Friday, September 02, 2005

Is the Great Divide So Great?

The tragedy of Hurricane Katrina has done more than ravage the landscape, make millions of people homeless, and taken and ruined the lives of so many, it's also serving as a catalyst for "the right" and "the left" to once again go for one another's throats. I once heard someone say that one of the many differences between the North American and European mindsets is that when things go wrong, North Americans ask "Who fucked up?" whereas Europeans ask "What went wrong?" While North Americans chase their tails looking for someone to blame, Europeans focus on how to solve the problem. Now that I think of it, it must have been a European who told me this -- the saying sure makes them look good. Regardless if this is even true, I think it's a good point to raise -- what will solve the myriad problems created by Hurricane Katrina? Finding someone to blame or examining the system to see where it felt short.

A recent conservative visitor to this blog read one of my satirical pokes at George W. Bush and felt compelled to inform me that I'm "an idiot," a "red leaf," and that I live in a country that needs the United States to defend it. So, when looking at the great divide between "right" and "left", I think it would surprise many conservatives to hear just how much I have in common with them.

First, what I don't have in common with conservatives. It's my considered opinion that people of a conservative bent are motivated chiefly by fear -- fear of people who come from different countries or have different skin color, fear of people who practice different religions, fear of people whose lifestyles differ from their own. Conservatives fear change, as well.

Having lived on the Canadian border to the United States for most of my life, and having worked in the U.S. and paid U.S. taxes, I have formed some opinions about Americans in general. I like them. Many of my very good friends were born and live in the United States. The cuisine and much of the pop culture interests me, as well. One thing, too, I've always liked about Americans -- the American Dream: building oneself up from nothing, making sacrifices, believing in one's own abilities, and enjoying the success of one's hard work. Even Richard Nixon, bogeyman of the late 1960s and early 1970s worked himself up from nothing, putting himself through law school, and basically creating a life for himself with his own two hands.

For this reason, I find it utterly amazing and perplexing that any Americans like or admire George W. Bush. He is the antithesis of what I've always thought Americans valued. Born into wealth and privilege, his family and family connections paved the way for him. He got into the best schools based on his family name, not his academic or athletic achievement. During the Vietnam war he was very much in favor of the war, but unwilling to put his principles into action. He used his family connections to jump to the head of the line of "The Champagne Corp", the Texas Air National Guard. Even then, in that plum position, he couldn't bring himself to fulfill his obligations. From there he became a failed businessman, whose family's money and family connections bailed him out every time he ran aground. He's never known a hard day's work in his life, and has lived a pampered, cushy existence, never having to be bothered to take responsibility for his actions.

When I worked in Michigan last year, the lunch room television set was perpetually tuned to Fox News. One day while eating lunch with a colleague, we saw something about John Kerry on TV and she muttered, "Kerry is scary," and spoke about the sterling leadership of George W. Bush. When the program broke away to commercial there was an advertisement for an upcoming NASCAR race. As one driver's name was mentioned (I don't know who), my colleague sneered and said how much she hated the guy, that he was some rich jerk, born with silver spoon in his mouth, who didn't know the meaning of hard work. Another driver's name was mentioned, and my colleague said how much she admired him, that he had worked his way up from nothing and was turning out to be a real success. The irony and coincidence of my colleagues words were completely lost on her. They were so blatantly obvious that I let it drop.

Another person posted on my blog, here, (sarcastically, I believe) that it's great to see someone who is not American "take such an active role in participating in our democracy." Well, blogging is not an "American" phenomenon, and it's not a means of taking part in American "democracy." Voting in American elections is. Why am I so concerned about what goes on in a country other than my own? If America busied itself with the business of running America, you wouldn't hear anything out of me. But as long as America goes stomping across this planet weaving pretexts for pre-emptive wars right out of the air, creating a climate of hatred against North America, I will voice my opinions. Because America is taking all North Americans down with the ship. When I travel abroad, the most common thing said to me is "Will you please stop bothering my wife?!" The second most common thing said to me (based on my accent) is: "Are you a Yank?" My answer? "No." So, as someone who is continually mistaken for an American when abroad, its my concern the level of hatred America arouses against itself.

Also, conservative American commentators such as Ann Coulter and Bill O'Reilly, along with the former American ambassador to Canada, Paul Celluci, have threatened Canada, at one time or another. "Fall in step with us, or suffer the consequences!" is the gist of their threats. Ann Coulter suggested that Canada is very close to being the next country America invades. Not that anyone of any importance listens to or heeds her words. But they're out there. The loudest voices in America are saying to the rest of the world, "You are free... to agree with us. You are free... to worship the same religion as we do. You are free... to do as we say." During the build-up to the Iraq war, the Bush administration addressed the leaders of other countries like CEOs addressing troublesome, disobedient managers.

This is why I take an interest.

Why don't you see complaints about the Canadian government on this blog? Because I mail those letters directly to my government.

As for the fear-motivated conservatives in the U.S., if Jesus Christ followed their model he would have become a Pharisee and fallen in silent step with the rules of the day. I'm not a follower of Jesus Christ, but many conservatives claim to be, so I make that comparison. Being guided by abject, formless, free-floating fear is an indefensible way to go through life. It's not a credo, it's a symptom of mental illness, giving root to paranoia, for one.

My own personal credo is beyond the political, beyond the sectarian. It is: Be responsible.

