I love America. I am an unequivocal admirer of, in no particular order and at random, baseball and the Boston Red Sox; Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead; Paul Auster and Don Delillo, Norman Mailer and Philip Roth, Aaron Copland and Miles Davis. Although I have visited only a relatively few hectares of this huge country, I love its vastness and its diversity as much as I love its parochialism and sameness. I love its weirdness and its familiarity. I wept when Luther King was assassinated and again when Obama was elected President.
America matters to me. But sometimes, one despairs of the nation. And two of the reasons why were in the newspapers this morning.
First up was the news that healthcare may be unconstitutional, and that the 26 states – led unsurprisingly by Florida – are taking the case to the Supreme Court. For those of us in the UK and Europe, the US antagonism to even the slightest hint of a welfare state has always been inexplicable: here, even the extreme right pays lip service to the concept. In the States, Obama’s health reform aims to bring coverage to some 32 million people, “mainly those on low incomes” – really?
The clue is in the title of the bill: The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. It is frightening that providing these two fundamental rights has split the US and may even be made unconstitutional.
What certainly is unconstitutional is torture, and this is the second thing.
Three candidates for the Republican nomination came out in favour of waterboarding the other night. In fact, Herman Cain, Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann actually went further, criticising Obama for banning it and promising to reinstate it if elected.
We’re not talking about mere gaffes here. We’re not discussing Libyan foreign policy, Mr Cain. We’re not asking you to name the three departments you would abolish, Mr Perry.
We’re talking about something so fundamental to humanity that there should be no hesitation to our condemnation. John McCain, a presidential candidate who has actually been subjected to torture, has already condemned it. And President Obama has reminded us why we supported him:
“Waterboarding is torture. It’s contrary to America’s traditions. It’s contrary to our ideals. If we want to lead around the world, part of our leadership is setting a good example.”
Obama, McCain and – to be fair – Republican nomination-seekers Ron Paul and John Huntsman represent that side of America which gives us hope at a time when the right wing element of US politics has gone beyond a joke.
It is easy for us to watch these debates and laugh at their inanities and incompetence. But we laughed at Bush before we learned to our cost that his malapropisms were not funny at all. We know now that we should have taken him seriously.
We need to take these guys seriously, too. If we’re not careful, and the majority of Americans is not careful, we could end up with a President Perry, or a President Cain, or a President Bachmann.
And that doesn’t bear thinking about. Bill Clinton once said something to the effect that there was nothing wrong with America that couldn’t be cured by what was right with America.
I think that remains to be proved.
Today’s listening: The Civil Wars, Barton Hollow. Exquisite harmonies and great song-writing which make the Krauss/Plant collaboration sound almost trivial.