Yeah! What she says!

Yeah! What she says!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Stop Pretending You Know What You Are Talking About

As an American, I don't comment, write, or orate on the political systems of other nations. I may ask questions in an attempt to try and understand them, and I may have a few quick remarks every now and again about their individual politicians, monarchs or dictators, but I don't even pretend to understand their political systems, or how they work. My main reason for this is, I believe that unless you have lived under that rule, and participated in that system for a number of years, you will be missing something important and end up making yourself look like the biggest idiot, or jerk there is.

It upsets me to see others do this because it seems it is always the Americans, and our system that are getting picked on. Most days I can blow it off and convince myself that it is just jealousy, or perhaps as it is with children, that picking on someone else makes you feel better about yourself. In actuality there is probably a little of column A and a little of column B mixed in to the truthful answer. Despite this, on occasion, I find myself upset by what is said. Primarily, because I live here, and what is being said really isn't true. I don't like the way American's, and our ideals are misinterpreted by people who presume to know what they are talking about when in actuality they can't even begin to grasp the concept.

Today I was set off by an article that I received via Twitter from The Guardian. For those of you who don't already know, this is a British paper. The funniest part, is this article was tweeted by a friend who is Scottish, and very opinionated about American politics. (In fact, he tweets about American politics more than those of the UK. The right and wrong of that fact alone is a totally different blog post though.) You can read the article in isn't entirety here, but I will post it below in bits and pieces with my thoughts and comments.

This Republican abuse of the system is not the American way
The centuries-old US political system is one to be admired. Yet ironically it's under threat from those who claim to be patriots

OK, unless you are new here, or unless you are from another nation that really hasn't lived under our system, you would take one look at this title and say "yep, and you think the other side is better?" You would immediately think that the article you are about to read is politically biased, and if you are like me, that means it is a useless, one-sided, piece of propaganda. For me, this type of article is usually quickly skipped. I don't need your editorial on anything. I can write my own editorial, after I make up my own mind. Thank you. I almost stopped reading this article at this point, because as far as I was concerned the author just lost any credibility I may have given them for simply being a published author, by simply being so blatantly biased in their writing, and by doing this so early in their article.

They say one in four of the world's people will have a vote in an election in 2012, but no contest will get more attention than the presidential one in the US – if only for its entertainment value. So far the Republican primary has spoiled us, from Rick Perry's "oops" to corporate asset-stripper Mitt Romney's admission that he liked firing people, delivered just before he was snapped receiving a sit-down shoe-shine from an underling – not a good look for a would-be man of the people. En route we've had Rick Santorum insisting that he does not equate homosexuality with bestiality – or, as he memorably phrased it, "man on dog" – and that when he had appeared to make a disobliging reference to black people, he had in fact been speaking of "blah" people.

First, my mother always taught me that if people were to worry as much about themselves and what they are doing wrong, as they do about others and what they are doing wrong, this world would be a much better place. Secondly, my mother also taught me that finding amusement in other people's plights didn't say much about you as a person. It usually means you are shallow, and without compassion. Thirdly, I learned that my mother is always right. With that said, the author lost more credibility for the reasons I listed above, in the first two paragraphs alone, and we haven't even read far enough to see his point yet. At this stage, I am hoping he has one.

All amusing enough in its own way, but no match for this time four years ago, when the race between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton captured a rapt and global audience. The 2008 contest and its result achieved a remarkable turnaround in the US's standing overseas. The Pew survey found that while just over 50% of Britons, for example, had a favourable view of the US in the final Bush years, the figure had leapt close to 70% by the time Obama was in the White House.

Yet now the numbers are slipping again. I have my own unscientific indicator to go on too. A few years back I published a book calling for Britain to learn from America's founding ideal, to reshape our own creaking political machinery on the lines of the US constitution, with its separation of powers and guaranteed rights. Soon after publication, events conspired to make the US a hard sell. Whether it was the Monica Lewinsky-related impeachment of Bill Clinton, the Florida fiasco in which Al Gore seemed to lose an election he'd won or the entire Bush presidency, I was regularly confronted with the original subtitle of my book – How Britain Can Live the American Dream – and mockingly asked, "It's all looking like a bit of a nightmare now, isn't it?".

