American Politics

September 18, 2008 | By Paul Mackenzie Ross | Filed in: politics.

As a Brit I must say I find American politics fascinating, it’s like a circus show.

Whilst we have 3 main politic parties, with only 2 usually battling it out, the US 2-party track is a peculiar beast and particularly odd because, from my point of view, it simply polarises opinion. Although George W Bush was speaking about a different matter, The War Against Terror (TWAT), I think he sums it up when he said “You’re either with us or against us”. And that seems to encompass American Politics, it’s black & white, blue & red, for or against.

This pattern pops up in the most distasteful part of the political process – the  Internet slanging match. It seems that politics in America is a particularly venomous pursuit with character assassination being the number one gameplay. Whilst it would hypocritical of me to raise this concern when us Brits are supposedly good at bringing people down, that would be a topic in itself – undeserving pop stars, overpaid footballers, politicos with their “old boy” networks and centuries of being “ruled” by a monarchy that seems to be owed money by the taxpayer and not the other way ’round.

No wonder the Brits have something to moan about, but what about the Americans?

The land of the free and the home of the brave seems to have absolute freedom of speech on anything; you can say what you want when you want and if you don’t like it, go look at the constitution where all these individuals’ unalienable rights are written in stone. Or at least on paper anyway.

This leads to two particularly interesting topics that we Brits are far removed from: Guns and religion. Whilst there may be hundreds of ancient churches here, dating back nearly a thousand years, monumental cathedrals and places of pagan worship far pre-dating those, we are not an especially religious nation. The state religion may be christianity, of the Church of England variety, but we don’t take it that seriously nor do we have huge issues of the threat of creationism being taught in schools.

Guns are another strange phenomena for which us bad-teethed, drunken pugilists are slightly averse to. Of course there is gun crime in Britain and it has been increasing, but we do not see it as a right to have one hand on a gun and the other on a bible. That, to us, is a form of extremism in many ways. State and religion are supposed to be separate in the US so the threat of having very religious people as world leaders is a concern.

Putting the love of guns and religion together, why does the notion of a gun-totting bible-worshipper get such credit for being so “All-American”? Is that the stereotype North Americans really want? That would be like a Brit having a skinhead and a bulldog, likes to get horrendously drunk, go on holiday to Spain or Ibiza and put the boot in when people are down – Is that “All British”? Should that sort of person be in charge of Great Britain? Why then are War Heroes and Hockey Moms held in such reverence in America? Whys does this qualify them for the Presidency? Why are there no ex-Army PMs and housewives who drive their kids to football practice here in these isles?

Back to this Republican vs Democrat issue: I see a lot of Left v Right talk in the US. It appears that the Republicans are on the right and the Democrats on the left, and here’s me thinking that on party wanted a republic and the others a democracy, silly me. We know how much America feared the red scourge of Communism since the US involvement in World War II and the subsequent Cold War. But that fear still seems to play in the general arena today and there seem to be those still deeply entrenched in this view, that if you’re not with us you’re obviously against us. So if you’re not a Republican you’re a liberal and a leftie.

The same goes for those who are democrats and that if you’re not a democrat then you’re obviously on the right, you’re a Nazi, a fascist.

Neither of these extremes is healthy and the peculiar thing from a Brit’s point of view is that there ARE extreme right-wing philosophies in the US an yet so very little Marxist or Leninist views, in fact maybe none. So why are so many people being branded as lefties?

Well, it’s all because to the left of the right anything is left. Even the centre. Left is left and in the middle is left.

So my point is that American Politics is skewed. Both Democrats and Republicans think they are normal and it’s the other side that’s extreme. However, when you’re on the right you’re on the right. When you’re in the middle you’re seen as on the left. Weird. Maybe there’s a long-standing stigma with the word “socialism” which Americans instantly connect with communism? Do Americans not realise that socialism has many definitions, as does paganism, and that one definition of socialism is that, in Marxism, it is a transitional stage between capitalism and communism?

