Thursday, April 10, 2008

My last comments on the view from abroad

Back to the soap opera that is la vie Paglia. The huntress Camille writes her usual Salon column this week, with its bewildering mix of 60% things I totally agree with and 40% things I think are off-base. One thing she wrote was this:

I too wish that Obama had more practical experience in government. But
Washington is at a stalemate and needs fresh eyes and a new start. Furthermore,
at this point in American history, with an ill-conceived, wasteful war dragging
on in Iraq and with the nation’s world reputation in tatters, I believe that,
because of his international heritage and upbringing, Obama is the right person
at the right time.

This lead neoconservative Abe Greenwald to write this howler:

"If Ms. Paglia finds the U.S.’s “reputation in
tatters,” she’s describing some internal or personal state of

(Got that? Not only do all other countries love the US; but if you think they don't, you're crazy, man. Anyway, the amount of delusion here, and in some of the comments that follow, is a little too sad to make fun of anymore. But, there are some good comments that reflect what I've found while living abroad.)

Here's two:

1. "I live in Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada. This is the richest town, in the richest state or province in North America. I am not jealous of any heavily indebted fat southerner.We have oil here, and I make a lot of money, partly because of a mistake of half of the American people, who voted for a war monger as “commander in chief”. Before GWB, I loved the USA, and travelled there all the time. Most Canadians had a generally favourable view of our powerful neighbor too. Very few Canadians would vote for a GWB type character, he is too abrasive and conservative for us. On 911, I cried for America. Real tears. On the build up to the Iraq war, I could not understand what was going on, and tried like hell to understand. One day, about a month before the invasion, I woke up and saw what was going on. The good ol’ boys are running out of oil, and there is plenty left under the sand in the middle east. Better to have the American military sit on it, before China gets any ideas. No sir, you will have to work very very hard to find a Cheney/Bush fan in wealthy Canadian oil country."

I should probably note that Alberta is often called the Texas of Canada, and it's partly because they're often more conservative than people in the other provinces. So, this says something too.

And then there's this one:
2. "Utter nonsense. Writing from Europe, America’s reputation has not been more tattered than since well before the Vietnam War. Europeans were mockingly critical of Bush right after his first election. Almost without exception, they stood with and behind America after 9/11. They largely abhorred the war in Iraq and they grew increasingly distrustful of the Bush administration in 2003 and 2004. Most of them chalked this up to a rogue administration. And then they were absolutely aghast when the Americans voted Bush back in. At that pivotal moment, Europeans questioned the ultimate nature of the American character, and they began to deeply suspect Americans generally. I’m referring to people in their 60s whose families were liberated in France, Germans in Berlin who were fed thanks to the Airlift and many scores elsewhere who enjoyed a youth or adulthood safe from
Communist aggression, and had every reason to respect and admire and be grateful to America. Precisely these people now believe that there is very little to
emulate in America now.

"Obama is well liked in Europe because he is exceptionally bright. That would be major change number 1. He is compassionate, and dedicated years of his life to the underclass and the underprivileged. This is also a major change. He has risen to where he is today through his hard work, his extraordinary capabilities and his capacity to marshall committed support from millions, as opposed to his marriage, his family or his personal wealth. He is idealistic and is able to draw upon a diversity in his constituents that has never before been seen in US politics. He stunningly fails to incorporate the ‘one liner’ hack soundbite style-before-substance politics America is famous for. He largely rejects the most vivid examples that separate America from Europe, including the death penalty, the Iraq war, torture and the polarization between the well off and the most poor. His American individualism - a trait still admired in Europe - is tempered with both personal and political efforts to ensure that all Americans benefit from the chances and opportunity available in the United States."

"In short, he represents about as much of a rejection of the loathed Bush as one could possibly imagine. Electing him would do more here to restore faith in America and the will of its population to achieve the highest American ideals than another Marshall Plan."

Like I said.

Okay, so of course, Obama isn't going to be the messiah, and he's probably not going to end the fustercluck in Iraq. But, let me throw down the gauntlet here a bit and repeat that I think voting for Obama is a profoundly patriotic statement, while voting for McCain simply is not.


narrator said...

You are right on so many points. Societies make choices at crucial moments and those choices can haunt for a very long time. Regarding your last post, France has been paying almost continuously since 1968 for failing - at the end - to embrace the possibility of change which emerged from the joining of the labour union movement to the student movement. By settling for more Gaullism they stagnated so much of their society that recovery has been extraordinarily difficult.

The US made the same poor choice in 1968 though even Nixon was more of a forward thinker than DeGaulle, but now the US stands at another of those pivot points. It can embrace the world in a real way, and embrace the future in a real way by taking a chance, yes "rolling the dice," that inclusion and interaction at home and abroad can do better things, or it can retreat with either Clinton or McCain into old formulations.

As I look at US society today and compare it to others that I know, I sense that the US as-we-culturally-know-it will not really survive another retreat. The poverty/wealth split is too enormous, the debt is too massive, the willingness to let the world hate the culture is too great. Going backwards is choosing to effectively end "the American experiment."

But it's a choice. People make choices. Then they discover that they have to live with the results.

Rufus said...

Thanks so much for the kind words. I love your short stories, incidentally. Stick around.

That's really interesting about Gaullism. I never really looked at it that way, but there is a real stuck-in-the-mud quality to the old Gaullists I've met. The book Coca-Colonization is a pretty interesting look at that generation in France.

Now if someone could explain to me why Sarkozy got elected... Nobody I meet will admit to voting for him!

As for the US, I guess faith springs eternal with me. I have hopes that things will change. But first I think Americans need to realize how much they have changed- in the worst way.

narrator said...

Wish I was an English grad student and writing The Narrator
stories was the real job and the SpeEdChange blogs
were the hobby. But, life carries us in weird ways. Thanks though. Thanks indeed.

I always think that while the French won't ever admit it, they'll always get drawn to that Napoleonic sense of leadership, and they just couldn't see Segolene on horseback.

Anyway, Gaullism always seemed to me to be about pretending that the world was some bizarre, hazily remembered time past. So, they are not even active conservatives. It is whole political movement dedicated to social paralysis.