Monday, April 26, 2010

And Now for Something Completely Different

I have an announcement to make, which might come as a shock to and disappoint a lot of people.

I am not British.

Sorry, but I never have been and never hope to be. Not even if the United States’ electorate were to go completely and totally bonkers and elect Sarah Palin as President with Michelle Bachmann appointed as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

For the record, in my youth, I married an Englishman. These things happen. These things – marrying foreigners – have always happened. Since the United States has been an independent country, we’ve always intermarried with our former colonial owners. We’ve even had an English First Lady. No less than one Adams, John Quincy, son of one of the major Founding Fathers, himself, married an English lass, albeit one who had an American father, and when he won the Presidency, there she was, ensconced at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and lording it over Washingtonian society as the First Lady of the land.

So take that, Jackie Kennedy.

In the late 19th Century, impoverished British aristos came, cap and hand, to the United States, courting the industrial heiresses of the East Coast new monied families. The Vanderbilts craved a title for their daughters and the Dukes of Marlborough, bluebloods of Blenheim, craved more than just a little bit of that tacky new American money to help sustain their chunks of stone and lujo lifestyles.

So when I married and went to live in England almost three decades ago, I wasn’t emigrating, per se. I was simply going to live where my husband lived and worked, and that’s the way it’s remained since then.

It’s not my home. It’s the place where I live and work. It’s the place where I pay exhorbitant taxes.

Lately, in fact, since the election of Barack Obama and the seemingly interminable discussion about healthcare, I’ve read a lot of comments made by a lot of Americans who seem to be giving up the ghost on America in general and looking, languishing and longing to live abroad, more or less because (and this is their reasoning) of the free healthcare.

Honestly, I read that so much I wanted to scream and scalp myself. And if I wasn’t reading that, I was reading about how much cleverer, intelligent and better educated all Europeans are. For everyone who’d ever complained about our President’s perceived apologising and bowing to foreign powers, these wailings were not only butt-clinchingly craven, they were totally ignorant.

Here are a few facts, and they’re not difficult to comprehend:-

1. Healthcare in Europe is not free. It never was. It’s funded through higher taxes. In fact, the French expect to have one-third of their salary witheld in order to pay for their government-funded health insurance, and that health insurance only covers 65% of their total costs, necessitating a hybrid system consisting of a 35% private top-up via employer-related health insurance.

2. Sorry, but sometimes in the UK, which has the Queen Mother of all single-payer systems, healthcare is rationed, depending on how well or how badly your local health authority has managed its government budget. And your healthcare won’t get you a private room, either, in the event of hospitalisation, or a lengthy consultation with a high-powered specialist physician or surgeon. No Harley Street for you, mate.

So that’s the healthcare debate in a nutshell. Let’s look at some other myths, shall we?

For years, I’ve listened to Bill Maher go on at length about the stupidity of Americans. I know what he means. A lot of other people do also, but it doesn’t mean that those of us who “get” Bill have to nod our heads like the dogs adorning the parcel shelves in the back of our cars and agree mindlessly.

“Yes, Bill, we’re stupid.”

“That Bill! He nails it every time. We sure are stupid.”

“Bill Maher’s right. We’re a nation of morons.”

“Yes. Bill’s got it. We’re stupid. Hyuck, hyuck.”

First of all, when Bill Maher makes a remark like that, he’s including himself. He has to be, simply because he carries an American passport. It’s meant as a wake-up call, a piece of reverse psychology. He wants us to look at ourselves and better ourselves intellectually, to understand and question and not accept blindly.

Secondly, stupidity doesn’t recognise geographical borders. There are stupid people the world over. Take a stroll with me through happy-clappy Europe, and I’ll show you stupid in four different languages.

And the equivalent of rednecks and lowlifes. The Josef Frizls of the world in Austria, who keep their daughters barefoot, pregnant and in the cellar as sex slaves to their own depravities. The slack-jawed slut of a mother of Baby P in London, no less, who made her beautiful son’s 18-months of life a living hell and still hopes to be released from prison to live with her partner in crime. The mother of Shannon Matthews, who “arranged” for he brother to kidnap the child and keep her drugged, hoping to mount a national search and reap a five-figure reward for finding the child. That happened in the industrial North of England. The McCanns, a husband-and-wife medical team, who left their three toddler children alone sans babysitters in a Portuguese resort. Whilst they revelled, “someone” kidnapped the oldest child, who hasn’t been seen to this day.

