Who, you might ask is Sylvester McMonkey McBean? Anyone who has read Dr. Seuss stories to his or her child probably knows who he is. So why when we have two wars raging and an economy in collapse, why when I aspire to be a serious blogger would I invoke the name of a Dr. Seuss character in this post? Mr. McBean is not just any character. He is a character at the heart of our current national drama.
Tonight on MSNBC’s “Countdown with Keith Olbermann”, the host gave one of his “special comments”. His focus was on this new Republican trend of labeling people pro-American or anti-American, or as Sarah Palin put it, part of “the real America” vs not part of it. So where might you ask is the intersection of a Keith Olbermann special comment and a story by Dr. Seuss?
In Dr. Seuss’ “The Sneetches” we encounter a population of creatures who are more or less identical but for one thing. Some of the sneetches have stars on their bellies and some do not. The “star-bellied sneetches” claim superiority over the bare bellied ones. This simple tale has always encapsulated for me a philosophy about the human condition. Take any set of humans, no matter how seemingly similar, and they will find a means to discriminate among each other and sow the seeds of discord. It happens between whites and blacks … it happens between dark skinned blacks and light skinned blacks, and so on. Each time you think you’ve got a group of people who are more similar than different, they discover a way to find a meaningless difference about which to segregate.
This is where our friend Mr. McBean comes in. He offers, for a fee, to provide all the bare-bellied sneetches with stars so they can no longer be discriminated against by the star-bellied ones. Once the deed is done, the “original” star-bellied sneetches, still convinced of their superiority, need a method to stand out and the clever McBean offers, for a fee, to remove their stars, declaring that stars are no longer a status symbol. This attempt to maintain the ability to discriminate goes back and forth with the only one benefitting being Mr. McBean who collects a fee for each star imprint/removal. When the sneetches have exhausted their bank accounts, McBean rides off into the sunset having profited nicely by exploiting the insecurity of the sneetch population.
Which brings us back to Keith Olbermann’s special comment. Over the past few days, Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann, Nancy Pfotenhauer, and Rush Limbaugh have each taken turns at being Sylvester McMonkey McBean. Each of them has attempted to exploit the tensions that exist between various factions of this country to suit their own ends. If you don’t support John McCain, you’re a socialist, an anti-American, a racist (Limgaugh’s charge against Colin Powell). It’s us against them. This kind of rhetoric sows the seeds of an idealogical war, at best and a real civil war at worst. It is a dangerous road that these McBeans are leading us down.
In “The Sneetches”, the creatures learn (after losing all their money) that they are all sneetches, star-bellied or not and that what unites them is much more important than what separates them. In response to the divisive campaign tactics of the McCain team, Obama had this to say today in Tampa, Florida:
There are no real or fake parts of this country. We are not separated by the pro-America and anti-America parts of this nation – we all love this country, no matter where we live or where we come from. There are patriots who supported this war in Iraq and patriots who opposed it; patriots who believe in Democratic policies and those who believe in Republican policies. The men and women from Florida and all across America who serve on our battlefields may be Democrats and Republicans and Independents, but they have fought together and bled together and some died together under the same proud flag. They have not served a Red America or a Blue America – they have served the United States of America.
We have always been at our best when we’ve had leadership that called us to look past our differences and come together as one nation, as one people; leadership that rallied this entire country to a common purpose – to a higher purpose. And I am running for President of the United States of America because that is the country we need to be right now.
Obama is no McBean. We need to reject those who would tell us that we are a nation divided. We will get the chance to do that on November 4.
(For those who have forgotten the magical story telling of Dr. Seuss, here’s a nice reminder.)