Monday, January 11, 2010

Day 11

Or "The enemies of Success"

Dear Mr. President,

Today I prepared the books that will be released tomorrow morning for their displays. One of them (which actually comes out today) is Mark Halperin and John Heilemann's Game Change. I am unspeakably giddy about reading this book (though it will have to come after Dreams From My Father and The Audacity of Hope) as the 2008 election is one I would happily relive. Sadly, the other book that caught my attention is called, (with a truly admirable amount of subtlety and nuance) The War on Success. Maybe I'm being judgmental, maybe I should look past the bullet holes on the cover, the Conservative Book Club recommendation, and the quote on the back that actually suggests any reader not inspired by the books "has already surrendered to the enemies of success." I won't lie, I'm probably not going to look past those things. According to the subtitle, you, Mr. President, are an "enemy of success", and I wonder how you feel about that. Surely, you've been called more ridiculous and more insulting things, but is there really a significant portion of the population who believes that their president doesn't want them, his citizens and constituents, not to succeed? Significant enough to convince some one to write a book about it, and a number of others to agree to publish it?
The world is a mind-boggling place, sometimes. Working in a bookstore, I encounter a wide spectrum of readers, and while I often find myself puzzling over those buying books by Glenn Beck or Robert Spencer, I suppose that there is a place for every kind of book. Today I had a woman angrily return a book I'd suggested she read. It was The Iron Cage by Rashid Khalidi. She is traveling to Israel soon, and was looking for "a more balanced" perspective on the conflict with Palestine than what she knew from her "crazy orthodox" relatives. I don't know this woman well enough to know what balanced means to her, but she seemed interested in hearing from a Palestinian perspective, and so I suggested Mr. Khalidi's book, as I respect him as an intellectual. I warned her that I was quite strongly in support of a free Palestine, and that Khalidi was considered, by some, to be quite radical in his opinions. I also encouraged her to visit the West Bank on her trip, as I feel first-hand experience will offer the most "balanced" idea of what it is like to live in Palestine. I didn't get a chance to ask her what about the book made her so angry, but I try to keep my political views away from my conduct at work. (I confess, when Vice President Cheney used to come into my store in DC, I would excuse myself from the sales floor to avoid an encounter. Some jobs aren't worth keeping silent.)
When I logged on my laptop during my lunch break, however, I saw something that may explain the woman's anger.'s headline is "Sources: Israeli shelling kills three in Gaza". This headline runs beneath a photo of armed men in ski masks, the black bands of Islamic Jihad around their foreheads. On December 26, three men were killed in Nablus. Their story did not make headline news on CNN. The photos of these men, and their mourning families, can be found (along with their names) here, in a story by Bridget Chappell. If these men had been militants, it is presumed, they might have made the front page at All 6 were killed by the IDF, all 6 were people with names and families. Why is it that the only image most of America will see is of faceless figures carrying automatic weapons? In the mainstream American media, Palestinians are rarely depicted as anything besides terrorists or statistics. That, I must conclude, is why my customer was so angry that I would dare suggest she read something written by one.
Clearly, I'm just as much of a hypocrite. I may actually have to give The War On Success a chance, now.

Respectfully yours,



  1. The first paragraph reminds me of a book called "Hold On Mr. President!" by Sam Donaldson (he used to be the ABC white house correspondent). Donaldson was known for being pretty direct...a question along the lines of "how do you feel about being called an enemy of success?" would not be out of character for him. He writes about how world leaders like a good hard question to swing at and if he ever wanted to make a fool of a president he would say "'Sir, please tell us why you are such a great man' and then watch the 'great man' try desperately to keep from making a fool of himself as he tried to hande that softball".

    Not sure how that's relevant...just maybe that a book like The War On Success would make better fodder for sound bites than Obama Is My Favorite President.

    I visited the West Bank last year, but only for a few hours and only mostly touristy parts. Not sure I got too much perspective...but probably a little. It's a mess over there. I have my own opinions but I'm not going to engage you because 1. I'm not *that* well versed in the geopolitical situation and you'll make me look like a damn fool and 2. even if I had it together it wouldn't be pretty.

  2. Thanks for being the first EVER comment :) I was going to start off with, "Dear Mr. President, why do you hate success so much?" But it got cleaned up in the editing process. Of course these things generate better soundbites- you can defend yourself honestly, but false modestly rarely lends itself to eloquence.

    I'm really glad you went to Palestine, even if it was just the "touristy" parts. Were your opinions after your trip the same as before?

  3. Well, no one tried to blow me up. Not blowing someone up always makes a good impression. ;-)

    Seriously though, most of the folks that I talked to before I left, or other tourists I met on the way, were scared of even going close to the West Bank (the Swedish couple I met on the dive boat didn't go to Jerusalem because their embassy did not advise traveling within 50 miles or so of the West Bank). However, an Israeli friend of mine had assured me that as a caucasion-looking non-Israeli I was unlikely to have any problems.

    I took public transport most of the way to Bethlehem (real public transport--not one of the big tour buses that I took to referring to as "Jesus Buses"). It was kind of weird being the only non-palestinian on the bus. It was a bunch of working people and kids with their Arabic textbooks. I think for most Americans, especially of the conservative persuasion, the West Bank is a horrific place where almost everyone is a terrorist and you *will* get blown up if you're not really careful. I knew, intellectually, going in that not everyone had a kilo of semtex under their shirt, but actually sitting on the bus with a bunch of kids and working stiffs is different than simply having an opinion that not all Palestinians are terrorists. Not only are they "not terrorists" but they're students going to school and employees going to work--pretty much the same as everywhere else in the world. But that's not unique to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict...for any reasonable human being, interaction with a group of unknown people will change one's perspective on them.

    One thing that *did* surprise me was the checkpoint coming back from the West Bank. It was not a big deal at all--the soldier barely glanced at everyone's ID. Apparently that varies a lot based on what intelligence is saying that day. But I think it's important to note that the IDF don't always go out of their way to harass Palestinians (I suppose you could argue that the fact that there's a checkpoint at all is harassment, but there have been enough car bombs in Israel I think they can justify at least stopping the vehicle). At least that was my observation in this interaction.