How not to win in the USA: Tell the truth

Paul Buchanan’s excellent commentary on Obama’s “guns & religion” statement can be read at Scoop.

Right now, Buchanan has a little spare time and can turn his mind to such things. I am looking forward to his return to Auckland University in the near future; the justification not to reinstate was the weakest part of a decision that was somewhat patchy.

Buchanan makes the point that Obama’s cardinal sin was to tell the truth about what’s really happening to a large part of the American people. Obama compounded his sin by making the comments to a group of rich/super rich Angelinos, a more unfortunate choice in the current climate being hard to think of.

My own experience of the USA — extended visits over many years to a number of states — bears out Paul’s points…

First, Americans (norteamericanos for any Latino readers) suffer the greatest delusions about their own country of any people I’ve ever met. They invest a great deal in their beliefs that, not only is it the world’s greatest power, but also the world’s most perfect democracy, etc, etc.

Second, they don’t like being disabused of these cherished notions. I once pointed out to some Americans who were crowing but how “free” they were compared to me (!) that I was planning to visit Cuba, but that their government wouldn’t allow them this freedom of travel. NOT well received. I stopped myself from adding a few more freedoms that they are denied when I saw the trouble they were having with the cognitive dissonance this example caused.

So, if the USA’s profound social and economic problems cannot be “frankly addressed in political discourse”, as Paul Buchanan puts it, what does this mean for US elections? Have they become “little more than organized hypocrisy in pursuit of power” (Buchanan again) as politicians compete to soothe the voters with optimistic, patriotic-sounding, fantasy-inducing fluff?

Well, we should always tread carefully when talking about the USA, and Buchanan does point out that urban Americans and some ethnic groups are less likely to buy stuff wrapped up in “America the Beautiful” rhetoric. True to an extent, but much of the mythology still has a near universal purchase. To illustrate this point, I once overheard a couple of less wealthy African-Americans lamenting the decision *not* to bomb Hanoi.

But perhaps this year will be different. I know, we’ve said that about US presidential elections so many times before, but perhaps… After all, Obama (and Clinton) do use very vivid examples of families and individuals in economic and social distress and they are offering some (in US terms) very radical solutions to many of those ills. Just maybe, if the recession bites really hard, Americans will look past the false mythologies and platitudes and opt for some reality.


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3 Responses to “How not to win in the USA: Tell the truth”

  1. stan Says:

    I stopped myself from adding a few more freedoms that they are denied when I saw the trouble they were having with the cognitive dissonance this example caused.

    Please list more, otherwise it looks like you wrote that to save yourself from having to list more.

  2. jafapete Says:


    Many of the restrictions on Americans’ freedoms that I had in mind back in the 1990s were applied at state level.

    Laws governing what people could get up to in the privacy of their own bedrooms were still on the books in a number of states in 2003, when the Supreme Court in Lawrence v. Texas ruled laws criminalizing private, non-commercial sexual activity to be unconstitutional. I guess the “Land of the Free” stopped at the bedroom door.

    Even today, if I were gay, I could get married in NZ right now, but not anywhere in the USA as I understand it. And, straight or gay, I can legally pay for sex in NZ. (Spitzer was in the wrong place at the wrong time, clearly.)

    I checked on the rules surrounding “patriotic customs”, an area where the USA has been noted for its stringent controls on its citizens’ freedom to express themselves, and see that the penalties for desecrating the flag, etc, have been removed, at least from the Federal Code. So now its just strong societal pressure that keeps people in line. Or perhaps the states have moved to fill this gap.

    Things have got worse since the 1990s, of course, with the wholesale phone tapping, monitoring of citizens’ bank accounts (Spitzer wouldn’t have been caught in NZ), and so on. On May 5, Freedom House is launching its first ever look at freedom in the United States, and will no doubt detail a lot of the freedoms lost in recent times:

    Perhaps others have some more specific examples? We could start a list here.

  3. USA is a truly free and open society. Yeah right. « Jafapete’s Weblog Says:

    […] very few of you will recall a discussion about the lack of freedom in the USA on my very second post. In it I recounted how: “I once pointed out to some Americans who were crowing but how […]

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