The Average American?

23 Jan
President Barack Obama

I am writing today in response to a question put forth by Jarred Rego, host of “The Jarred Rego Show” on Colorado Springs 740 KVOR.  Today Jarred asked his listeners whether they felt that Barack Obama could relate to the “average American”.  I called in with a bevy of facts and quotes at the ready. However, my call was not answered in time and I remained on hold for upwards of twelve minutes. Due to this mishap that I suspect could be a mishandling of calls, I will reassemble my argument here. 

 Jarred, what exactly constitutes the “average” American?  On your show today you implied that Barack Obama is an elitist simply due to the location of his upbringing: Hawaii. You asked, “I’ve never been to Hawaii. Have you guys ever been to Hawaii?”  By portraying the state of Hawaii as an exotic vacation destination (which to only a certain extent, it is), you are completely marginalizing facts about Hawaii that the “average” American will remain unaware of. I feel that your argument boils down to the claim that Barack Obama is an elitist who was fed liberal-Marxist propaganda due to his educational background.  

Do you want to know about the public education system in Hawaii? Only 21% of 8th grade students are proficient in math; a similar 20% figure accounts for proficiency in reading. In 2003, Hawaii’s public elementary schools ranked 44th out of 50 states on the Nation’s Report Card. In 2009, the Hawai’i Department of Education slashed the yearly number of instructional days from 180 to 163, which is the least amount of instructional days anywhere in the U.S. You may also want to note that the poverty rate in Hawaii is 10.4%, which places the state as 27th in poverty rankings.  The per capita income of Hawaii ranks 40th in the U.S. Hawaii is not a state composed of only the wealthy.  It is also vital to note that 73% of Hawaii’s population is non-white, and many of these persons are of indigenous origin to the Hawaiian islands.  

Students in Hawaii are not receiving the best education they can, but Barack Obama had the support of a family who wished for him to succeed. He attended a private preparatory college in Hawaii.  This is the key to Barack Obama’s success. We live in a country in which your education will either lead to amazing opportunity or massive failure. Even though there are many people who are successful without a college education, the idea that a college education is integral to success in America is poisoning mainstream ideals. Barack Obama chose success.  

I feel that I can comfortably state that I can relate to the “average” American. I can also relate to Barack Obama. My maternal grandparents arrived in the U.S. in the 1930’s as children from Cuba and Puerto Rico. By no means do I come from a lengthy line of wealthy people; my grandfather worked as a longshoreman on the docks of the East River and my grandmother worked as a cleaning woman.  

I know that the success I have had so far in life is due to the sacrifice of my grandparents and parents. My father grew up in an impoverished segment of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, while my mother lived in the projects of the Bronx.  My mother dropped out of college in the 1970’s to pay for an operation that my older brother desperately needed.  

However, each of my parents performed very well in school and were able to recognize that the best future for both myself and my sister was not in the New York City public school system. I know what it feels like to have to see your parents choose between which bills to pay for the month. I know what struggling truly is. I also recognize the great fortune that has been bestowed upon me in this life. Not only do I hold two degrees from one of the greatest universities in the world, but I also have the opportunity to achieve whatever it is I choose. There are people in America who will never dream of the things I have achieved in only a short 22 years. Is my success due to my racial background? (I am 1/8th African-American, if you must know.) Is my success due to my having a uterus? Is my success due to being raised in Colorado? There is not one factor that can be pinpointed as the source of my achievement. Do not single out Barack Obama’s home state of Hawaii as the source of his success. Most importantly, do not patronize Barack Obama for being a good student.  

As Nathaniel Hawthorne once scribed, “families are always rising and falling in America.” Barack Obama happened to catch a large tide. Do not assume anything about an individual’s background or upbringing.  

I ask you this question: Do you relate to the “average” American? And who is the “average” American?

UPDATE: Jarred Rego responded in the comments below but failed to answer any of my posed questions. How convenient of him.

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10 Responses to “The Average American?”

  1. The Harlem Yuppie January 23, 2010 at 8:04 PM #

    I completely agree heather. Why do people treat Hawaii like its such a crazy far out place?

    A redneck said it perfectly once. “I want a president that’s smarter than me, not someone who’s the same as me”

    very smartly said.

    • fixedair January 23, 2010 at 10:33 PM #

      Thanks very much for your support. Please subscribe if you wish.

