With great regret, my wife and I have returned home after a week in Scotland. If it weren’t for our cats and our jobs, we might not have bothered to return at all. Compulsively planned as always, the brief trip was crammed with long days of breathless sightseeing and late nights of exuberant conversation, mostly with friends we’ve known for years but rarely if ever see face to face. But despite the hectic pace, I couldn’t keep from staring at the telly in our hotel room, fascinated by stories that dominated national headlines.
I witnessed controversies of a stripe entirely unique to my experience. One involveda cricket team from Pakistan and a ball that may or may not have been scuffed more than the rules allow (apparently, it’s a tough call). Another involved public outcry over calls for the culling of tubercular badgers. Above all, I followed national conventions by both the Labor party and the Conservatives. The former endeavored reluctantly to pass the torch from their fallen leader Mr. Blair to the rather less charismatic Gordon Brown. Meanwhile, the Tories tried to sell the public on their self-proclaimed “rebirth,” in the guise of its new leader, 39-year-old David Cameron.
A Bush in Blair’s clothing, Cameron touts a centrist script designed to alleviate fears while promising nothing. But he has all the code words in the right places and in the right order. The pundits spent a lot of time fussing over this new star on the political horizon, and wringing their hands over whether or not he’d cut taxes. But instead of scratching their heads, all they really need to do is cross the Atlantic and survey the damage done to America by decades of budget cutting and revenue misappropriation.
While we enjoyed our vacation, America saw no less than three separate fatal schoolyard shootings. The incident in Nickel Mines was as bad as anything we’ve seen in a long time. But almost as chilling was the reaction by the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas. The group — who runs the God Hates Fags, God Hates America and God Hates Sweden websites, among others — announced that the Amish schoolhouse tragedy was the fault of Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell. The governor has called down God’s wrath by signing into law a ban on the group’s picketing funerals of American servicemen in protest of homosexuality.
Meanwhile, their unofficial sponsor, the Republican party, has its own problems. At first, I was unsure how to parse the Mark Foley scandal. Was it about sexual intolerance, child endangerment, a hypocritical partisan attack on hypocrisy, or just a sure-fire way to bury the Habeas Corpus suspension story? Luckily, as I sat in the Philadelphia trying to get up to speed on the story, I found a quote by Dennis Hastert that set me straight. Apparently, anyone raising their eyebrows over this incident are not only helping the terrorists but also running the risk of depriving the country of the only thing that can keep them safe: a Republican controlled congress.
The average Scot would no doubt point out America’s gun-loving, sexually repressive culture, but I think that’s only part of the answer. We drove all over Scotland, and we saw nary a pothole — not even so much as a sloppy patch on the asphalt. What we did see was a robust, attractive, friendly citizenry which stood in marked contrast to our own stressed-out population which somehow manages to be obese and gaunt at the same time. In the face of a crisis in leadership and the floundering of a broken system, folks in the U.S. continue to clamor for “values,” turning a blind eye as their elected officials gut the public coffers and slash funding vital to the very services and programs designed to help keep us safe in the first place.
the American landscape is littered with schools, police departments, welfare workers, health inspectors, infrastructural engineers, what-have-you — professionals with both the will and the know-how, all bled ever drier by leaders who’ve lost the will to stand by their constituents where it really counts. I guess the more of their responsibilities they manage to auction off to their masters in the “private sector,” the more time they have to spend on the issues that matter most to them. (I leave it to Foley and Hastert to enlighten us as to what those might be.)
Heed me, citizens of the United Kingdom: don’t let them cut your taxes!