24 October 2012

Jonah Raskin : 'Uncle Tom' Vs. Simon Legree, 2012

Uncle Tom and Simon Legree. Image from Uncle Tom's Cabin Reconsidered.

Election 2012:
'Uncle Tom' Obama 
Vs. 'Simon Legree' Romney
Ironically, on the eve of the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, modern-day Americans are once again in need of emancipation and without an emancipator anywhere in sight.
By Jonah Raskin / The Rag Blog / October 24, 2012

From the wilds of northern California, which is solidly Democratic, it looks and sounds to me, a registered Democrat, that the main issues of the 2012 presidential election are gas, guns, and what might be called gender.

Drivers here don’t like the fact that they’re paying higher prices for gas than ever before at the pump. They don’t like the fact that the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, was gunned down, or that U.S. guns ended up in the hands of Mexican drug lords in a botched operation known as “Fast and Furious.”

The price of gas close to home, the death of an ambassador far away, and guns spilling over the border with Mexico have all added to the sense of unease and anxiety that voters feel. On gender issues such as abortion and a woman’s right to choose, northern Californians are also anxious because they feel that a Romney victory would give conservatives the upper hand and leave women at the mercy of religious Catholics like Paul Ryan and religious Mormons like the Republican party candidate for president.

Not surprisingly they’re talking about fleeing to Canada.

The televised encounters between Obama and Romney have also multiplied anxieties. In the first debate, Obama's body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions suggested a candidate who had lost a sense of direction and urgency.

In the town hall meeting with questions from the audience he was agile on his feet and in his head, and in the last debate when it came to foreign policy he had more facts and a more comprehensive view than Romney. He sounded like the black emperor of the American Empire.

For Democratic voters here in Northern California, however, the President has seemed all too often ineffectual, burned-out, and like a man running scared. Sometimes he has seemed just plain silly as when he talked about "Big Bird" and funding for public TV as though he could simply ridicule Romney out of the race.

Voters here see Romney as energized, aggressive, and self-confident -- a man who plays on basic fears and whips them up, too. Northern Californians view Romney as an actor playing the part of a grandfatherly, paternalistic plantation owner and slick salesman who claims to know what’s best for the citizens who are slaves to their cars, to gas, to guns, and more.

They see the president himself as all too meek in the presence of the white plantation owner and when confronted with Wall Street plutocrats. Granted, he talks about the middle class, but he never talks about blue collar workers, pink collar workers, or about African Americans. Our African-American president seems to have forgotten about his own African-American roots, though I will still vote for him. I will cast my ballot for Obama and criticize him, too.

I know that the term “Uncle Tom,” which comes from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin has rarely been used fairly when applied to African Americans who have survived injustice, discrimination, and more for centuries. And with a sense of real dignity, too.

Still, Obama seems more than a little like an Uncle Tom: an African American who is meek and deferential when it comes to rich, powerful white men. Romney, with his size and shape, skin-color and smile, seems more than a little like a confident contemporary incarnation of Simon Legree, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s representation of the evil, insidious slave owner.

Stowe’s best-selling novel has long been credited with starting the American Civil War. When Lincoln met the author in 1862 he apparently said, “so you are the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war.” There is no book today that expresses anywhere near the equivalent of the moral force of Uncle Tom’s Cabin; there is no movie or manifesto that has woken the conscience of the country to the current crisis.

Ironically, on the eve of the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, modern-day Americans are once again in need of emancipation and without an emancipator anywhere in sight. Our Uncle Tom president might take a page from history and learn from Lincoln himself, before the country, which is already deeply divided, descends even further into cultural and political warfare which would benefit no one.

Meanwhile, women voters -- the moral descendants of Harriet Beecher Stowe -- will have the power on Election Day to decide, more than any other single group, the fate of the nation.

[Jonah Raskin, professor emeritus at Sonoma State University is an author and a frequent contributor to The Rag Blog. Read more articles by Jonah Raskin on The Rag Blog.]

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