America’s Fortune: Made in China?

Nearly two years ago, then-candidate Hillary Clinton warned of the dangers of America’s dependence on Chinese investors. On March 1, 2007 she told CNBC that America was undergoing “a slow erosion of our own economic sovereignty.” In a letter the same week to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke, Clinton also stated that a stock market sell-off at the time underscored “the exposure of our economy to economic developments in countries like China. As we have been running trade and budget deficits, they have been buying our debt and in essence becoming our banker.” Even then, Clinton rued the difficulty in “getting tough on China” to protect American manufacturing jobs, asking rhetorically: “How do you get tough on your banker?”

And now we begin to find out, right? Secretary Clinton’s first foreign trip is not to the Middle East, where we wage two wars. It’s not the traditional European debut tour conducted by all previous Secretaries of State as an homage to our longstanding allies. It’s not to Latin America, where our troubled neighbors face escalating drug-related crime and hemorrhage citizens, sparking our own endless immigration debate. No, Clinton is headed to China, to meet with our banker.

That America has become beholden to China for our economic survival is a manifestation of the fact our nation’s leaders have been asleep at the wheel for decades. It is also a reflection of the ambiguity and confusion we face in determining our direction for the future. Why such strong words? Well, our own chief diplomat said it herself: we are losing our economic sovereignty to another country. That’s bad enough in and of itself. But as if that weren’t enough to cast fear and urgency into our collective heart, we’re losing that economic sovereignty to a nation with an abysmal human rights record, a place where gender rights are a joke, a country where democracy is scorned and brushed aside (look at Taiwan) in favor of single-party totalitarianism, where economic might is leveraged to gloss over all of these shortcomings, and where Communism, not Capitalism, is revered. And we thought we’d won that war, the Cold War, right? Hmm, when you win a war, you’re supposed to keep your sovereignty, right?

So now that our economy is in tatters, do we wonder if then-candidate, now-Madame Secretary Clinton is headed to China to get tough on our banker? Or do we suspect she’s arriving hat in hand? Will she be negotiating human rights and environmental accords or loan extensions? Today they’ll give us more rope. But what will they do when we hang ourselves with it?

In my opinion, the most pressing matter in America’s mind should not be partisan bickering over the details of a stimulus package too small to float our sinking ship; it should be the development of a long-term vision to end our dependence not just on foreign oil, but on foreign investment to shore up our underproducing, overconsuming culture. America needs a swift kick in the pants. Right now it’s coming in the form of a recession. If we don’t change our ways, tomorrow it will come from a crouching tiger, hidden dragon. Hopefully, today’s woes will wake us up and get us thinking and working towards a future where we can stay true to our ideals without worrying about our banker calling our economic notes to the detriment of our political and philosophical agenda.

Reversing our fortunes begins – not with getting tough on our banker, but – with getting tough on ourselves. What do we want more? Our ideals and self-respect, a chance at truly reclaiming some semblance of moral integrity in the global arena, or more cheap products from China purchased at Wal-Mart with borrowed money? What does our nation’s fortune cookie hold? And wouldn’t we rather be the authors of our own fate?

“I Can’t Be Racist. My President’s Black!”

The campaign, primary victories, election, and the inauguration of Barack Obama have caused a media trend to grow and develop of which I am becoming increasingly leery. In a country that once treated black people as property, there is a repetitive declaration that we should be proud of how far we’ve come as a nation.

Not so fast, America.

Sure, it’s great that we’ve demonstrated that a non-white person can possibly become President. There are things about this occurrence that we should be happy about. If you are black, or of mixed race, or any non-white person, it should give you happiness that someone has broken down that particular barrier. If you are a person of any race that feels we should be electing the person most likely to move our country forward, you should be happy. If you are a person of any race that has given their time and effort toward the principle of All Equally Created Men, you have a reason to be happy.

Happiness is appropriate. But pride?

President Barack Obama is identified as black. As a nation, we have chosen and accepted him as our leader. Before we pull a collective muscle patting ourselves on the collective back, let’s think about how far we would be willing to carry that acceptance. Do you think Obama would have been elected if his skin were darker, or would he have then been too scary? Would he have been elected if one of his parents had not been white, because then, what reason would he have to ever be on the side of white people? What if he had married a white woman instead of Michelle? Would that be threatening to white male voters? If Obama’s manner of speech was less precise, would he be seen as less intelligent or “too black” and therefor less electable? What if, following the pattern of most Presidents before him, Obama had selected a Cabinet comprised in full or in majority of people from his own race and sex? Would it be perceived as being unfair? Would it be seen as racist? Would it be seen as a rebellious coup d’état? Isn’t it likely that Obama has been accepted because he falls into the mold of the non-threatening black male that America continues to celebrate, from Tiger Woods to Will Smith to Colin Powell? Until these questions give no one pause to consider, we should not feel proud.

Our sweeping national pride is glossing over the fact that issues of race are far from solved in our country. The more I hear about how proud we should be, the more it sounds like the odious cliché “I’m not racist, some of my best friends are black.” Just because we have a black President, it doesn’t mean that black people (or any minority) are now on a level playing field in this country. Just because you voted for Obama, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are free from personal prejudice. The news media is reminding us over and over again how far we’ve come without giving equal time to how far we still need to go.

It took us 43 Presidents and 220 years before we elected a person who was not a white man. 43 guys before we decided that the 44th didn’t have to look just like the ones before him. The Census of 1790 shows blacks making up approximately 25% of the national population. Depending on the definition of “black”, that percentage has remained fairly consistent for 200 years, with variances as a person’s amount of blackness has mattered more or less to the Census Bureau. At different times they have had to put up with different labels like African-American, black, colored, or negro, but no matter what “those people” have been called, they’ve been right here all along, building this nation with the rest of us. So the way I do the math, in a representative democracy we should have had ten or twelve black Presidents by now. The United States of America, where we supposedly hold some truths to be self-evident, could have been proud of electing a black President if we were back in the 1870s, but in the present day we should be ashamed that it took so long.

When should we be proud of ourselves as a nation? When literacy rates are the same for all races. When incarceration rates are the same for all races. When income levels are the same for all races. When expected life span is the same for all races. When the government that represents us represents us. We have one black Senator, appointed to the seat vacated by Obama. Do you know how many we’ve had historically? Senator Roland Burris just became the sixth. Ever! Proportionate to the population we should have at least 10 and possibly up to 25 at all times. Current count of the members of the House of Representatives who are black is 39 out of 435. It’s not enough.

Right and wrong are not two halves of a whole. You don’t get to balance one with the other. Obama’s ascension to the Presidency absolves no one of the prejudices they still hold, and it does not absolve the nation of an unequal and unjust history. Let’s work on that, and then let’s be proud.