Friday, October 12, 2012

Political Wankery

It's election season.

Actually that's nonsense on two levels. It's always election season here. And by "election season" I obviously mean "fundraising season". And - as with seemingly bloody everything in this country - everyone is being implored to "think of the children." It's common for British people to look at the US from the outside-in and declare that both sides of the political divide are essentially the same thing in slightly different clothing. That being they're both further to the Right than the Conservative Party, are corporate shills selling their souls for the almighty dollar, get quite giddy about starting global conflicts and seem strangely obsessed with abortion, gays and Jesus. Which is true. But from the inside-out it's constantly rammed down American's throats about how the people on the other side will destroy America as we know it. Either through implementing a communist, Muslim caliphate where everyone is on welfare and your kids will be forced to learn how to recycle by their gay Mexican elementary school teacher. Or by racist, fascist, fundamentalist Christians who will raise Jesus back from the dead so that he can personally slaughter people who are unAmerican (immigrants, gays, nonwhites, atheists and anyone in an state that touches the Pacific ocean in the lower 48) with his Broad Sword of Justice if they don't agree to the righteous global extermination of all the funny brown people in the Middle East.

Flick through the channel specific to your political belief (it's demarcated like this to amusingly avoid bias!) and it's just like this. MSNBC are warning of how one side's blood-thirsty lust for starting a war in Iran is only outweighed by how much they want to turn women into unspeaking sex-cattle aware of the good and less-good kinds of rapery. Alternatively yesterday I had AM talk-radio on for less than 2 minutes on the way to the store, and when I went to pick up my daughter from school. During both times Glen Beck offered up the notion of a Reichstag Fire moment nefariously happening in the next week or so twice. Because as you know Hitler was a National Socialist - and one of those words is "socialist" - just like Barack Hussein Obama is. His entire name is always said on talk radio to convey how just-like Saddam he is. And really - Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini and co are all lumped in together here as if they were all part of one giant Leftist movement that Europe still romantically wishes was going on like a teenage girl pining after Justin Beiber.

US politics is completely ridiculous but takes itself so immensely seriously. All for the sake of "the children." What other country could have politicians spend millions of dollars on a television commercial that says this without any hint of irony at all?


I have found myself - oddly usually in the workplace - surrounded by fervently emotional people spewing invective about how even the faintest agreement with a certain politician is grounds enough for the authorities to suspect you of hurting children. I've always had the good fortune of being clearly foreign - so being above the fray. Add with having an English accent I could often give any response - sometimes without even using vowels - and it had a professorial and educated air simply by being in fused with Englishness. The tragedy of course is Americans could have spoken this way but chose not to. They did it to themselves really. Anyhoo - I have found myself listening to people have a back and forth about how this and the last President - purely by being President - are hurting America's Future. And the advantage I held was that I was never pinned to one side - always the outsider and always independent of each side's totally deserved shame.

But my kids won't have that separation. My daughter may have been born in England but she's every bit a product of the United States. And my son is a typical American - born here with an immigrant parent. They are both going to evolve into one of what are the two basic camps that exist. The first being eternally uninterested in politics. The "who cares?" crowd that - at the one end - is populated by the uninformed and uninterested, right up to the other end that have decided that the entire process is futile and rigged so why fucking bother? The other camp are highly partisan, well-read (choosily - but still well-versed in their own dross) boisterously opinionated types who will never, ever, ever change their mind on an issue. Mostly because they are just parroting it from somewhere else. As social media grows and instant knowledge (that being able to spout bullshit as knowledge without actually learning anything) gets faster the second camp seems to be growing. And I fear my kids will firmly plant themselves in it.

While I'm well aware that what I believe isn't gospel, I am somewhat worried that my kids will grow up to believe in issues that either I find abhorrent or stupid. Or worse - that they think I'm so dumb for believing what I believe that they can disregard my antiquated views out of hand (this is how the majority of each camp views the other). No need for a conversation when the Other Side is an idiot right? But I want them to hold convictions earned through educating themselves, and be open to persuasion from other people with similarly earned convictions. I deeply hold the later part of that view because my own position has evolved all over the place.

