Saturday, January 31, 2009

Yankee Doodle Dandies

Often I observe the ebb and flow of US political discourse and wonder what a space alien would think. And then I realize there are billions of people who don't live here, and while they're not really so exotic or remote as space aliens -- most of them, anyway -- I do hope they find this sort of thing as absurd as I project they do: to a certain well-traveled school of thought here in the USA,

[t]he idea that other countries are doing better than we are in various ways is totally off the radar. Instead, when foreign countries are mentioned at all you get stuff like this:
“We have fundamental philosophical differences. We’re in an era of unfunded liabilities,” said John Culberson , R-Texas. “This stimulus is really a Trojan horse. It’s part of a plan that would turn the United States into France.”
France! A country so impoverished that its citizens are fleeing in droves, washing up on our shores desperate to experience the good life as it’s lived in suburban Houston.
Granted, maybe France is a special case. I understand there's a strain of longstanding animus between England and France dating at least to 1066, and that the Germans have their own distinctive brand of Francophobia. Etcetera.

But while that makes for a great comedy bit here and there, really, is it customary in non-USA nations for putatively serious elected officials to speak of France as if they're speaking of the most desperate sectors of Haiti, Zimbabwe, or Afghanistan?

If you count yourself an observer of the USA, does it strike you as odd that our elected officials can be considered respectable and responsible despite saying things like the above? It really does happen. It really is the norm. I know we Americans send out a lot of distortive junk -- images of gunfights in which no one gets hurt, the notion that a new kind of vacuum cleaner will relieve your worries, an unsourced but common claim that the very streets are paved with gold -- but when it comes to a statement like "we would hate to go down the same road as France or Sweden" in domestic policy, that's not a distortion. People really say exactly that kind of thing in big newspapers and in front of huge TV audiences, and doing so doesn't get them kicked off the "serious person" island.

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