*Sigh* This frustrates me beyond belief. This is an article in a news paper after all. Our political election process between Obama and Clinton made us look better overseas? Seriously? I really think we need to find y'all better hobbies, and a few books on the American political system that are NOT written by this author. The race wasn't between Obama and Clinton! They are both democrats! It couldn't have been between them unless you were only watching the primaries and then you tuned out. Oh, and Clinton wasn't impeached you moron. He served two full terms. Nor did Al Gore lose an election he won. If you win you win. If you lose, you lose. You can't win, then lose. And honestly, Al Gore losing Florida, was NOT a fiasco. The guy can't even spell potato.

This is more credibility lost. You had already lost all your credibility as a writer with me, so the only points left were for factual accounts, and now those are gone. You are in pretty sad shape now, as the first two paragraphs lost you your human points.

I'm hearing that again, as non-Americans watch not just the bizarre Republican presidential field but the paralysis of a US political system that has rendered an elected president apparently incapable of doing almost anything. The final straw came last August, when the US saw its credit rating downgraded after coming close to a default – all because Congress refused to raise the country's debt ceiling. Surely now, people wondered, I had given up my youthful enthusiasm for a set-up that could result in such madness?

I have news for all of you, Republican and Democrat and foreign populaces alike. Listen up. The American political system did not render Obama impotent in office. His arrogance, and inability to be compromise has. Nobody will work well with someone who presents himself as Obama has. Think about this in terms of where you work. If you have a co-worker who walks around acting like they are perfect, they do no wrong, and really are just that important, what would you do? Me, and I assume a great number of you, would be lining up to knock that person down a few rungs on that ladder of self-importance that they have climbed. Especially if the same people who put you on that pedestal are now the ones you look down on, and talk down to. I imagine there are members of the Senate and House that feel the same way.

Obama isn't dealing with anything more difficult than his predecessors were in terms of bipartisan bickering in Congress. Take a look at the bottom of this chart showing the majorities in the white house, and the presidents party. (You may also find the GDP interesting. I did.)

As for our downgraded credit rating, well, we deserved that. We have been spending outside of our means and our debt it too great. Congress did the right thing, as the debt needs to be controlled. At a business or personal level the practice of spending outside of your means is disastrous. It can't be OK for a nation to do it either. In this rare case, Congress heard the American people. That is their job.

Well, no, I haven't. I still admire a system in which election is the usual method for allocating public positions, including the head of state; whose second chamber is elected rather than appointed; which ensures serious power exists at local, town hall level; which locates sovereignty in the people rather than in an abstraction, such as our "crown in parliament"; and which sets down the rules and rights of national life in a written constitution that serves as a kind of owner's manual available to every citizen. All that I still admire.

But I confess the constipation embodied by the US Congress, the constant gridlock, has made me despair. A check on the executive is one thing; a triple-locked pair of handcuffs on the president's wrists, restraining him and his party from even, say, extending unemployment benefits to the needy, is quite different.

The President's wrists are not restrained. His ability to present a proper solution is. That isn't Congress's fault. Extending unemployment benefits to those who need them is wanted by both sides. What is not wanted is a system that does not urge them to return to work, because why would they do that if they are going to earn money sitting on their duffs at home? Also, keep in mind, we are not a socialist country. We do not believe in socialism. We subscribe to capitalism, even with it's flaws. It is at this point that the writer would lose more points with me, provided he had any left, for trying to graft his ideals from his nation onto ours, and depicting our set-up as flawed because it doesn't match his.

And yet this is not some inherent flaw in the US system, an outcome logically entailed by the founders' design and therefore unavoidable. On the contrary, it is the result of an abuse of the system, a consequence specifically of the march rightward of the Republican party.

You forget, dear writer, that the current Congress is split about 50-50, and until recently was controlled by the President's own party, the Democrats. I don't think you can blame this on Republicans.

Take the debt ceiling row. Congress never used to have a problem with that: the vote to raise the limit was always routine, nodded through 87 times since 1945, no matter which party was in charge. But today's Republicans seized on the chance to put a gun to the head of the US economy. Either the president caved to their demands or they were ready to see the country default. No wonder the credit agency Standard & Poor's declared as it took away America's triple-A rating that "the effectiveness, stability, and predictability of American policymaking and political institutions have weakened".

You can't kill an economy that has already died. Even if you put a gun to it's head. Our economy had already tanked. The jury is still out as to if raising the debt ceiling would have helped one way or the other. That depends on which economist you talk to.