Pretty stupid, right?

And trivialities too. In Britain, the golden boy of the moment, Nick Clegg, acquired the nickname “LegOver Clegg” when – in a vain attempt to portray himself as au courant with the misogynistic lads’ pub-and-pull culture that’s rampant in Britain now, boasted in an on-air television interview to having slept with at least 30 women before marrying his wife. As if that were relevant. In Britain, obviously, it is.

Or Nicolas Sarkozy, who, within a couple of months of his second wife leaving him, stood before the magistrates’ marital altar about to marry a woman who’s chief claim to fame in Europe is that she’s a veritable continental mattress, who always goes to the highest bidder, and that she’s lining up a suitable successor when, next year, the little President is defeated at the polls, because it isn’t in Carla Bruni’s agenda to retire to the Parisian banlieux as bourgeois Mme Sarkozy – not after having graced the arms of Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger and having culminated her horizontal career as Mme la Presidente. Rumour has it that Woody Allen’s interested in reviving whatever film career she once hoped to have. We’ll see.

There’s a General Election coming up in the UK on May 6th, with each of the three major political parties here claiming “Change you can believe in.” Sound familiar? The third party perennial bridesmaid Liberal Democrats, who are neither particularly liberal nor Democratic, are heralding an amnesty on all illegal immigrants (of which there are many in the UK) and a closer relationship within the bosom of the European Union – which, for many British, means a ceding of sovereignty to the Brussels gravytrain, and economic subservience to the old enemies of Germany and France. Mr LegOver preaches to the the inspired youngsters, desperate for an Obama of their own, by saying that “the young ‘get’ Europe” in a way the old don’t.

Yes, they do. They “get” the fact that Europe is a place of sandy-beached holiday resorts with thumping, throbbing clublife, 24-hour drinking and sex on the beach with strangers, cheap booze and cheaper accommodation, so that when they return after the requisite two weeks of sun, sand and sex, they can high-ass it to the local clinic for treatment of a nasty rash or smelly discharge in an unmentionable area.

If there’s an immigration problem in Europe, there are other problems too – like alcoholism in the UK or cocaine abuse in Italy. Like racism.

Racism’s there too.

A Norwegian blogger on HuffPo begs and pleads for Americans to keep their Tea Party ambassadors away from the Right Wing of his country. A British woman with a Russian name who lives in Switzerland rounds on me on a Facebook page and spews venom about the fact that Britain is ruined culturally because of its increased Americanisation.

“The Britain I see now,” she cries, “is nothing like the Britain where I grew up 40 or 50 years ago.”

Wow, to me that says only one thing … the Britain of 40 or 50 years ago was white. The Britain she sees and deplores today is a haven of multiculturalism and a myriad of colours. And that’s America’s fault, of course.

So she sits safely watching from afar in homogenous Switzerland, tax haven of the wealthy, who’s just passed national legislation prohibiting the building of mosques by their newly-arrived and ensconced Muslim community, which reinforces Mr Liberal Finnish Blogger’s plea.

It’s a poorly disguised secret that an undercurrent of racism is rearing its ugly head (like Putin before Palin’s gaze) in Scandinavia, due primarily to the fact that they now have a tranche of immigrant society which isn’t blonde-haired, blue-eyed and fair-skinned. It was the Danish, who were responsible for the Mohammed cartoon fiasco, and that was as much a racist connotation as a religious one.

Having lived this side of the Pond for nigh on three decades, I’ve grown accustomed to hearing older societies bleat on and on about hopeless American racism and pointing to their own perceived tolerance as evidence of their moral high ground.

Then, suddenly, America elects Barack Obama, and the cognitive dissonance leaves the Euros speechless. They’re suddenly all so desperate to be Barack’s new BFF or frantically searching for one amongst their number to approximate their own great white hope of an Obamawanabee, that they’ve neglected to address the incipient racism within their own borders - the illegal immigrant question washed daily up on their beaches or stowed away in the bowels of tractor-trailer trucks or in the undercarriages of high speed trains, the legal economic immigrants who head West as far as they can legally go and who are welcomed with open arms by businessmen who’ll pay them a fraction of the wages indigenous people demand. Add that to the ingredient of a working-class element who feels increasingly disenfranchised by all the major political parties within a country, and chances are someone with a pejorative motive will step from the shadows, mouthing platitudes these people are longing to hear, with assurances that the speaker feels their pain and is listening. What’s happening in the States now with the ridiculous Teabaggers got its start in a more inauspicious and down-played way some years ago in Britain when the old skinhead National Front got booted and suited up by a prep school-educated Cambridge grad and turned into the British National Party – but fascists they are, and fascists they remain, even though their followers are the children and grandchildren of the very people who fought against that ethos. And their driving force is racism.