      – Heather

  2. Jarred Rego January 23, 2010 at 9:15 PM #

    Heather, thank you very much for listening and nothing sinister went into your phone call not being taken, we simply ran out of time. You should tell the station I need a two hour show! I did pose the question today on my show and I pose it to your blogosphere, “do you think Barack Obama relates to the average (whatever you feel that to mean) American?” I do not think he does. However, I don’t feel that virtually any national level politician does. Some portray empathy better, but think of how insualted in a bubble you are in Washington D.C. The reason I brought up the concepts of Hawaii and higher education was simply to make an effort to illustrate the President’s life story. Off course I don’t feel as though Hawaii is some alien place or not a part of the “real America” (and, if you’ll recall, I spoke out against that thought/concept on my show) but Hawaii is one of the smallest and least populous places in the union so, statistically speaking, not many people, I would guess, relate to Hawaiian experience. It was the same in tiny, insular New England where I went to college. People who have spent their whole life in Colorado, for example, have no idea what it is like to life in New England. However, that’s not a bad thing. I could make the same sort of statements about President Bush as I did about President Obama. “elitist, educated at the top schools, upbringing that isn’t shared by many Americans etc.” However, I do feel that President Bush (and President Clinton) did a better job of connecting with John Q. Public than President Obama has done since he got off the campaign trail in November of 2008. Even the President’s most ardent liberal supporters say that the President seems aloof, detached, dispassionate, or too-cool. As I also mentioned on my show, I would like to see him become worked-up about an issue, instead of having the air (as he usually does to this point in his term) of a judge up on a higher lectern than the rest of us. With regard to your facts about the the Hawaiin education system, they are eye-opening and unfortunate numbers and I hope that the Hawaiin and Federal governments can turn them around. Yet, if you want to use those numbers to support or illustrate the President’s educational background, I think that statistics from the time that the President was in school would be more germane than the current numbers.

  3. fixedair January 23, 2010 at 10:32 PM #

    Thanks for responding, Jarred. I was not suggesting that anything sinister occurred. I was just a little disappointed because I had prepared a response to your question.

    I understand the angle you were going for, but how exactly does Hawaii and higher education make Barack unrelatable? Most of our presidents were Ivy League-educated – why should we look at Obama’s Ivy League education any differently? And what do you mean by “the Hawaiian experience”?

    In reference to your claim about New England being tiny and insular, is there not an inherent factor that unites the American experience in every place? There are pockets of Colorado that might as well be the Northeast.

    But my question remains, Jarred – who exactly is the “average” American? Is it you or me? This concept thus far intangible and deserves a proper explanation.

    I would have provided you with numbers from 1960s-1970s Hawaii, but I did not have enough time to render those. Perhaps I will look into it this week.

    – Heather

  4. Jodi Papproth January 24, 2010 at 2:25 AM #

    When George Bush didn’t know how to scan groceries in a grocery store … I realized he was in no way “in touch” with John Q. Public. The way in which Obama used the internet, Move On.org, Facebook etc. to further his campaign shows me he is trying to connect with young Americans and get them to pay attention to political issues. At least he is “aware”! Whenever I hear/read that people think Obama is too aloof, I swear I feel an undercurrent of a racial stereotype at work … and what those people really mean is “When is Obama going to show his true colors (pun intended) and ‘act black’?” The guy has always been cool! Thank goodness it is backed by patience, thoughtfulness and intelligence and not just static or “the voice of god”!!

    • fixedair January 24, 2010 at 4:12 PM #

      Yes Jodi, I am definitely aware of the racial undercurrent that is present. Thanks for not being afraid to point this out. Thanks for reading Fixed Air and be sure to subscribe!

      – Heather

  5. Constantine January 25, 2010 at 3:58 AM #

    I get a little tired of this idea that the President needs to be representative of the ‘average’ American. Even that term itself is annoying. What is the ‘average’ American? It is vague and can’t really be defined in a satisfying way. When people criticize Obama as being ‘unable to relate to the average American’ it implies that being an ‘average’ American somehow makes them more qualified to make decisions or makes their opinions more valid. The position of the President is, by it’s very nature, above-average. Sympathy for the American population (the constituency) is definitely required of any political figure, but let’s no overstate its importance. I find watching politicians run around rolling up their shirt sleeves, taking off their ties, and talking about their humble roots downright silly. Its nothing but rhetoric. Let’s remember that some of the most influential and memorable presidents were anything but average – Wilson, Lincoln, etc etc. Bush related to a large number of Americans extremely well but that had nothing to do with his ability to lead the country well. I wholeheartedly agree with The Harlem Yuppie and you, Heather.

    • fixedair January 25, 2010 at 4:25 AM #

      Thanks for your comment and support. I did ask Jarred what he means by “average” Americans. He has not yet come up with a response. Interesting. Jarred’s insistence that he would like The President to become “worked up” over an issue rather than apparently “having the air of a judge” really bothers me. The role of the presidency is not meant to be concurrent with an old episode of Laugh-In. If you want to see someone get worked up you can watch Jim Cramer on CNBC. The incredulous request to see President Obama become “worked up” (whatever that means) is reminescent of demands made by the audiences of minstrel shows.

      • Keith January 7, 2011 at 2:03 AM #

        I like your comment, fixedair.

  6. Keith January 7, 2011 at 2:02 AM #

    Is Obama still in school?

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