to crazy or to whatever goal he is actually trying to achieve, we are likely to be left with just Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, and Mitt is likely to prevail. Every move they make, every action they’ve ever taken, every phrase they’ve ever dropped that can be misconstrued will be scrutinized with the white hot light of a snarling media establishment dedicated to tearing down the challenger and defending the Invisible Man, the one who has strangely become their “Great White Hope”.
The clear and obvious fact that they are both good and sincere men who want the best for all Americans and have concrete plans to regain our country’s glory will matter not at all.
Despite the fact that Ellison wrote so passionately about the raw black experience in his book, he was always a dedicated integrationist, and would not likely have fallen in with the race hustlers who now pass as civil rights leaders and MSNBC hosts. Instead, he saw that “America is woven of many strands. I would recognise them and let it so remain. Our fate is to become one, and yet many.”
Our current President could not be more different.
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I survived that night four years ago, but I am still struggling to regain my visibility.
I am not a person of color. I am not bi, tri or trans-gendered, and I have no Native Americian heritage. I belong to no special interest group, and so clearly, I do not qualify.
I am just an average middles class, middle aged white guy who raised a family, and built a business now in jeopardy. There are tens and tens of millions just like me, but I now find myself and people like me unseen and unappreciated in America. While I have survived, I look around and see homes lost, families distressed, businesses gone, retirement plans folded up and put away.
I am reminded of another American writer from Ellison’s era, the poet Allen Ginsburg and these opening lines from his 1956 poem Howl:
“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness…”
Americans are clearly better than this, and we are tired of being invisible.