April 18, 2008

The Obama Diversion

by Donald G. Mashburn

WHO POISONED THE WELL?
Jeremiah Wright’s spewing his hate-filled rants,
And Barack Obama’s disdain of the Heartland compel,
All of us to remember that adage of old:
What comes up in the bucket is what’s in the well.

Barack Obama’s Philadelphia speech was a frantic effort at damage control, as he tried to explain away the bigoted, anti-American rants of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Obama’s pastor for 20 years.

Afterward, Obama was praised by many on the left for bringing the issue of racism “to the surface.” But Obama deserves no commendation for courage or honesty. His “great speech on racism” sought only to divert attention from the hate spewed out by Wright, to the past sins – as Obama and Wright see them – of white America.

There’s nothing commendable about pushing Wright’s ugly anti-Americanism below the surface and roiling the waters with rationalizations that the past sins of whites somehow justified Wright’s bigoted rants.

Any views Wright might have of America cannot justify his painting all whites as racists, and urging his followers not to say “God bless America, but “God damn America.”

Reasonable people conclude that Obama, as a member of Wright’s congregation for more than 20 years, must have known of Wright’s incendiary accusations. That conclusion was reinforced by Obama’s more recent put-down of middle-class Americans when he was speaking to members of the Elite Left in San Francisco.

Wright’s worst comments were outright lies. But The Obama Diversion has been a dishonest, politically motivated effort to shift the blame to white America for Wright’s sick and twisted views.

In his sophistic circumlocutions on racism, his “racist” white grandmother, and the oppression of blacks by whites, Obama showed neither the courage nor the good judgment to hold Wright, whom Obama has called his “spiritual mentor,” responsible for his mentor’s blatant racism and anti-Americanism.

That’s unfortunate. For Obama, in trying to divert attention from Wright’s comments, raised legitimate questions about whether he, Obama, might have absorbed some of Wright’s venomous teachings – and might also share some of Wright’s bitter views of America.

Additionally, Obama’s more recent dismissive remarks about working class Americans served to fuel suspicions that he holds less than objective views of America. For whatever Obama’s soul-deep feelings about America may be, his shifting and blurring the lines on racism and anti-Americanism among blacks only raised new and more serious questions.

Obama himself raised one such question, when he said, “The issues that have surfaced over the last few weeks reflect the complexities of race in this country that we’ve never really worked through.” Just like that, the “issues” were not Obama’s mentor’s venomous and untrue comments, but the “complexities of race.”

Obama refused to label Wright’s hate rhetoric as un-American, racist, and untrue. Worse, by claiming that Wright’s words could be explained by the past racism of whites, Obama seemed to suggest that perhaps he and others in the black community might agree with Wright’s tirades against America and whites.

Obama seemingly couldn’t separate himself from his spiritual advisor’s view of America, any more than he could separate himself from his wife’s comment that for the first time in her adult life she could say she was proud of her country.

Obama’s diversion, however, had an unintended effect that his race for president doesn’t need. By trying to divert attention from the incendiary remarks of Wright, by “explaining” that they were made because of white America’s past racism and bad behavior, Obama raised questions about his own judgment and values.

Also, Obama’s declaration that the “complexities of race” that “We’ve never really worked through,” indicates that he accepts – and is trying to convince us to believe – that the problem is with America, not the poisonous words of his spiritual advisor, the Rev. Wright.

Obama’s deliberate attempt to divert the analytical light away from Wright’s hate speeches raised more doubts in the minds of many about just how much Obama might have absorbed in his exposure to Wright’s anti-American, anti-white theology.

And of gravest importance is whether, as a 20-year follower of Wright, Obama has possibly given residence to those ideas in his own heart and mind. Obama’s speech on race did not tell us, but it did raise valid questions regarding his objectivity and judgment.

We’re left to wonder how Obama could know of speech that was so anti-American, racist and untrue, and never openly speak out against it.

And why he and his wife didn’t simply walk out the door of Wright’s church, and remove their children from such a climate of inflammatory speech and extremism.

Obama has only deepened any “racial chasm” that his spiritual mentor Wright created. His comments reveal a disappointing level of immaturity, and suggest alarmingly poor judgment for someone who aspires to the presidency of the United States.