So, spare me the tales of woe about wanting to move to Europe and its happy-clappy socialism. It’s not happy or clappy and it’s NOT socialism.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Let's All Be Thankful for Bob McDonnell

In the wake of the governor of my home state literally making Virginia the whipping boy for the nation’s collective guilt still felt about racism, I’d like to say a few words regarding this.
First of all, I did not vote for Bob McDonnell. Bob McDonnell does not speak for me. I did not authorise him to have my mandate. Neither did 44% of the people in Virginia who voted last November. That said, I did vote. In fact, I got my ass on a transatlantic flight and timed a holiday so that I would have a chance to pop by the polling booth that Tuesday morning and cast my Democratic vote; but a lot of people who lived in the state, simply couldn’t be assed to do so.
The day before the election, a politically astute friend of mine called it correctly. Deed would lose, he said, because the two demographics who ensured that the state went blue in 2008, simply didn’t intend to turn up at the polls – and those were the first-time voters (aged 18-24, specifically) and the African-Americans, many of whom – including Sheila Johnson of BET – were supporting McDonnell. The indendent tranche went red as well.
This entire election was a prelude of the Massachusetts senatorial election two months later; and as much as the media and the usual suspects whose agenda it is to ensure this Presidency fails (the Hamshers in bed with Grover Norquist and Whoreanna Fuckington), would like us to believe that both elections were an indictment of the President and his policies, more than anything the results were down to the Democrats having fielded weak candidates and low voter turnout.
That Virginia got duped is in no doubt. I’m someone who’s long judged books by covers, and I’ve been right on that accord more than I’ve been wrong. I had George Bush pegged as the failed, obnoxious frat boy he turned out to be, and I saw McDonnell quickly for the plastecene poor man’s Ted Haggard with the Stepford wife and requisite number of kids. He had a ready smile and the eyes of a fundamentalist. The minute the Washington Post published a picture of him campaigning under the Confederate flag, alarm bells should have gone off in the minds of every registered Democrat and Independent in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Two months after that, in August 2009, WaPo again scored by publishing extracts from McDonnell’s doctoral thesis, obtained at Pat Robertson’s Regent University – which is a euphemism for advanced Bible school. This was the infamous thesis consigning women to a future of being barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen and deploring the existence of homosexuals in society.
If alarm bells didn’t ring with the Confederate flag, they should have been blaring at that moment, and they should have turned into a cacophany when McDonnell told a bare-faced lie and attributed such writings to the folly of youth. That, upon investigation, it turned out that such ideas had been committed to print when McDonnell was a man of 35, married and with children, begs the question: When exactly does youth end and emotional maturity begin?
When McDonnell signed the nefarious document, proclaiming April “Confederate History Month” without as much as referring to the question of slavery being the ultimate driving force behind the Civil War, he not only made Virginia, the first English colony, the Mother of Presidents, and the home of the writers of the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and the Constitution, the laughing stock of the entire nation, he also condemned all her citizens to be judged by his standards.
Reading comments on various threads in Facebook and Huffington Post, I now realise that, as a Virginian, I’m supposed to be ignorant, dumb, illiterate, gun-loving, retrospective, fundamentalist Christian, a rube, a hillbilly, a ‘goober’, a dolt, a member of the great unwashed. Also, as a Virginian, according to some, I am a racist. My state, along with the entire South, should secede. In fact, the Union should have allowed us to secede in 1861. Indeed, the United States would have been much, much better and the Confederacy would have been (in one commentator’s words), “the stinking shitheap that it is today.”
Gee, thanks.
It’s nice to be loved.
So love, in fact, that Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, both, came in for some pretty strong invective, as did former governors Tim Kaine and Douglass Wilder. Kaine’s condemnation of McDonnell, according to the erstwhile sitting atop the hill of moral superiority, didn’t go far enough. Well, how “far enough” is far enough? Kaine’s tenure as Governor ended three months ago. He condemned the action. He deplored it.
Wilder, on the other hand, fared worse.
