Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Feasting on an American tragedy

Nobody, in the land of the free, takes being called an accomplice to murder lying down. Accordingly, the far right is raising hell, in its own defense. Whether, they can regain the political offensive remains to be seen. Sarah Palin, possibly the cockiest politician to come along since Mayor Richard Daley, has the biggest problem: innocent as driven snow as she thinks, her charm was born of her blithe and reckless style. And reckless political rhetoric will, for some time, match drunk driving for bad taste
Jared Lee Loughner’s rampage may have a long impact on American politics. There is nothing exotic or foreign about any of it. A single issue—like, racial equality or the right to strike—was not at issue and isn’t at hand to resolve. The victims were not Presidents or radicals but ordinary, affable Americans living in a community still optimistic about the future.
As a Canadian neighbor, one thing that is starting to embarrass me is the verdict of outsiders that America’s political style is murderous, that violence emanates from America’s peculiarly abrasive political culture and commercial media.  John Doyle, a Toronto film critic said:
“What Fox News has sown is now being reaped. . . . Fox News does indeed define the U.S. political culture and the manner of debate inside that culture. It is to blame, but blame must be tempered by our understanding that Fox News is America and America is Fox News. There will be neither silence nor a change of tone until the Fox News Channel changes or shuts up. That’s not going to happen. Look at the ratings. The ratings don’t lie.”
—John Doyle, “How fox changed the tone of American political debate,” The Globe and Mail, January 11, 2011

Fox News is a delicious whipping boy.  If Fox News, rather than Radio Free Europe was broadcasting in the 1980’s, the Berlin Wall would probably still be standing. Nevertheless, if Fox was the voice of America today, Barack Obama would not be President. 

The notion that rough debate somehow causes Americans to kill one another and that that rough debate is something that America’s civilized friends have, thankfully, put behind them is offensive.

Let’s hear it for partisan civility. But let’s not pretend that good manners in Washington will civilize the fevered margins of America’s culture. When the US Congress was dominated by so-called bi-partisan elder statesmen, blacks were regularly being lynched and civil libertarians and peace protesters were being clubbed by the police.

Americans are not passive people. However, labeling their aggressiveness as an expression of a people “fearful of change and hostile to opposing viewpoints” is, coming from a Canadian, cheap. 

American protest movements and political fights have authored much of Canadian and Western political discourse for decades. Americans argue in public about the most sensitive tensions in their culture and their conduct in the world. Nothing is excluded in Washington simply because it’s not mainstream.

In cocktail parties in Toronto, it’s easier to have an intelligent discussion about what Americans are excited about than how we govern ourselves. Just try having an interesting argument about Canadian foreign policy or why we have an appointed Senate.

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