By Wendell P. Simpson
After having settled into our new East London flat, my wife and I sat chatting with our new landlords, a lovely lady and gentlemen with the kind of clear British accents that belie their Eastender roots, and which clearly speaks to their education—as well as their aspirations.
Our conversation naturally turned to politics, in particular, American politics, and President Obama, a figure who has captivated the imagination of the rest of the world. Andy and Carolina were eager to discuss the obvious rift between the conservatives in America and Obama; after all, prognosticators on this side of the pond are predicting a seismic ideological shift in the Congress and Senate after the mid-terms in November, a plebiscite they see as a rebuke of the policies of Obama and the Democrats.
“It all seems so cheeky,” Caroline opined with a clear curiosity about the whole process. “I mean, there’s this debate between the conservatives and the liberals in America, but everyone in your country really scuttles down the middle, don’t they? You don’t have a ‘left’ in your country, not the way we do. I don’t understand it…”
It was like, ‘Wow! KaBlam!!’ As seen from the outside, we Americans don’t seem to have a real schism at all, just a sham debate between button downs.
I see their point. England is a country with real, socialized medicine, rather than a version of medical maintenance in which reform means that the for-profits STILL manage your health care; where its contract with its people means that tax monies help provide a safety net for the masses rather than welfare for the corporations and big money interests; where, as of this writing, the bulk of the people, despite the inconvenience to themselves, are actually in support the striking transit workers; where the former Prime Minister got run out of town on a rail because, in large measure, he supported an imperialist excursion in Iraq; and where the top two candidates for the leadership of one of its major political parties, Labour, are actually the scion of one the country’s most renowned—and celebrated—socialist thinkers.
Now that’s progressive politics.
Now, I expect to be roundly excoriated for saying this, but, alas, we don’t really have a ‘left’ in America—only champagne liberals, centrists with a right-handed limp and guns-and-Bible tottin’ hillbillies. We don’t have a single ‘revolutionary’ in government with the except of Dennis Kucinich—who doesn’t have a chance in hell of becoming president—and maybe Cynthia McKinney, who was eviscerated for having the temerity to suggest that the 9/11 attacks could have been a response to an American foreign policy agenda that disenfranchised millions in the Middle East, most of whom happen to be Muslims.
In fact we’ve had one ‘leftist’ president in American history and that was FDR. Do I need mention that it was Roosevelt’s ‘socialist’ New Deal programs that saved the country form the last group of robber baron capitalists who took it to the brink?.
I would venture to guess that, were he alive to day, FDR would cringe at the inefficacy of a tepid and languid Democratic Party quaking in its boots at the notion of real reform, and blubbering like a bunch of toothless schizophrenics any and every time the cadre of reactionary wing nuts at Fox News dares to challenge a progressive initiative by his old party. I’m sure, in fact, that he would feel betrayed that his legacy and the progressive heritage of his party has been allowed to die rotting on the vine of fear and trepidation.
That , sadly, is the extent of the American political scheme in the morning hours of the 21st century.
Our president, God love him, is really one of those limping centrists, what Bill Maher called ‘the last moderate Republican’—a man who has not held Wall Street or the banks or the corporations to account. They got $750 billion in taxpayer bailout money, but not a single caveat that would force them to reinvest in the country or its people. They’ve all raked in massive profits over the last year—Ford just had one its most profitable quarters ever—but very few jobs have materialized. We’re still embroiled in Afghanistan where Al-Qaeda isn’t (I understand the grand and lofty notion of nation building, but Philadelphia and Detroit and Chicago and Los Angeles, et al, are crumbling from neglect), and we’re still going to have to bear the massive cost of rebuilding Iraq—and repaying China for the loans.
On the cultural front, racism has seen a resurgence the likes of which the country hasn’t experienced since the heyday of Jim Crow. Politicians like Rand Paul are offering up a grotesque interpretation of the U.S. Constitution that says individual businesses should have the right to refuse service and accommodations to citizens based on arbitrary considerations like race, and a sizable segment of white America has eaten up the proposal like it’s buffet hour at Golden Corral.
Then there’s Arizona’s draconian anti-immigration bill that has inspired copycat proposals for similar legislation in states like Tennessee, Colorado, and this bastion of northern liberalism, Pennsylvania.
Arizona, Virginia and Texas have been trying desperately to white wash history. Arizona’s schools have all but eliminated its Hispanic ethic studies programs, terming them ‘subversive’; Texas has set a compulsory ‘patriotic curriculum standards’ for its schools—with an agenda that virtually writes Obama’s presidency out of its textbooks; while Virginia officials have promulgated a version of slavery that equates the horrors and inequities of the institution as merely an unpleasant historical misstep. Then there’s the so-called Ground Zero mosque: Lord help America that it should actually stand by the principles of the US Constitution and allow US citizens the freedom to worship without fear of reprisal—especially from officials who swore an oath to defend them when they took their respective offices. And while critics in the Obama administration have roundly censured these ideals, the fact, the Right has made clear headway in its attempts to turn the America clock back. They’re partying like it’s 1959…
Hey, isn’t this the kind of America that the hard Right has been lusting after for eons now? So, my question is, what are they so afraid of—and what would a more right-leaning America even look like? I shudder to think—brownshirts in swastika armbands planting bombs at the local NAACP headquarters, or corralling Hispanics into makeshift concentration camps—hello, Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio—or shattering the windows of the local mosque, a la Krystalnacht?
The Right has pretty much gotten what it wants—the anointing of the corporatacracy, a xenophobic, populist movement that inveighs against fair play and decency for the country’s ‘unacceptable’ citizens, and a government that is frozen into impotence.
Obama? Black power? An Hispanic takeover? A radicalized American Muslim front? Never mind the bollocks; we’re never going to change anything as long as we Americans clutch our Bibles in lieu of reason for comfort, our guns and our fear, our obsequious attachments to conventions, our addiction to gross consumerism and crass materialism and the lowest common denominator as reflected in our reality shows and our horrifically low educational achievements.
And while we wallow in our self-righteousness, the rest of the world steps a little further back, afraid that we might infect them with the our disease. Nobody else wants to catch that ugly limp.