Wednesday, May 06, 2009

This is where I came in

Tony Benn from Michael Moore's film "Sicko"
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When I was a kid I would go to movie theaters where they had these all day double features playing; you could come in any time in the middle of one of the movies and stay as long as you wanted to, see the next feature and then see the beginning of the film that you came into half way through.

It was in these movie theaters where the phrase, "this is where we came in" entered the English language.

One special characteristic of these movie houses was how the ushers would start opening the curtains and exit doors and spraying disinfectant etc in the middle of the most climactic scenes of the film, like when the villain gets killed and the boy gets the girl, because the ushers had seen the movie so many times that they knew when the end was coming: they knew the plot inside out, When you heard them rustling around, you knew the movie was almost over.

Most of what I'm reading lately makes me feel like one of those all day movie ushers.

These days, anyone who grew up with Vietnam gets acid flashbacks observing America's progression in "AfPak", which is the new acronym for "Afghanistan plus Pakistan".

As a general rule of thumb I have observed that when any complex situation, one filled with history and nuances, gets an American acronym such as "AfPak", disaster is not far off.

It is difficult to write about this because it is all so tedious, as the USA stumbles from disaster to disaster. You can imagine the usher coming home from work, kicking off his shoes, pouring himself a drink only to have his wife ask him, "what is this week's film about dear?". Like that.

What holds true for AfPak also holds true for the Middle East, especially trying to put serious pressure on the Israelis in order to create something as inherently unstable as a Palestinian Bantustan, as if imprisoning the Palestinians in some sort of giant Gaza without even a real army or an air force were going to be the "game changer" that would ever disarm Iran and make the Israelis welcome inhabitants of the Muslim world.

Talk about your dèjá vu!

Back in
1964 LBJ won the presidency by a historic landslide against Barry "in your heart you know he's nuts" Goldwater the granddaddy of Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Dubya too, of course.

Johnson had ambitious plans for an American version of social democracy, which he called "The Great Society". Because of the Vietnam war's massive expense he was forced to attempt a "guns and butter policy" and try to fight the war and extend social benefits at the same time.

In those days, unlike the present, the USA not only had a lot of guns, it had a lot of butter too. He might have pulled it off but North Vietnam was too tough a nut to crack and the American people, finally sickened of the war and of Johnson too, and he was followed by Richard Nixon who ended the war and also discovered that a majority of southern whites hated black people more than they cared for the health or education of their own children... That ended "The Great Society".

AfPak? Iraq, Iran? Israel?

I'm feeling like one of those movie theater ushers I knew as a kid, opening the doors and spraying the flit... I know how this film ends.

On Sunday I saw Michael Moore's heartrending film "Sicko", which finally got released in Spain.

Living in a country with socialized medicine, the film gave me the same mixture of relief and guilt that the American expats in France and England expressed in Moore's film. How free we are over here from the anxiety that eats at most Americans, especially in times of economic trouble.

What a difference it would make to the quality of American's lives, even to the quality of wealthy people's lives, if no American ever had to worry about himself or a loved one suffering or dying for lack of good medical care!

I think what the American system wants is for Americans to ceaselessly "pursue" happiness, but never to actually "be" happy. As the British Labour Party's grand old man,
Tony Benn points out in Moore's film, "an educated, healthy and confident population is harder to govern". Seen under this light the benefits of America's deteriorating education, precarious health care and "Long War" are obvious.

Both meddling in the internal affairs of Pakistan and crossing swords with America's powerful Jewish lobby can, each, separately or together, quickly derail the Democrats social agenda. Neither stirring the wasp nest of Pakistan or going to war with AIPAC have much or any hope of success, but both have the potential to expend political capital for nothing.

It reminds me of when Bush got (re?) elected and said that he had "political capital" and was going to "spend" it trying to "reform" the Social Security system. Like Israel, Social Security is one of American politics' "third rails"... it was all down hill for Bush from there. That is what happens when political capital is squandered frivolously. In Bush's case it couldn't have happened to a nicer guy and his running out of political capital probably saved America and the world from even more grief.