It’s entirely mete to know that Douglass Wilder, in 1989, a Democrat, became the first African American elected to a gubernatorial post in the United States. That’s right, peeps. Virginia, that bastion of bigotry and racial prejudice, that ignorant heap of shitkickers, elected the first African American governor in 1989 – almost two decades before David Paterson was appointed and at a time Derval Patrick was just getting into young fatherhood. But when Governor Wilder – today, the Mayor of Richmond – condemned McDonnell’s actions, in the words of a Buffalo woman, transplanted to Virginia and unhappy there, Wilder was a “Republican tool.”
Am I angry about McDonnell? In the words of a well-known sage, you betcha. I’m chewing nails and spitting rust. I was even angrier when I read the account of his actions in The Richmond Times Despatch, a paper long known for its conservative stance, who roundly condemned this governor’s actions; but I was angrier at the degree of support he seemed to receive from the commentators participating in the online version of the paper.
There was a veritable Civil War going on there, and it was getting pretty ugly. Then I read some of the comments again. Many of them began with “My great-grandfather fought in the War of Southern Aggression …”
That’s when I realised something.
These people are old. When you’re great-granddaddy fought for the South, you are old. Maybe some of these men even remembered Great-grandpappy. And there’s no reason why they wouldn’t be computer-literate, themselves. There is such a demographic as silver surfers. Of course, they were arguing the moot point about the War not being about slavery, but about states’ rights etc; but the ultimate truth was that the War was fought because the Southern states demanded their right to extend slavery into the new Western territories, by manifest destiny, whilst the Federal government’s attitude of the day was to contain slavery, as abhorrent as it was, in the agrarian South, and allow all new territories to be slave-free zones.
If you scratch the surface of the United States of the ante-bellum era, you’ll find a lot of unrest amongst certain tranches of Northerners regarding freeing slaves as well. This was a time of western expansion in the United States. It was also the time of unfettered immigration from Europe, chiefly from Germany, Austria and Ireland, to the United States. There was a great anti-immigration feeling amongst people who considered themselves “natural-born” United States citizens, especially in that immigrants provided cheaper labour, and freed slaves would provide even cheaper labour.
I recognise, as well, that simmering beneath the surface of these elderly gentlemen’s righteous indignation, was consternation at the fact that a black man was sitting in the Oval Office.
Well, that’s also the modus operandi of the Tea Party movement, something which is now spreading its tentacles nationwide, North and South, East and West. It’s subtly hidden, of course, but we saw it in the Northern crowds who turned up to cheer Sarah Palin during the Presidential campaign, carrying stuffed Curious George toys, re-named “Hussein” for the occasion. Their poster boys and chief cheerleaders are the likes of Palin, herself, Michele Bachmann, Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh … and none of the above is remotely Southern.
It’s an ageing demographic who can’t get to grips with the changing overall racial portrait of the United States. It’s nice to think that this generation is dying off, but experience has proven that attitudes and mores can be passed from one generation to another. In Britain, people whose parents weren’t even alive during the Second World War are raised to detest the Germans. The English cordially hate the French and vice versa based on a war that ended in the Fifteenth Century, and don’t even start on Catholics and Protestants. So, regrettably, there will always be people who think that the Caucasian race is superior to any other. Some of those people, invariably, will be from the South. And some will be from the North, too, which has seen its share of race riots, conveniently forgotten in this diatribe against a state.
For the record, here are a few things people in the North and the South should know:-
First of all, for all you Sons of Confederate Veterans and United Daughters of the Confederacy, this one’s for you. They guys’ hero is John S Mosby, the Gray Ghost, himself. Quite a few SCV chapters are named after him. The gals all love Belle Boyd, the famous Southern spy. Literally all the UDC chapters bear Belle’s name. Well, I’m well familiar with Mosby and Belle, having grown up amongst their old stomping ground. I wonder how many people know that Mosby, after the war, became a staunch Republican (bad word in the South in those days) and ended up serving the Grant Administration. That’s Grant as in Ulysses S Grant, who took Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.
