Monday, March 8, 2010

Mad Hatters and US politics

Mar 7, 2010

By Colin Goh

Every so often, I get e-mail from readers asking me what life in the United States is like, because they're being posted to the US or are 'just doing some homework about living elsewhere', or are simply kaypoh. Many express a little trepidation, because of what they see depicted in the cinema.

I usually tell them I live in New York, which, judging by the movies, is chocka-block with gangsters and robbers, and is prone to attack by aliens, giant gorillas and mutant zombies but that in all my years here, I've never felt scared.

Until now. Because, judging by the current political climate, life in the US is beginning to resemble a movie all right, namely, Monty Python And The Holy Grail, that surreal comedy spoofing the legend of King Arthur.

In one scene, King Arthur encounters a group calling themselves The Knights Who Say Ni, who demand from him a 'shrubbery' - one 'that looks nice' and 'is not too expensive' - or else they will keep on saying 'Ni'.

But when Arthur returns with a shrub, the Knights inform him that though it is a good piece of shrubbery, they are now 'no longer The Knights Who Say Ni'.

Instead, they're now The Knights Who Say Ekke Ekke Ekke Ekke Ptang Zoo Boing Zow Zing. And that they now require another form of shrubbery, to be placed beside the original one, 'only slightly higher so you get a two-level effect with a little path running down the middle', and also that Arthur must 'cut down the mightiest tree in the forest... with a herring.'

If you think this is confusing, bizarre and nonsensical, well, it's exactly what the current state of American politics sounds like to me.

I thought the American national nightmare had ended with Barack Obama being elected but instead, the Empire seems to be striking back. There's not a day the media here isn't saturated with chatter about how the US government is 'broken' because of the political impasse between the two dominant parties, and the revival of the conservative movement.

This shouldn't be a surprise - there's always pushback against whoever's in office. It's simply the social incarnation of Newton's Third Law of Motion - every action is met by an equal and opposite reaction.

As a foreigner, I'm not particularly aligned with either the Republicans or the Democrats, because both have their lunatic fringes and share of hypocrites. But the new conservative uprising is just... weird.

From what I can gather, the conservatives, who tend to back the Republicans but are actually pushing them even more to the right, see catastrophe in any form of government intervention, whether in the economy, healthcare or the environment, preferring solutions to emerge from the free market.

To this end, they always trot out the example of how it was a waste of money for government to bail out evil bankers and corporations, who not only aren't reforming, they're still paying themselves massive bonuses.

I'm no particular fan of big government but I don't understand why the conservatives can't see that truly free markets don't exist, that lack of regulation just caused the biggest economic meltdown in years, and that the loudest opponents of regulation just happen to be, um, those evil bankers and corporations.

What's really baffling is that conservatives are blaming the sorry state of the nation on the Democrats, who merely inherited the mess from Dubya & Co.

Meanwhile, their solution is to just say 'Ni', I mean 'No' to everything proposed by Obama despite his attempts to compromise and just vote back into power the Republicans, the same folk who brought about the disaster in the first place.

Maybe I'm missing something in the conservatives' logic, but that's not helped by the fact that they also tend to be antidiversity, anti-environmental protection, anti-science, anti-immigrant and, worst of all, pro-gun.

Does the conservative revival indicate some kind of collective memory loss or wilful ignorance? Or are cynical powers just manipulating the less intelligent?

The conservatives right now are marching under the banner of the 'Tea Party', a reference to a pivotal event in American history when the Americans rose up against their British masters. To me, however, a 'Tea Party' connotes something attended mainly by Mad Hatters.

I've always admired America and how, despite the seeming chaos, Americans always made fundamentally humanistic and rational choices in the end. But now, I'm not so confident. I hope my fears will prove unfounded and that good sense will soon prevail.

If not, America will resemble a movie much less funny than Monty Python And The Holy Grail. Namely, Zombieland.

[Is it inevitable that at some point a two-party political system is doomed to polarise the nation on almost every issue? Is it reasonable to expect that without some way to bridge differences, the ideological gulf will become greater? The US may have progressed in spite of such handicaps, rather than because of such institutions.]

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