Make the World Go Away

Sure it’s three years old – Alkman Granitsas in Yale Global, 24 November 2005, with Americans Are Tuning out the World – but it could be ten years old, or one week old. You already know what it says, and like all good academic studies, the Yale folks give a one paragraph summary up top, so you really don’t have to read the whole thing: 


As the world becomes accustomed to the American way of life, Americans are tuning out the rest of the world. US citizens have paid less and less attention to foreign affairs since the 1970s, writes journalist Alkman Granitsas. The number of university students studying foreign languages has declined, and fewer Americans travel overseas than their counterparts in other developed countries. News coverage of foreign affairs has also decreased. Why are Americans withdrawing from the global village? A continuing immigration boom may be one factor; with millions of foreigners trying to get in, Americans may think the rest of the world has little to offer. In addition, a rising income gap between the US and most of the world’s population makes some Americans hesitant to travel overseas. Finally, economic prosperity leads many to pay less attention to politics, especially international affairs. With an increasingly uninformed electorate, can the world’s superpower be trusted to shape a responsible foreign policy?


Well, no – probably not. See Iraq. That whole sorry mess we find ourselves in over there was the brainchild of an indifferent Yale alumnus, a fellow who smirked at those who took books and ideas seriously, was fond of bullying people, and really didn’t want to know a whole lot about anything. Then he stopped drinking himself into a sullen stupor day after day, found Jesus, and we made him our president – or someone did, and then we reelected him. His attitude, and his disdain for learning about what he might not know, persisted. Perhaps this Yale Global item was a sort of institutional atonement.


George Bush’s Yale years and why many found him so appealing were discussed in detail in these pages back in 2004, in The Bad-Boy Vote. That item included an observation from an American friend living in Europe at the time:


When an entire nation admires a bully, I begin to wonder if some psycho-sociological force isn’t at play. Do American men today feel so powerless and ineffectual, so limp-dicked, so henpecked by their wives, so disposable at their jobs, so despised by their children, so scared of the world that they must resort to infantile bully worship?


The question answers itself. We do have a problem with the rest of the world – it scares us, from the lively and casually chic French couple chatting so easily about books and ideas, while knowing just what to wear and what to order at the restaurant, to the eager Hispanic lad with minimal English who smiles broadly and wonders if you’d like to hire him for, perhaps, some yard work. The former engenders deep resentment – you feel like a hick, even if that couple is open and gracious. The latter scares you, for no really good reason – but you watch Lou Dobbs on CNN every day and you suspect something awful is going on, if you could only figure out what it is. You get defensive. Defensiveness leads to ridicule. Ridicule becomes bullying. The other parties look puzzled, and finally shrug – Americans are like that. They’re used to it. The whole world is used to it.


Our Iraq adventure is that whole business writ large. We had been savagely attacked by a group of unhinged nutcases, and we went into our usual mode – angry, self-righteous defensiveness and rather undifferentiated scorn. You were with us or against us. Somehow Iraq became the problem. At the UN, the French, of all people, suggested we step back a really look at the problem, and think things through. We would have none of that – from them. All the major powers but the UK declined to join us in taking care of Iraq – the problem was elsewhere, and the Germans had warned us our information on those weapons of mass destruction had pretty much come from one source, that Curveball fellow, who they had early on concluded was a drunk and a liar. That information from the Germans was blocked before it rose too far.


Many suggested that since the real problem was a group of no more than three thousand very nasty people, perhaps the best thing to do would be to deal with it all like a criminal conspiracy and use every resource we have to shut them down, while on a public level, expose them as the unbalanced madmen that they obviously were – show they world how pathetic and odd they really were. We would have to of that.


You know the rest. The bad guys said they had issues with our policies and alliances, and we said no, they were just evil, and that was that – there was nothing to understand. They just hated us, for our way of life, or just because they hated us. They said no, that’s not really it. We said yes, it is. They said, okay – fine. Have it your way.