And Belle escaped to England during the war and married a Yankee en route – not just any Yankee, but a serving Yankee officer. And when he died, she married another; and years later, a third. She made her living post-war, much the same way Sarah Palin’s making hers today – giving public talks, for which she was paid, mostly to veterans of the GAR – that’s the Grand Army of the Republic, to novices, a euphemism for the Yankee army. So Belle was the Sarah Palin of her day, a fully paid-up media whore, who had a heart attack and died in Wisconsin before a scheduled address to another group of Yankee veterans.
In other words, for them the Civil War ended in 1865. They accepted the fact that they were on the losing side and went on to make capital from it.
Secondly, as there seems to be a plethora of people from the North intent on heaping hate on the South, and on Virginia, in particular for this incident, I’d say this: that these people are the selfsame ones who, previously, had been found heaping the hate on the President and all who surround him, calling for a primary challenger in 2012, threatening not to vote, calling him a Republican and all sorts. These people seriously need to deal with their cognitive dissonance, and not substitute it for irrational hate for a specific demographic. These people seriously need to remember that three of the last four Democratic Presidents were from the Deep South, and one was responsible for two of the most Progressive pieces of legislation in the 20th Century. In fact, of the 8 Democratic Presidents to serve in the 20th and 21st Centuries, four were Southerners and one was from a border state. Think about that.
Also, cogitate upon this: Bob McDonnell was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. True, he moved to Virginia when he was one year old, but he was an army brat. He spent the early part of his childhood on army bases in Germany, before returning with his parents to settle in Fairfax County in Northern Virginia, or NoVa. Like another Philadelphian, Chris Matthews, he’s a practicing Roman Catholic.
Virginians are born not made. We tolerate people who live and work in our state as “Virginians” inasmuch as they contribute to the economy, but a real Virginian is one who is born there, or – at the very least – one whose mother was a Virginian. Sorry, if that sounds snooty, snobby or exclusive, but in the words of a fellow real Virginina, Bruce Hornsby, “That’s just the way it is.” We just about extended the status of “real Virginian” to Tim Kaine, because he married a woman, from Virginia, whose parents are not only real Virginians, but whose father was actually a real Republican governor of the state (as opposed to Dixiecrat-turned-Republican), who became a Democrat.
And settling in NoVa gives McDonnell the added epithet of being a “phoney Virginian,” which is what residents of that area are considered by people born in the State. So, lil’Bob, like his crony Ken Cuccinelli, bona fide scion of the Jersey shore, are what the Sons of Confederate Veterans and their ilk would have deemed, in other times, to be Carpetbaggers. In fact, as political pundit (and Virginian) Larry Sabato pointed out, McDonnells ancestors were still in Ireland when the Civil War occurred. If they were in the United States, chances were that they were conscripted to serve the Union.
Is Bob McDonnell racist? I don’t know. Probably so, I would say; but I would venture to say that that perceived racism came as much from his own background – remember Jack Murtha’s remark about racism in Pennsylvania? – as from any time spent in Virginia or any association with Virginians.
So, all you people up there on the moral high ground want to shut up and think about what you’re saying when you’re labelling Southerners – and Virginians, in particular in this instance – mindless morons, bigots, hillbillies, whatever – that you’re sounding just as intolerant, narrow-minded and exclusive as those people you seek to criticize on the Right. A friend of mine, an ardent liberal and real Virginian, whom I’ve known through high school and university, recently that the one group of people whom liberals/Progressives could criticize, taunt and condemn with impugnity were Southerners, and in doing so, they totally negated the fact that there were, indeed, liberal Southerners, from Huey Long to Ann Richards, from Lyndon Johnson to Jimmy Carter, from Bill Clinton to Robert Gibbs, the Alabamian Press Secretary who works for the nation’s first African American President.
So, maybe we should all be thankful for Bob McDonnell, because he’s opened up the can of worms labelled “racism,” and – as someone said in the early days of the Obama Presidency – maybe it’s time that this nation sat down and actually addressed racism in an open and honest debate. Maybe Virginia needed McDonnell, because his retrograde opinions on race, women’s issues and sexuality will force those people who couldn’t move their asses to the polling booth in 2009 to mosey on down there and pull the lever for progress in 2010 and thus move the state forwards into the 21st Century in spite of Bob McDonnell. And maybe the whole country needs him too, if only to show those recalcitrants what the people are left with, when others decide to sulk out the vote.
I am a born Virginina Progressive, and I approve this message.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

