That I am confused is nothing new. Anyone who knows me will tell you that it is a pretty permanent state. But the past few months that I have spent in the United States have taken my confusion to a new high (or low).
Of course I am referring to the elections, which in their own right were befuddling, but also to the general tone in the country, which has caused my brain to move into paralysis.
On the one hand, like Tim, I firmly believe in the doctrine of “Get rid of the bastards”! Term limits should be mandatory – in the States, perhaps 2 terms for Congress and 1 or 2 for the Senate. Of course, there are already limits for the Presidency. So the mood that engulfed the nation to sweep Washington clean had my strong support.
The Democrats have squandered their chances to make a real difference by watering down Obama’s proposed legislation. The reason? So they could get re-elected. Rather than stumping their constituencies explaining the pros of healthcare reform and so on, they slithered home to take ambiguous positions as to whether they actually supported change. Whichever way the wind blew, so they went.
The Republicans were in a good position. Having left the country with two wars in progress, national finances that were far worse than anyone imagined (because the amounts spent on the wars were often secret), and a crippling real estate mess that largely resulted through lack of oversight by the Republican administration, they were able to sit back and criticize every move Obama made to try to rectify the situation. The old mantra “A vote for the Democrats means a vote for tax and spend” rang our loud, clear and often, even though it was irrelevant.
The came the Tea Party – or Teapots, as I call them. The Teapots are people who generally believe in ridding Washington of the old guard (hear, hear!), but want to replace it with something or some things that are difficult to discern. A common cry was to “return to the Constitution”. The problem with this rallying cry for people like me was that it was never spelt out what that meant. The Constitution before the Amendments? Or with some or all of the Amendments? Or did it mean to life at the time when the Constitution came into being? Votes only for the landed gentry? No votes for women and people of colour? And what about the Supreme Court whose job it is to interpret the Constitution? Most of the Teapots came across as though there was no need for interpretation – that it was as clear as crystal.
A disturbing facet of the Teapot movement was that it comprises many fundamentalist right-wing Christians. This made me ask myself about the viewpoint of the founding fathers. As far as I can tell from my reading, the founding fathers of course had a variety of viewpoints, but the major architects of the Constitution definitely believed that no one religion should have precedence over another. And the Constitution enshrines this. So, I ask, what is the relationship between the Teapots, fundamentalist Christianity, and the Constitution. So far the links have eluded me.
My own take is that the election was about something else. For the first time, the voters in the United States are feeling the squeeze. Ten million are out of work, millions of homes are being foreclosed, the balance of economic power is moving east, and the fundamental belief that everything in America is the best in the world is being shown to be a lie. Americans are beginning to realize that the brilliance of the American marketing of their own country has for a long time covered up cracks that have been seen quite readily by people outside the country.
So people are floundering. They do not know what to do. They (quite rightly) don’t trust their politicians, who have lied to them, who have acted with monumental fiscal irresponsibility, and who continue to behave in the same-old same-old way. The problems are so great that the voters are desperate, and will clutch at each passing straw, whether it is rational or not. At the same time, I do not see any realization that the way of life that Americans have enjoyed – living on borrowed money – cannot continue. I do not detect an acceptance that most people are going to have to pull in their belts and live within their means.
There are several generations of Americans who, by the standards of the rest of the world, have lived a better life than their jobs would indicate. How? By borrowing. According to creditcard.com, the average household credit card debt is nearly $16,000 at an average interest rate of 14.5% – well over $2000 per year in interest alone. Nearly 50% of households spend more than they earn. And the borrowing has become habitual. Restraint is rare. And the borrowing habit has, of course, spilt over to the federal and state governments. Everything is in debt – some, like California, actually bankrupt.
So, I don’t think this election was really about liberalism or conservatism, about tax and spend versus cut taxes and spend. It was an election of fear and confusion.
And my fear is that some charismatic idiot, a saviour, will appear who will lead the country over a cliff. Or into another war. Or both.
Stan - Thursday