As a precocious teenager my political idols were Tony Benn, Ken Livingstone and Neil Kinnock. As I grew a little older I couldn't stomach the constant notion that nobody - absolutely nobody - had ever liked the Conservative Party in spite of landslide electoral victories that had kept them in power for 18 years. Then I very much rode the New Labour wave. I was still soaking in anything from Christopher Hitchens and Alexander Cockburn wrote. Before any inkling that I would end up in the US I became quite interested in US politics. I read P. J. O'Rourke and William F. Buckley frequently and began to understand (at least) the Republican angle on things. And again - I couldn't understand the equating of much that swirled about inside it was akin to the insipid, right-wing war-mongering nastiness of North Korea. After being adopted by this country and the September 11, 2001 attacks I - like a good many fools - felt as if the world really had changed. Taking my own intellectual cues from Hitchens especially I found myself often defending President Bush from his detractors - but more from the Bill Maher-esque stance that post-modernism is bullshit and some things really are just better than others. That ridiculous dalliance with the devil quickly evaporated and I came to my total senses. The sooner he and Cheney face a court isn't soon enough. Since then I've drifted more resolutely left to the sort of place where I would be ignored out of hand because I do want Canadian-style healthcare and to dismantle the Pentagon. All of which is to say I want my kids to traverse all the bollocks within the political argument here and survive it with some level of dignity. Even if they disagree with me. I have an online friend who's son was batshit nuts for Ron Paul - which she thought was mental. But she respected it because it wasn't a cheaply-earned belief - it was deeply sincere. I'd be happy with that.

I don't want my kids to be ultra-partisan. So much to the point that they fall in line with the idiotic trimmings that go with being in love with the Party. A good example is idol worshiping the wives of political candidates.  At the moment here in the US there's been a constant stream of, "oh my God she's the hottest woman alive!!!!" crap about Ann Romney. This happens with any male politicians wife of course so I'm not just picking on her. But on this occasion it's particularly galling considering that during the entire Republican debate season she and her husband were openly talked of unfavorably by anyone in Republican circles, and that even two weeks ago after Bill Clinton made that tremendous speech at the DNC there was a reflexive kvetching about Romney and his wife being massively out of touch. Conservatives with a massive chubby for Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum (Google Hellfire be damned!!) penly mocked Ann Romney as looking like she might be as inbred as the horses she ponced about with. But this last week - oh dear God she's like Christina Hendricks and Alison Brie combined - except she's really really smart and a good christian woman and way more American than Michelle Obama and SQUIRT. Because since Obama sucked a fat one in the presidential debate last week I can't avoid shit about how she doesn't wear pantyhose, looked hot on Good Morning America, is 63 and wears leather skirts and how creepy radio hosts would love her to ride them like a pony. You don't get to - on the one hand - go on about how ludicrous it is to put Michelle Obama on a pedestal or blather on about how she's the most beautiful woman in the US in spite of visual evidence to the contrary, and then waffle on about Ann Romney like a thirteen year old boy who has just discovered wanking whilst visiting his friend's grandmother's house.

But what I will not tolerate is if my kids end up in the crowd of people who feel that mocking US politicians is wrong. It's one of the weird sacred cows of this country that to ridicule highly-elected politicians is just not the done thing. Whereas in the UK our political history is intrinsically linked to satire and downright piss-taking of it. Spitting Image, Private Eye, Have I Got News For You, Armando Ianucci, Rory Bremner and Mock The Week are all well known cogs in the political conversation in spite of the often scathing mockery they rain down on everyone in British politics.  And nary anybody finds the notion that openly calling the Prime Minister a twat is wrong. And in spite of The Daily Show and Colbert on cable there is nothing whatsoever like that in the US. Saturday Night Live is as close as it gets - and that is nowhere close to being relevant.

It's just not the done thing to make fun of what are clearly laughably silly and corrupt people. Instead this weird veneer of reverence is prevalent from the top down. I'm often told it's because Americans treat their elected officials like royalty. But that ignores how massively ridiculed royalty are in the UK to a level even more severe than politicians get. So you won't see any 30 minute sketch shows on network television here that suggest that Paul Ryan looks like the sort of person that fiddles pigeons.You don't see respected commentators openly pulling up a politician on their blatant lies. You don't even see journalists do that here as it suggest bias of some type. No - instead there was fervent idol worship of Obama as if he had descended from heaven. And photos of Paul Ryan at the gym were presented without anyone taking the piss as if it were actual analysis.  Not a single person pointing out that photos of him getting all hard and sweaty in the gym were a last-ditch attempt at tricking the gay vote out of men who have not been following politics at all and are attracted to a man that looks a lot like whatever mutant would be created if all of Mitt Romney's sons managed to impregnate a woman at the same time (I imagine a funnel would be involved) and she gave birth to combined super Mormon. Nothing like that because it would insulting. The most caustic they might get is mentioning that Obama stutters or that Joe Biden has very shiny white teeth. Absolutely nothing at all about how Paul Ryan looks like the kind of person who would deliberately drop a Gregg's pastie on the floor and then wait for the pigeons to bend over. Basically I'm saying nobody on prime time television has suggested one of the top people in politics has hunted, caught and fingered a pigeon for comedy effect. I have though. A lot.


Right in the happy spot.

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