A Rose Is a Rose Is a Rose ... Cognitive Dissonance, Much?

I feel curiously vindicated after reading Frank Rich’s column:-
My cognitive dissonance theory of the unreasonable attitudes towards the Obama Presidency by some quarters on the Left (notably the base) is entirely justified in one paragraph:-
“… a friend who is a prominent liberal Obama supporter sent me an e-mail flipping my point. He theorized that race also plays a role in ‘the often angry and intemperate talk’ he has been hearing from ‘left-liberal friends for the past many months about what a failure and a disappointment’ the president has been. In his view, ‘Obama never said anything, while running, to give anyone the idea’ that he was other than a ‘deliberate, compromise-seeking bipartisan moderate.’ My friend wondered if white liberals who voted for Obama expected a ’sweeping Republicans-be-damned kind of agenda’ in part — and he emphasized ‘in part!’ — because ‘they expect a black guy to be intemperate, impetuous, impatient” rather than ‘measured, deliberate, patient.’ ”
There you have it! It’s official, or quasi-so. Many of the so-called Progressive Left, hovering around the base of the Democratic Party assumed they were getting a jive-talking, street-suss black dude, who’d kick ass six ways til Sunday amongst the recalcitrant and hideously white Republicans. They thought they were getting Shaft and Cleopatra Jones sashaying into the Blue Room, and they’re disappointed to find out (in their own estimation), that they’ve ended up with Johnny Mathis and Leslie Uggams.
The whole of the Obama-bashin’ fashion has been a lesson in cognitive dissonance at its best and a veritable example of the sort of narrow-mindedness that’s been allowed to develop over the years on what is normally assumed to be the all-embracing, ueber-tolerant Left … and that’s a bit of cognitive dissonance too.
According to Rich, Obama is a Rorschach test – as a candidate and, subsequently, as a President. According to Mark Halperin and John Heilemann in their best-selling work, Game Change, Obama was the ultimate tabula rasa. Either way, it amounted to the way the Left’s base perceived Obama: Basically, he was everything to everybody. He was what we wanted him to be. Whatever hopes, dreams and encouragements we fostered, we projected on Candidate, and then President, Obama.
In a curious way, this justifies John McCain’s campaign interpretation of Obama as the celebrity, the rock-star. How many of us harboured adolescent fantasies of a singer or an actor, projecting whatever puerile views we held at the time onto the fragile shoulders of a Jagger, a McCartney or even an Elvis? Thus, we stared in utter amazement and wonder whenever Obama gave a major speech … and never heard a word he said.
The television in my British office, the day after Obama’s acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, tuned to the BBC, replayed the speech, the cameras lingering on the upturned faces of the faithful in the crowd, each and every one smiling beatifically. A colleague of mine noted wryly: “They look like they’re in some sort of a religious trance.”
So it was easy to be disappointed, once the deed was done, for many, when Obama set about fulfilling what, essentially, were campaign promises.
“He promised single-payer! He did! I heard him!”
(Sorry, love, no, he didn’t. He actually said that single-payer would be ideal, if we were starting from scratch with a total reform of health services in general. That’s not a promise).
“He promised to end the war!”
(Yes. He promised to bring the troops back from Iraq and concentrate, instead, on the so-called “good” war, Afghanistan – you know, the one we were well on our way to winning and stabilising before George Bush got addicted to Iraq and non-existent Weapons of Mass Destruction).
It didn’t help matters that the Left’s base were led in song by totally irresponsible reporting and comment by so-called celebrity pundits, who deliberately misinformed them and kept them in a perpetual state of bickering, second-guessing and discontent.
I have to cite Bill Maher, who started the cognitive dissonance ball rolling down the precipice with his “Patriot Editorial” of November 14, 2008, when he made a comparison between the newly-elected Obama and Canadian premier, Stephen Harper, in totally ghetto-esque terminology, exclaiming, “Take that, Canada! You’ve got some boring white dude named Stephen Harper, while my President is a kickass, black ninja named Barack Hus-SEIN Obama!”