And while George W. Bush certainly didn't create Hurricane Katrina, his lack of responsibility has cost uncountable lives. I've read how the Army Corps of Engineers requested $100 million to shore up New Orleans' levees so they would have a chance of withstanding a hurricane everyone knew would one day come. They got $40 million. That's better than nothing, but it wasn't enough to do the job that needed to be done. A conservative blogger I read today pointed out that appropriations take years to find their way to their final destinations, so that even if $100 million had been allocated to the levees of New Orleans as requested, it wouldn't have gotten there. Well, I recall a time in the last year or two when $80 billion was requested to shore up the war in Iraq. That money came through immediately.

Where do the conservative and I meet? I love my family. I want my family and friends to be happy and secure. I think our tax system needs to be made fairer and simpler. I think that companies who are based in this country (Nike, GM, Intel, etc.) should not be allowed to avail of slave/cheap labor anywhere else in the world, taking jobs away from our communities. I think CEOs, who are already filthy rich, who torpedo their companies or otherwise break the law while trying to line their pockets ought to be brought to justice. I enjoy modern life, my car, home, air conditioning in the summer, heat in the winter, my TV, etc. However, I would like this modern life to be powered in a way that doesn't poison the air my family and I breathe, and the water we drink.

I don't think people should have to go broke in order to receive the medical care they need. However, I don't think any government plans should be paying for someone's nose job, breast enhancement, penile implant, or sex change operations.

I'm continually heartened and amazed and impressed by the goodness and willingness to give average citizens show in the midst of disasters. I think a political process driven by enormous sums of money can only breed corruption, self-interest and greed. I think citizens should be getting more from their leaders -- better examples, better decisions, better handling of tax dollars.

In the same way I believe it would be wrong and irresponsible for a public health official to raise an alarm about malaria, meningitis, hepatitis, for example, with absolutely no proof, I don't think politicians should raise false alarms about foreign leaders being imminent threats without real evidence. And there should be severe consequences for raising such false alarms.

If someone broke into my house and menaced my family, I would reshape the landscape of the perp's head with a baseball bat.

I hate spam email.

If I could purchase a car that ran the same as my current vehicle, but whose fuel costs were half of what I'm paying right now, I would buy that car.

If someone murdered a family member of mine, I wouldn't be content if the authorities arrested and convicted a person for the crime. I wouldn't rest until the actual killer had been caught.

I think people should pull their own weight. I hate hearing about people "milking the system," whether it be welfare, unemployment benefits, workers' compensation, or some other system. I hate it that my bank is always raising its fees while it's earning record billion dollar profits each year -- however, I'm glad to live in a country where I'm free to check out the competition. Education is the most important investment in the future society can make. Every job should pay a living wage.

Society is only as good as it treats its weakest members.


Ascendantlive said...

North Americans ask "Who fucked up?" whereas Europeans ask "What went wrong?"
I can't speak as to Europe's mindset but the blame game is America's favorite past time, especially since the baseball strike.
As for people valuing the 'American Dream' I think it is in many ways out of date, the world has changed a great deal since this ideal was first implemented. Some people do still value it, but many of us also realize how unrealistic it often is(with help from Steinbeck and Fitzgerald).
I think people like Bush because he acts like John Wayne, the 'real American Hero'(meaning lots of violence). Bush as we have come to realize is a gun slinger, he is always right and if he's not you're dead so he was really right in the first place. I'm no fan of President Bush but in all fairness I believe the issue of the levies in New Orleans came up well before he was President. This is where the blame game creates more problems, whoever is in the light in America(aka the President) gets blamed for everything bad that happens regardless of the history. For instance their were issues with Iraq dating back to the 1920s, but listening to people blog, 'it's all Bush's fault'. People often speak as if everything started in 2003, ignoring the extensive history of the situation. As for other reasons why people like Bush, never underestimate the power of denial.

Whetam Gnauckweirst said...

Excellent points, man. I don't want to take anything away from America's prowess in the blame game, but if you ever watch some footage of Canadian parliament, I'm sure you'll agree that we invented and perfected that particular blood sport.

Your mention of John Wayne brought an interesting thing to mind for me. Did you know while actors Jimmy Stewart and Clark Gable (and many others) were pulling active duty during WWII that John Wayne actually sat out the war with a Rush-Limbaugh-like injury; some kind of pulled muscle in his leg from his college football days. As the problems with the New Orleans levees and Iraq date back more years than current commentators are acknowledging, so, too, does the tradition of "the chicken hawk."

Anyway, the divide between "the right" and "the left" in North America is nearing the point of impossible impasse, such as the Israeli/Palestinian and English/Irish in North Ireland.

At the risk of coming off like some kind of Polyanna -- dig through my blog to see just how not Polyanna I am -- I think "the right" and "the left" ought to begin looking at what unites them and work from there. But that'll never happen. There are too many huge pay checks and TV/radio ratings to be had in the Hate Game.

Ascendantlive said...

I did not know about the actors in WWII, that's interesting. I guess Bush is even more John Wayne than I thought. Also I'm sure that the blame game is not unique to the United States, it's just that I can't speak intelligently about the culture of nations which I have not been to or lived in(I do need to pay Canada a visit at some point).
And at the risk of sounding polyanna myself, in many ways the fight between the right and left factions keeps a lot of things in balance. One thing I believe was genius is that the 'founding fathers' intended for people to fight back and forth in the political arena so as to balance out various viewpoints and keep any one ideal from gaining total dominance. The result being a country with laws that we may not all love, but we can live with(most of the time anyway). But then the hatred going round and round certainly doesn't help anyone.