Monday, December 5, 2011

Explaining America to Europeans

Here's an interesting experiment: the next time you're discussing politics with someone, try to do two things:

  • Assume they know nothing about the subject you're talking about
  • Try to be fair to all sides

For example, when a European asks me "why do Americans like guns?", there's a huge amount of background there and aside from a polite nod to the Second Amendment, I doubt there are many Americans who have an interest in politics who can either discuss the history and meaning of the Amendment or are willing to try to be fair in explaining the point of view of those who disagree with them on this topic.

As I'll be moving to France soon, I'm girding myself for the inevitable "defending the homeland" talks. The USA has a lot of problems but when all is said and done, it's a much nicer country than many people give it credit for. That being said, sometimes it gets really, really difficult for me to find any way to put a positive spin on some things. Witness the Republican presidential primary.

Presidential Debates for Morons
Photo by Mike Licht
In a upcoming Presidential debate where we have a Michelle Bachmann, who can most politely be described as as "odd", Herman Cain¹, a politically inexperienced businessman who won't allow Muslims in his cabinet or government because there's a "creeping intent" to introduce Sharia law into the US government, Rick Santorum, a homophobe who wants to let states criminalize gay sex and compares it to "man on dog" sex, we have Ron Paul being excluded from the same debate for his "extreme views." Seems he wants to end US foreign aid. That includes aid to Israel. I'm sure it's just a coincidence that the debate in question is hosted by a Jewish group which apparently doesn't see "man on dog" conversations as being extreme enough to exclude someone.

We have a later "Presidential Debate" being hosted by a real estate billionaire and reality TV star and the press worry that candidate John Huntsman is unelectable because ... drumroll please ... he acknowledges both climate change and evolution. Meanwhile, the front runner, Mitt Romney, perhaps the platonic ideal of Republican "family values", has never been entirely trusted for reasons I can't quite grasp (psst ... he's Mormon) and it now appears that Newt Gingrich, the thrice-married adulterer who led the charge against Clinton for his affair, may be anointed the standard bearer of this increasingly right-wing Christian party.

While I disagree with many of Ron Paul's views, shouldn't the voters be the people who decide whether or not someone is has "extreme views"? And honestly, Donald Trump hosting a debate? This is simply embarrassing. So much of US politics appears to be a dog and pony show while the need of the US people to have intelligent, informed discussion is simply being ignored.

So can someone tell me how to spin that in a way that doesn't make the US sound absolutely ridiculous? I can't figure it out.

1. I wrote this before Herman Cain announced he was quitting. Voters had no problem with his idiotic tax plan of the fact that he had no idea that China had nuclear weapons. It was the accusations of sexual impropriety which derailed his campaign.