By June 16, 2009, Maher was forging the path of Obama-bashing, getting his oar in with the first overtly critical editorial of the President, basically criticizing nothing of policy, except the fact that, in Maher’s view, Obama had done nothing since entering office, except buy a dog for his kids. Had he bothered to do proper research, instead of currying a reaction which would lead to various appearances on other pundits’ shows (and thus garner some publicity for his own program), he would learned from Poltifact that Obama, actually, was doing really rather well in keeping a lot of his promises and accomplishing that which he’d set about to achieve. Instead, this started a litany of lament from the base of the Left, who took Maher’s word almost as law, and carried the crescendo of complaint to a new level, which remained continuous until the end of the year and beyond.
In hindsight, and compared to the damage limitation that’s been one of the key elements of Real Time since it began its new season, it’s now easy to see how Bill Maher was a victim of his own cognitive dissonance – he voted for Samuel L Jackson and got Bill Cosby. “Is this as good as it gets?” he wailed in November of last year, all the time wanting Obama to assume the mantle and mantra, the swagger of Bush, which, in Obama, would have translated into the angry, black man.
Now that the President has achieved what he sought, with healthcare reform, and in the way he wanted to achieve it, to Maher and the other capricious pundits such as Ed Schultz, he’s got his mojo back; he’s punching his weight and upwards. This is behaviour which they’ve cognitively associated with a black man from Chicago, street-suss and sassy; it’s familiar to them and identifiable with their assumption of what the behaviour of a successful black man should be, as summed up in Bill Maher’s most recent editorial in which he hoped for the President to deliver a message to the GOP that they should “kick his black ass.”
Taken further, we have the collective year-long critiques and moanings of Arianna Huffington about Obama’s ineptitude, his mishandling of the economy, his sell-out to Wall Street, his lassitude, his kowtowing to the Right in every way to please them. She went as far as to exhort Joe Biden to resign as Vice-President and lead an open revolt against the President and his Afghan policy, weeks before it was even decided and announced what the President was going to do.
Every move the man made or didn’t make was open to pejorative comment from Ms Huffington; his State of the Union was seen by her to be an artfully constructed sell-out to big business and the banks too big to fail. Every word of criticism, every second-guessed opinion, every time after endless time she appeared on the rounds of commentary shows from This Week to Wolf Blitzer to Olbermann to countless, countless appearances on the ubiquitous Ed Schultz, she prefaced her incendiary remarks with a pithy little sigh, taken straight from the repository of sounds made by white-gloved Southern ladies of the Junior League variety in the early days of racial equality … the sigh that implied, “Well, what did you expect … from a BLACK man?” As far as Huffington was concerned, this Presidency was seminal in that it was the first (and, Huffington hoped, only) affirmative action Presidency.
The blogosphere, weaned on a diet of infotainment, cleverly disguised as cherry-picked news, lapped this up and spewed it out until it became viral. They looked for any elected official from the Democratic Party to break rank and criticize Obama, they plotted primary challenges, threatened to sulk out a vote, some even teamed up with Teabaggers. In fact, Huffington did much and is still doing much in the way of trying to emphasize that the Progressive Left really does have a lot in common with the Teabaggers, considering their anti-Wall Street stance, and that similarity should be cultivated – when in fact, the only thing the extreme bases of the two parties have in common is that they’re being manipulated and misinformed by people whose only agenda is furthering their own publicity and professional careers.
The base of the Right is laughed at by its seemingly superior counterpart on the Left, because they take to the streets with pictures of Obama sporting a Hitler moustache, calling him a Nazi; because they depict him as a witch doctor and call him a communist; because they fear he’s a socialist, that he wasn’t born in America, that he’s sinister … when anyone with half a brain knows they cannot accept the fact that a black man is in the Big Chair.
Yet their brothers encompassing the base of the Left protest this President because they don’t understand why he’s doing literally everything he said he’d do, when, in reality, the black man in the White House isn’t black enough to fit their perceived stereotype.
And I don’t know which is the more insulting viewpoint.