Obama appears to be somewhat conflicted within himself. This apparent conflict leaves unanswered questions as to just what are Obama’s soul-deep feelings about Christianity, white Americans, and America itself.

Remembering a Man Called "Pappy"

by Donald G. Mashburn

On a cold and windy Oklahoma day in March 1958, two men slowly made their way to a meeting in the office of John Beck, the principal of Sand Springs High School. The icy walk was treacherous, and the gusty North wind caused the stockier one, Clarence Clay “Pappy” Jelks, to grasp the arm of his friend, Lewis M. Kibbe, Jr.

Just as they reached the door leading inside, Jelks suddenly slumped, still holding onto Kibbe’s arm. He died there on the icy sidewalk in the arms of his close friend. Lewis Kibbe said later, “I think he was dead when he hit the ground.”

The sudden heart attack had claimed a remarkable man, a beloved and gifted teacher, and during his 35 years at the school, a great friend to students.

Known as “C.C.” or “Mr. Jelks” at school and in town, to students, he was “Pappy” or “Mister Jelks.” It’s sad that the winds of time have covered the quite large footprints left by Clarence Clay Jelks. For Pappy was an American original, and the most remarkable secondary school educator I ever knew.

He joined the Sand Springs school system in 1923, fresh out of the University of Arkansas, where he was both teacher and principal of a small rural school while finishing his college degree.

Over the next 35 years, in Sand Springs, Pappy was a teacher, philosopher, and a counselor and father figure to countless students fortunate enough to share a classroom with this rubicund, jovial man.

It’s hard to imagine Pappy Jelks in today’s educational environment. It’s doubtful he would have ever considered playing hooky from teaching to lobby the state legislature. It’s probable, too, that he would reject much of what passes as conventional wisdom in education today. For example, Pappy never bought into the idea that a poor environment and economic deprivation excuse rude, immoral or illegal behavior.

Pappy was a product of both the formal school and the school of hard knocks. He used his teaching skills honed in the former to shorten the time his students had to spend in the latter.

Along the way, he dispensed knowledge, from books and life, and about the things that were beyond our small-town world. All seasoned with generous doses of philosophy, principles of being a decent human being, and “The Facts of Life According to Pappy.” That rare combination taught students about the real world, and taught them that learning could be fun.
He could be stern, but usually with a twinkle in his eye and a ready smile. And in class, his booming laugh might startle everyone in the room if the discussion took a jocular turn, as it often did.

Knowing more was important to Pappy. And “more,” included everything in the universe: chemistry, mathematics, manufacturing processes, world affairs, behavior, religion – he didn’t hesitate to speak the names of God and Jesus Christ in class – Shakespeare, history.

Some school board members likely would have had a conniption fit if they had known what all Pappy taught. And he didn’t just skim the surface of a subject, he dumped the whole load. And we got so caught up in learning about things far beyond our little mill town world, that no one dozed or goofed off in class.

Today, no statues or monuments pay tribute to C. C. Jelks in the community where he labored – and inspired. But instead of pigeon-decorated bronze or stone, there are countless living “monuments,” productive humans, shaped by Pappy’s wisdom and enthusiasm. They are the ones who yielded to the teaching touch and wit of a lovable, natural teacher.

I was privileged to be taught by both Pappy and his friend Lewis Kibbe, who often recalled, in our discussions in later years, that cold March day when Pappy died on the icy sidewalk. It was fitting that they were together, because they were good friends and Kibbe knew Jelks perhaps better than anyone else in the school system.

Kibbe often said of Pappy, “C.C. Jelks was the most naturally gifted teacher I ever met.”

Someone should write of the jovial and gentle teacher who saw potential in each student. And write of the teacher who cared enough for his “boys and girls” to teach them that learning can be fun, and has a goal beyond that day’s class.

Someone should say all these things, although words cannot do justice to the extraordinary man we remember as Pappy Jelks. But words and memories are the best we can do when honoring a man who so selflessly shared his God-given gifts with so many.

Someone should write of such a man, who gave so much of himself to others. And someone should write of the love so many felt for him.

Someone just did, but sadly, it comes 50 years too late for him to hear it.

Still, somehow, I feel he knows. Pappy had a way of learning about things.