That wouldn’t be good because capitalism is a virtue of the right and anything other than capitalism is a leftist philosophy. Communism is on the left. And now too so is that middle ground, being social, or socialism. My own philosophy is this – when you have nothing you want everybody who has more than you to share it with you; you want communism, you want socialism. When you’ve got lots and you don’t want to share it you want conservatism, you want capitalism. One dogma is “I want what you’ve got” whilst the other says “You’re not getting your hands on my money”. And whilst I appreciate and have experienced from both sides each of those polarised views I see the place in the middle where you can keep what you’ve worked and studied hard for, and make a contribution to society too. You can use the social fund to give yourself a boost. There is no need in this day and age for anybody in the western world to be poor or hungry, so why do we encourage a system which makes it so?

What if there were no government control? What if individuals were in charge of everything? That raises the issue of individual vs community; another hang-up maybe? The word “community” is so close to communism, so do Americans want what is good for them all as individuals? Which is a sort of paradox when so many individuals collectively want what is only good for them personally. That’s community of sorts. That’s a form of socialism whether people like it or not.

So maybe American Politics needs to throw away the coffee and wake up and smell the tea? Maybe the strength of its conviction is too extreme and it doesn’t realise how indoctrinated it has become? This circus that is American politics will continue until there is a winner. Only when there is a winner there will also be losers too. If American society was geared up to make it an OK country to live in, even when you’ve lost, then maybe the balance would be restored. Whether it was there in the first place or not.

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4 comments on “American Politics

  1. adeNo Gravatar says:

    as a brit living in spain who loves reading about american politics… spot on

    download the daily show and the colbert report via torrents for that little bit of extra “fuck you” 🙂

  2. Paul Mackenzie RossNo Gravatar says:

    Cheers Ade, I know the Daily Show but the Colbert Report’s a new one on me 🙂

  3. roscopicoNo Gravatar says:

    Don’t believe what the anerican media summation of the “right” vs the “left” actually entails, friend.
    The battle is actually about conservativism (i.e., self-reliance, traditional values, the need for “moral hazard” for productive society) vs. liberalism (i.e., large government, moral equivalency, the “nanny state” to prevent any manner of failure).

    The conservatives offer hard work and the opportunity to succeed or fail.
    The liberals offer class envy as an excuse create a permanently dependent electorate.


  4. Paul Mackenzie RossNo Gravatar says:

    I don’t believe in “right” v “left” either, I’ve see American Politics as more “right” v “centre & left” or “right” v “the rest” as it has appeared to become these days although this is still ultimately too simplistic. I thank you and appreciate the explanation of the conservatism vs liberalism, though; a very thought-provoking and interesting definition that begs further discussion

    It’s true that self-reliance should be encouraged but there should always be a safety net for those who might fall.

    Traditional values are generally good, but which ones in particular and whose traditions? I would be willing to modify my list of traditions if they were superseded by better values; manners and honour can stay but sexism is out. The right to bear arms in America is a tradition that the English mostly don’t need.

    The size of government, that’s an interesting one; as populations grow and life becomes more complicated, so government naturally grows anyway in the same way that laws expand. James Madison, himself an anti-federalist, even said something along the lines that “if men were angels there would be no need for government”. Were government to better govern itself then there might be a case to trust it more.

    Moral equivalency and the concept of the “moral hazard” again, have far-reaching implications and there are pros and cons to both “sides”.

    The opportunity to succeed is good but the flip is failure; it depends how far into failure people are allowed to fall and that’s the issue which conservatism seems to have failed to address since the mid 1970s as the gap between rich and poor has increased.

    Conversely the allowance for people to depend on the state is at the other end of the spectrum, so this still indicates a polarisation in ideals.

    I suspect roscopico is a conservative? My other would be a liberal and I still see my position as a moderate or centrist.

    Interesting interjection, roscopico, thank you for your input.

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