To be sure, that ability to hold the country to ransom was always there, buried within the rulebook. But convention and a shared assumption that no party would act blatantly against the national interest ensured those potential weapons lay dormant. Starting in the 1990s, under then-speaker Newt Gingrich, the Republicans cast aside those conventions, dismissing them as the cosy practices of Washington insiders, an offence against ideological purity. More important now is their Tea Party pledge to vote against any tax rise or new borrowing, no matter how damaging the impact.

So they threaten filibuster against any important Democratic measure and every presidential appointment, a trick that can only be foiled with 60 out of 100 Senate votes. That way the Republican minority exercises a veto over the Democratic majority, even if the result is paralysis in the face of economic crisis and hundreds of crucial government posts left empty. Again, the possibility of minority rule may have been there before. But it has taken the shift in today's Republican mindset to realise it.

You are forgetting something very important. Both parties you are speaking of are doing exactly what they feel is in the best interest of the country. What they feel is right for the country just happens to be on opposing sides of the spectrum. As to crucial government posts being left empty, well, I am not so sure they were all that crucial. Life here for the citizens has been pretty normal really. If these posts were crucial, I would have expected more of us would have noticed a bigger change in day to day life. Besides, government is a huge and bloated thing, and needed to lose some dead weight most probably.

And what is that shift? It is towards an anti-government fervour that recalls the militia movement of the 1990s, convinced that every Washington move – even a plan to expand healthcare – is motivated by wickedness and constitutes a step towards tyranny. In that context, any action to thwart the government beast is justified. Such ideas were always around on the lunatic fringe, but they have entered and now dominate the Republican mainstream. Today's presidential candidates must bow to them. In the words of Mike Lofgren, a Republican congressional staffer who recently quit after nearly 30 years' service, today's Republicans are less like a traditional political party and "more like an apocalyptic cult".

There is a bitter irony here, that the party that insists it is conservative and patriotic now threatens the centuries-old political system that lies at the core of the US's national identity. The ideal remains true, but it is being warped almost to breaking point by the very people who claim to be its loudest defenders.

To this last section of the article, I have only one thing to say, "A government that is big enough to give you all you want is big enough to take it all away." (Barry Goldwater) The anti-government shift didn't just arrive. Even our founding fathers believed that government needed to be kept under strict control. Here are some examples that are straight from their mouths:

"The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people, it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government." - Patrick Henry

"Government is not reason; it is not eloquence. It is force. And force, like fire, is a dangerous servant and a fearful master." - George Washington

A wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government, and this is necessary to close the circle of our felicity. - Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address. (By the way, this one also mentions that he didn't like socialism, such as welfare, social medicine, and other such things.)

Now, lets re-visit where I started. It angers me that someone who does not live here, feels they have the right, and the ability to comment on something that they so obviously don't grasp. What is even more far-fetched is that they think they have a firm grasp on the topic, and back that supposed firm grasp up by comparing it to a system that Americans have been trying to avoid since this country's inception. To top it all off, this writer vilifies a political party that, according to recent numbers, represents about half of this nation's registered voting population.

The writer did all of this to say and prove what? That Republicans are evil? Maybe that was his point. If so, it is a sad representation of who he is as a person. Seriously, all career politicians are evil! This is not something that the rest of the world is just figuring out I hope...

One wonderful idea I came up with while reading this article though was that we should send Obama to the United Kingdom to rule them. They still like him even though he insulted the Queen with gifts of an iPod full of his speeches (arrogant!), and and set of DVD's full of American classic films that were not even in the right region (arrogant and stupid!). Not only that, but they already have socialism, so Obama will fit right it. We will keep the American Dream here with us, and alive, but continuing to reward those who work hard, and hopefully inspiring those who don't by showing them what can be gained with a little hard work.


Pam Leggate said...

You must remember that the Guardian is a left-wing paper and therefore, in effect, an Obama supporter. Please don't think that it represents the views of all the UK people - it certainly doesn't, and I would suspect that most people don't agree with it's views. Otherwise we wouldn't have voted out our left-wing politicians at the last election!

Mrs Xoke said...

I am hoping that we will be able to do the same during our next election. Not that I think we will be able to do anything more than pick the lesser of the evils. That is the sadest part of all. Thank you so much for commenting!