However, at this moment we are looking at a president with huge political capital who has given a rather clear indication that he wants universal health care on something like the European or Canadian model and to reform the educational system, again on something similar to the European model, where a first class education up through university is denied to no one because of an inability to pay. These are reforms that, if effected would change the face of America and lead to what Tony Benn is talking about when he calls for
an "educated, healthy and confident population".

In two years time, when the Democrat's majority will next be tested, the wars will no longer be Bush's wars, the flagging economy will no longer be Bush' economy, They will by then belong to the Democrats and the way those things are going, they could easily take a drubbing at the polls.

Therefore, the way the wars and the economy are going and will probably go, any social legislation that isn't passed before the midterm elections stands a very good chance of never getting passed. A unique opportunity will have been unforgivably lost. DS


Anonymous said...

And thus, the American Political Theater is displayed for all to see.

stunted said...

"Reform cannot be achieved by a well-intentioned leader who recruits his followers from the very people whose moral confusion is the cause of the disorder"

I have come to the conclusion, after much (futile) discussion with friends and colleagues here in America, that there will be no reform of health care. The same mentality you describe Nixon discovering about Southern whites seems, sadly, to be hard-wired to the American consciousness: that is, that even if it means living in a state of self-inflicted hardship and uncertainty, it is better to do without than to pay for someone else's "free" ride.
I'm not so sure that Americans are kept in a state of confusion; the confusion seems part and parcel of the national psyche.

There is no sense of a social contract here; only superficial displays of unity, such as the veneration of the stars and stripes or the meaningless slogans on bumper stickers and backdrops of government press presentations.
Without the back-to-back destruction Europe visited upon itself with last century's two world wars, it is debateable if Europe would have a social safety net at all, either. Perhaps it takes destruction on a massive scale to open our eyes to the commoness of existence and its problems. The pursuit of happiness is a solitary quest; the pursuit of justice implicates everybody.

David Seaton's Newslinks said...

That is one helluva great comment and one helluva great quote:
The pursuit of happiness is a solitary quest; the pursuit of justice implicates everybody.


Anonymous said...

I see you've finally taken my advice and looked back on your many years of experience to understand what's going on here. And I have to tell you, it makes me laugh. I've been saying for awhile that all this will end as it has in the past:

I agree with Tony Benn, a healthy, educated population is more difficult to govern, because that population is going to be spoiled. They're going to have a sense of entitlement. They're not going to appreciate what they have. The Baby Boomer generation was the first wave of this corrosive onslaught on the foundations of our culture if ask me.

Ya know, I hear alot about how happy Europeans are, but I dont think I ever met a European tourist in NY who would admit to me that they were happy when I asked them, or could tell me of any friends of theirs who felt happy or fulfilled with their lives. And they never had answers when I asked them what they would do if the healthcare they needed was not covered by the state plan. It's not like if I ever got the opportunity to travel to Europe I'd find people groaning under the yoke of their oppressors, but I bet I would find a bunch of spoiled little children who are happy that they dont have to burden themselves with the insurmmountable task of picking their own health insurance plan or deciding what they want to do with their life instead of being told what to do by a government aptitude test as happens in Europe.

Seriously, if people think it's the state's role to distribute happiness and good feelings, why not abandon all pretense and have the state get into selling heroin? I'm sure Obama would find a nation of junkies to be very pliable. You can make the argument that we're already there, as no one can dream of a world without Pusher Man around to give them their fix of government services.

I think neurologists need to do research find if progressives have some sort of mental abnormality in the limbic brain that causes them to attribute criticism of unrealistic policies with racism.


David Seaton's Newslinks said...

Boy, are you yesterday's man!

Stephanie said...

There will be reform of healthcare, but it will be bad reform, of the type that will make the insurance companies happy but not too many others.

Thank you for your post, stunted. I really enjoyed reading it and I think you are spot on.