And so we are where we are – in our sixth year in Iraq, ramping up for war with Iran, and likely to be forced to roll a few divisions into Beirut, as Hezbollah has just grabbed a big part of the city. Are they, Hezbollah, proxies for Iran and Syria? Who knows? Add trouble in the Sudan and elsewhere, and you see choosing to remain ignorant of the issues, and refusing to talk with evil people at any level, as that would give them legitimacy, has a real price – our more than four thousand dead soldiers, the nearly eight hundred billion is costs so far, our economy teetering from the debt we’ve run up, and the rest of the world having decided that we’re somewhere between irrelevant, best case, and quite dangerous, worst case. Ask the smirking frat boy from Yale to handle things and this is what you get.


And eight years on, here we are again, choosing another president, with the options being the war hero who promises more war – more of the same, but done more forcefully – and the tough-as-nails woman who says she is more that will to turn Iran into a smoking landscape of radioactive rubble, if they don’t do what they know they should do and don’t need to be told, and the third guy, who like ideas and detail, and suggests figuring out what’s going on before you do anything rash might be wise. Of course the question is whether we want that sort of radical shift. Would you want the nerd from the back of the class, the one you resented for having done the reading and knowing the right answer, running things? Or to you want the manly bully, who could beat the snot out of him, running things? It never changes.


And do we really care what the rest of the world thinks? Over at American Conservative, Daniel Larison here suggests that the argument that Barack Obama could appeal to developing countries’ populations – and this radically transform American soft power, actually giving us some, will only hurt Obama at home:


You could not have concocted a more insidious anti-Obama campaign than what many of his supporters (as well as the candidate and campaign) have managed to do in constantly talking up all the foreign places he lived, his relatives in Kenya, and on and on.


From a certain perspective, Obama’s background and biography must seem to be undeniable political assets, but slowly it is beginning to dawn on his boosters that a great many, probably most, Americans do not share that perspective. Furthermore, the emphasis on Obama’s background and biography has always meant that the ’08 election would become a culture clash, and it is one that I suspect the Democrats still cannot win.


Andrew Sullivan finds this depressing and defeatist:


If Obama’s biography and appeal affect global opinion and therefore foreign policy, the subject should be on the table – as a weapon in pursuit of national self-interest. If we cannot have a debate in a democracy about this impact without fostering xenophobia, ignorance and fear, then democracy cannot work.


In our democracy some things cannot be discussed – and one of them seems to be the idea that the rest of the world might have something to offer us, and someone who knows that wider world might also have something quite valuable to offer. But all of us who have done foreign travel know the routine – all those trips to Paris, that weekend in London, hanging around Aix and Arles, the two years working in Canada – your family looks at you funny. Maybe you’ve been ruined, somehow. God help you if you know another language or two – save for, out here, a smattering of Spanish to insult the guy who trims the yard, badly.


You get used to it. You keep quiet. You don’t talk about other places, other ways of doing things, or ways of looking at issues, even other foods. You know you will be seen as an elitist, as someone who thinks he’s better than everyone else, who is doing just fine in the world they have. How about those Dodgers?


You could call it the Internationalist Divide. It cannot be closed. Of course Obama tries – bowling, basketball, all that non-threatening that stuff – but people know. He’s been places, and seen and done things that have widened his perspective, so can you really trust him? Is he one of us?


The odd thing that drive is home is a new SUSA poll – Clinton won the California Primary, handily, a ten-point victory, but now that’s changed. Obama is up by six. But it’s not what you think. Latino support for Clinton has dropped, but Obama hasn’t managed any real gain. White males have moved to Obama, but that’s not it. See this – the biggest swing is among Asian-Americans, as the Asian vote has gone from 71-25 for Clinton to 54-37 for Obama. He’s better keep that quiet.


The issue is what happens in states like West Virginia. It’s a bit insular. Heck, growing up just a few miles north in decaying Pittsburgh we knew that – beautiful place, but they don’t like outsiders, and rolling back home from Wheeling you always felt all sophisticated and worldly. Their primary, May 13, should be Clinton by thirty or more points.


The Los Angeles Times reporter Stephen Braun explains why in West Virginia Could Spell Trouble For Obama:


“My worry is there’s just too many people in this country who aren’t ready to elect a black president,” said Charles L. Silliman, a retired Air Force officer who is Hardy County’s Democratic Party co-chairman. “There’s a lot to like about him. But I’m just afraid that too many people will vote against him based on their fears and prejudice.”


