I had no idea how else to craft a title relating to the unheard of opportunity to use those three names in the same column, but the trio of news-makers have been on my mind all week, as I've thought about the difference between shock and outrage, particularly in the digital age. Outrage I get, decorum I understand and a loosely-defined set of unspoken rules usually applies to all circumstances. What I don't understand is when people claim to be surprised by things so predictable that you should be able to set your watch by their coming to pass.
Recently we learned that a wealthy, old white woman from the deep south harbors racist sentiments and still comfortably uses epithets that haven't been publicly acceptable since the days of black face comedy and minstrel shows. Apparently, some people think that electing a Harvard-educated, half-white/half-Kenyan man from Hawaii President of the United States suddenly untangled 237 years of complicated racial history. Newsflash: it hasn't.
It's not a surprise that Paula Deen is a racist, or that her brother “Bubba” is for that matter. What is a surprise to me is how many people fail to see why she lost her job – and by job, I don't mean the way she labors to earn a living. I mean the millions of dollars a television network paid her for a show that until recently, they were very easily able to sell advertising for.
America is a free country with protected free speech. She's allowed to be racist. However, her restaurants are not allowed to hire, promote or pay in a way that is discriminatory based on race, because that's not legal. And that is what they are being sued for. In her deposition, she very casually and candidly admitted to using offensive, racial language. In fact, she seemed almost surprised they would need to ask. That's not good business and that is what she's being fired from her show – or technically, non-renewed for.
Let's not forget that Paula Deen is a brand, a marketing tool to sell stuff – her own through her product line, and that of others through commercial time on her shows. When you become the skunk at the garden party, people stop paying you to hang around – just ask Tiger Woods. None of this is new. None of it is a surprise and quite frankly, none of it is really all that newsworthy. It's the rules of the game and for anyone that says they are fundamentally unfair, I'd like to remind them that it's the same system in which a restaurateur can earn hundreds of millions of dollars, while the people that cook the food can earn the minimum wage – while being called things like "monkeys." Her value wasn't in her share of the work, but her image and brand. So when she flushes those down the toilet, the money goes along for the ride.
Don't feel bad for Paula Deen. She'll be okay. Anyone who can make that much money without even having one of the 10 best restaurants in her own city should do at least as well as Tiger and Martha in terms of landing on her feet. In a country where eating crap has become a national obsession, the queen of butter-coated fried lard can always count on finding a gig.
As for President Obama, the first six months of his second term hasn't exactly been stellar stuff in terms of PR either. Fortunately for him, Presidents can only be non-renewed once, so his timing couldn't have been better. While the IRS scandal seems to have been agency-contained, the White House's unprecedented war on the tiny sliver of the media that still has an interest in investigating our government is something that has at least some Americans justifiably outraged. They're now beginning to comprehend how little value the man who once said that the last administration offered “a false choice between the liberties we cherish and the security we provide,” places on said liberties now that he's redecorated 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
It shouldn't be a surprise that President Obama is very different than candidate Obama was, nor that he's continued yet another of President Bush's policies by maintaining and even expanding the security state. You don't get into the White House in the first place if you plan to make sweeping changes to the status quo. The system isn't set up to allow that. Just ask Ron Paul.
So here again, Americans should hardly be surprised that the same government that brought them the Trailblazer project is still breaking its back to collect every tidbit of information it can get its hands on and that everyone from the President to Republican stalwarts like Speaker John Boehner and Congressman Peter King are defending the practice, while simultaneously – and with the help of the mainstream media – assassinating the character of the whistleblower who's letting Americans know what they're up to. They should, however, be outraged by it.
The most dangerous words a political regime can utter are usually this is for your own protection. Anytime we declare war on a noun (drugs, terror, etc.) bad things usually follow. The greatest thing the attacks of September 11, 2001 seem to have given to the government is the ability to assert a dozen different arguments and justifications, that all begin with, In order to keep Americans safe in the post 9/11 world …
Knowledge is power and all governments want as much of that resource as its people will tolerate. The digital age has allowed for a previously-unthinkable level of data collection, and monitoring of a government's citizens. The Patriot Act has clear-cut a wide path through our civil liberties that allows them to use secret kangaroo-courts and rubber stamp warrants to enforce secret interpretations of secret laws, which members of our own intelligence community have previously said would blow America's collective mind, were they to know the extent to which their government can snoop on them.
As a whistleblower, Snowden isn't subject to the same rules of marketing and electoral politics as a president or TV chef. The focus on Snowden should be on what he's turned over – not how, why or what his intentions were, or turning him into some sort of Emmanuel Goldstein character. Once he exposed the scope of the PRISM and Tempora programs, he became irrelevant in terms of the issue itself. But as long as Americans are more interested in Paula Dean and whether their favorite diabetic lard-slinger will be teaching them to cultivate such delicacies as deep fried lasagna and Krispy Kreme Bread Pudding with butter sauce than whether their government is spying on them in a way that would make J. Edgar Hoover blush, it might not matter much.
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