Saturday, 21 June 2008

May Australia never end up like the USA

Is that what lies ahead of Australia should republicans have their way?

Harper's Magazine:
... one could argue that the American democratic experiment was at least in part an attempt to challenge this “reality,” to establish a political and legal culture from which would emerge, organically, a new sensibility: independent, unburdened by the protocols of class, skeptical of inherited truths. Willing to be disobedient. To moon the lord.

Alas, if that was the plan, it went sideways a long time ago. In today’s America, the majority is nothing if not impressed by power and fame (its legitimacy is irrelevant), nothing if not obedient. As for mooning the lord, the ass to the glass these days is more likely to be the lord’s, and our own posture toward it, well, something short of heroic. Worse yet, should someone decide to take offense, and suggest that it is not the lord’s place to act thusly, he will be set upon by the puckering multitude who will punish him for his impertinence

At a White House reception a couple of years ago, President George Bush asked Senator-elect Jim Webb how things were going for his son, a Marine serving in Iraq. “I’d like to get them out of Iraq, Mr. President,” Webb replied. “I didn’t ask you that,” the president shot back. “I asked you how your boy was doing.” ...

... Democracy, of course, is not an absolute but a relative value: “We’re not perfect,” the cry will sound, “but show us who is!” I’ll take a pass on perfection, but I’ll say this: when it comes to the egalitarian attitude democracy presupposes, the Brits, for all their wigged getups and parliamentary histrionics, have it all over us. It’s not just the formal, procedural differences between the two political cultures (the mandated brevity of the British election season, or the government’s strictures on how much money a candidate can spend) that cast us in a sad and diminished light; it’s the difference in spirit that lies behind, and informs, these distinctions.

In general, the Brits act as though the government is their business and they have every right to meddle in it. Americans, by and large, display no such self-assurance. To the contrary, we seem to believe, deep in our hearts, that the business of government is beyond our provenance. What accounts for the difference? My wife, whose family hails in part from England, has a theory: unlike us, the Brits don’t confuse their royalty with their civil servants, because they have both, clearly labeled. Acknowledging the universal desire to defer, they channel that desire, wisely, into the place where it can do the least harm, a kind of political sump. Americans, on the other hand, lacking the royal catch basin, are squeezed between pretense and practice. Though we continue to pay lip service to the myth of the independent American, we understand it as a fiction—nice for a Friday night with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s but about as relevant to today’s world as a butter churn.

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