Silliman and his wife, Carmen, are Clinton supporters, drawn by her healthcare plan and her endurance on the campaign trail. Still, the couple repeatedly have found themselves defending Obama, correcting acquaintances who relay baseless rumors about his name and religion.


Carmen Silliman has collected a sheaf of poisonous e-mails that have flowed into her in-box. “We do not need a Muslim to lead the good ole USA,” reads one. Obama is, in fact, a Christian.


Neil Gillies, an Obama supporter who runs a local environmental nonprofit group, glumly recounted the gibes that his wife, a schoolteacher, hears regularly from her students. “They’re convinced [Obama] is a Muslim, a terrorist, a guy who’s coming to take away their guns,” Gillies said. “It’s just sad.”


It is sad, but that’s how it works. See Ron Chusid at Liberal Values with Hillbillies For Hillary – West Virginia is definitely Clinton and not Obama country:


I’m not surprised that socially conservative areas are going to go for the socially conservative Clinton over the socially liberal Obama. Add racism and an area more prone than most to fall for the usual conservative scare tactics and lies and a Clinton landslide is inevitable. After all, it was the voters of West Virginia that the Republican National Committee conned with mailers saying that if he was elected John Kerry would take away their bibles as well as guns.


There’s no doubt that an area like West Virginia would be the last bastion of Clinton conservatism, even at this state in the race. It doesn’t really matter. The Democratic nomination is pretty much settled. West Virginia will go Republican in November regardless of whether Clinton or Obama, now the presumptive nominee, is the candidate. Besides, even if there was any truth to the claims that Clinton could do better in November due to bringing in such conservative voters, this is not how I want to win.


Actually I wouldn’t even see it as a win.


But Clinton will say it means something. It means she the one who is electable.


Chusid doesn’t buy that:


This attitude that only the working class vote matters is a major reason why the Democrats have been a minority party for so many years. … Democrats have the best shot when they form a big tent which welcomes the votes of a wide variety of people. Obama does have the ability to bring in the votes of liberals – including the affluent and educated voters which Clinton supporters insult as elites whose votes do not matter. Obama will also bring in the traditional core Democratic votes, including the working class, just as Clinton would have been able to bring in the black vote under normal circumstances. (This year creates a particular problem in that the race baiting used by the Clinton campaign will cause a tremendous number of blacks to remain at home should Clinton be the nominee).


He thinks some else can matter too:


Education and intelligence are also important in distinguishing between Clinton and Obama supporters. There are several reasons why the educated voters overwhelmingly choose Obama over Clinton. One reason is that Clinton campaigns based upon flawed economic policies to pander to the lower income voters. She promotes policies such as the gas tax holiday and her proposals for the mortgage crisis which require education and knowledge of the issues to see the serious errors. Clinton and her supporters try to circumvent criticism of her plans by the educated by writing them off as elites whose views do not matter. While Obama is developing a diverse group of supporters, Clinton is now leading an anti-intellectual movement which believes they can shout down those who criticize them as elitists.


It is Bush again, a variation on the smirking frat boy:


Clinton has also depended on low educated, low-information voters when she has spent much of her campaign using mailers and robo-calls to distort Obama’s positions and record. The smarter one is, the more likely they are to see through such attacks. One responds to the Clinton campaign’s talking points in much the same way they do with Fox News. Either they have the ability to see through the propaganda or they do not.


And you could argue she’s not really a liberal and does belong on Fox News, chatting with O’Reilly:


Another reason that education and intelligence separate the voters is that there is a high correlation between education and belief in the liberal values which differentiate Obama and Clinton. While populist on economic issue, and therefore mislabeled a liberal, she is a conservative on social issues, civil liberties issues, and foreign policy. She has stronger ties to the religious right than the presumptive Republican candidate. She backs the same types of abuses of executive power practiced by George Bush. Clinton supported the war, despite her attempts to hide this fact. It is unfortunate that the Clinton camp echoes the Republicans in opposing these liberal values and in considering the educated people who defend liberalism as elitists.


So here we go again – make the world go away. And this is the third election to be determined on depth insular resentment here, where no one travels anywhere.


About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
This entry was posted in Anti-Intellectualism, Distrust of Foreigners, Exploiting Resentment, Hillary Clinton, Obama, West Virginia, Xenophobia. Bookmark the permalink.

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