How Long Is a Piece of String?

So the evidence stacks up against the Vatican’s spin that the issue of child abuse by priests wasn’t merely an American problem, as they were wont to have us originally believe.
I could have saved them the trouble and told them differently.
Paedophilic priests have been part and parcel of Catholic life since the god in which they believe was a boy. That’s a fact. Systematic abuse of children has been taking place under the Church’s protective auspices equally as long and throughout the scope of the Catholic world.
A priest was removed to another diocese when I was a seventh-grader at the local parochial school. That was in the mid-Sixties. He taught us music. We never knew exactly why he left. He was there before Christmas, and he was gone in the new year. My father told me he’d gone because “he liked little boys too much.” Such was my innocence at the time, I didn’t know what he meant. I do now.
A decade later, over lunch whilst studying in Spain, the topic of homosexuality came up. This occurred in the last days of Franco’s regime, but my host family was an enlightened one. During the discussion, I recall one brother remarking to the other: “And the priests! You remember the priests and what they got up to …”
I have always believed that certain careers were more vocations than professions, where people had a particular knack or calling to serve in a particular field – teaching, for example, or medicine, certainly religion.
When I taught school, teaching was often considered a transient profession, one which many people used as a means to a professional end. With finances scarce for gtaduate or professional school, people often taught for a few years in order to accumulate funds for a law or medical school degree. Others, indecisive about what they wanted to do in life, often acquired a teaching qualification in order to tide them over financially until they really found a career that sparked their interest. Sometimes these transients turned out to be quality educators. One of the most inspirational teachers I ever had in high school was a young man teaching biology as a means of financing subsequent medical school studies. Three years later, when I was a first-year coed at the University of Virginia, he was in his third year of medical school there.
But sometimes, transients weren’t the best of teachers; they were the worst. At best, they’d leave after a couple of years, moseying on down the road to try something else out professionally; at worst, they got tenure for some reason and drew a salary at the expense of a child’s education. Or worse.
I don’t know why it seems, all of a sudden, that the Catholic Church attracted an undue amount of paedophiles amongst the ranks of the priesthood. People can argue that it’s down to celibacy, but sexual scandal has encompassed various Protestant denominations and still does, and Protestant clergy are allowed to marry. Just as a lot of people shouldn’t be in the classroom teaching, a lot of people affiliated with the religion in a clerical capacity, shouldn’t be. Maybe they were pushed in that direction by their parents; maybe they genuinely believed and wanted to serve.
At the end of the day, it transpires that they were all deeply, deeply flawed human beings, who were allowed to get away with the worst kind of sexual offences imaginable: the systematic rape and torture of children.
When one thinks of child abuse in the Catholic Church, one normally thinks about priests kiddy-diddling little boys; but girls suffered also. The Magdalen Laundries in Ireland are a living testimonial to that – where families were enticed by the local parish to commit their daughters for the slightest of peccadilloes – either real or imagined – and there they stayed, often until they reached an early grave; and there they suffered, mercilessly, at the hands of nuns.
The first seven years of my educational life were spent under the tutelage of nuns. Some were excellent teachers, but some of the older ones didn’t spare the rod either. My parents, products of the same school, always told me things were worse in their days. I know now that a lot of these women who entered religious orders did so, primarily, because there was nothing else they could do – which basically meant that there was no man on the horizon to take them off their parents’ hands. If you couldn’t be a bride of a man, better yet to be a cold-hearted bride of Christ and take your frustrations out on a myriad of curious and bright children in various degrees of verbal and physical abuse.
It’s said that a nun so terrified and terrorized the current Vice-President as a child, because of his stammer, until his own feisty mother took matters into her own hands and threatened violence against the woman. Joe Biden was lucky he had such a mother.
Others had parents, so in thrall to the teachings of the Church, that when a child ventured to speak of the unspeakable to his mother or father, they refused point-blank to believe anything had happened, and that the child was giving vent to evil imaginings. I daresay, this is what the Church intended everyone to think. After all, the clergy and religious in question had taken vows. If they were tempted in the flesh in any way, this temptation came from the lay community, even if that meant sexualising an innocent child.
And that leads to another reaction by parents, whose children confided abuse to them. Until recently, to complain to one’s bishop about the unwonted attentions of a priest on a child, would have only resulted in the priest being removed to another parish, and the bishop apprising his replacement with a warning to keep an eye on the family who’d made the complaint, marking them down as trouble-makers. And so the parents would make a decision to leave the Church, to remove the child from harm’s way and hope for the best, tacitly sweeping the incident under the carpet in hopes that the incident – out of sight – would soon be out of everyone’s mind.
Well, we all know that life doesn’t work that way, and psychological scars are those which never heal.
I don’t know what will happen with all this, except to say that, at present, the Catholic Church is acting like the thief who got caught with his hand in the till and apologises profusely for getting caught. An entire lifetime of Catholic theology, dating back to the mythical St Peter, the first Pope, is hingeing on this one. That the current Pope was aware of all the shenanigans and responsible for the cover-ups of the past thirty years is without a doubt; but now he’s Pope, a person whose infinite wisdom is supposed to be infallible.
Someone suggested he should be excommunicated, but only he can do that, himself. He could resign, but that would never happen – to do so would denote fallibility instead of the opposite, which is the basic tenet of the Pope being God’s representative on earth. Most people, and probably most Catholics, don’t believe in the fact that God needs a representative here amongst us who mirrors God’s perfection, and maybe something could be done, ultimately, in the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
But whatever is done will be precious little to rid the victims of abuse of the scars they’ll carry until the release this mortal coil, nor will it assauge some of the guilt their own parents may have felt at their inadvertant actions, which they did, genuinely believing that they acted in the interest of their child.
There are a lot of recovering Catholics, angry both at religion and at their God.
Happy Equinox.