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Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

Classical music agony aunt ALICE McVEIGH
takes a swipe at American politics

? ' Hi Alice,

Things are getting horrible in the US elections. Sisters aren't speaking to brothers; spouses to spouses. McCain's supporters (and probably soon Obama's too) have started yelling like wild animals when his opponent is mentioned. How did it get this way, and what can we do about it?

I've never known so bitter an election, and I am almost sixty-five, though my wife is kind enough to suggest that I do not look it.
Anon in Delaware

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Alice Dear Anon,

(Nice state, Delaware; I remember some wonderful seaside vacations on the coast when I was a teenager!!!)

I dunno.

Well, that is to say, I do know, but I'm hesitant to say. It's because this election, uniquely in my experience, involves the two no-go areas: politics and (yes) even religion.

In other words, bizarre as it seems to someone like me who has for the last 28 years lived in a country where (both!!) Obama and McCain would count as right-wing, for conservative Americans Obama is widely touted as having 'the most liberal voting record in the Senate'. Now, just to let non-Americans into the lingo, for 'liberal' please read 'abortion-loving, hell-bound and "likely to swipe all our guns away"'.

The term 'liberal', in short, has lost all rational meaning in American politics. In every other country it means someone who would, on balance, prefer to pay slightly higher taxes in exchange to know that the most deprived in society are not having to scrimp and save for the most basic elements of health-care -- or, as a middle-class person, avoiding to some degree having a bad conscience about those in our midst who can't afford such things. I have willingly, and I fully believe, in a truly Christian spirit, paid far higher taxes for many years in Britain than I would have paid in the US in order to have a clearer conscience with regard to my fellow citizens.

However, and I say this with regret, In America 'liberal' translates most easily to someone who is un-Christian (since when is to care for the poor un-Christian, exactly??), elitist, and also someone who blatantly attempts to look after poor people who in reality only need to 'work a little harder' to join the prosperous and sunny uplands of the wider American middle-class. Dark suspicions can also be maintained as to a 'liberal's' unwholesome love of classical (or jazz?) music, or Renaissance -- or any? -- art or culture, or even a (faintly worrying) affection for something as broad-based as 'Europe' or even 'culture'.

Unluckily for those of us who always hoped to live to see a female President, Sarah Palin is most polarizing of all. To the strongly rightwing Republican, she is a soaring symbol of hope. To the rest of the world, she amounts to an almost unbelievable symptom of McCainite despair. We are expected to admire Palin, not because she is intelligent -- which even many Republicans have given up on attempting to prove -- but because she is (winks, 'doggone it' and killing sitting mooses aside) well-meaning and therefore a typical American person.

Well, I hope so. I hope and believe that almost all Americans are well-meaning. However, call me old-fashioned, but I also believe that simply being well-meaning, in itself, however, does not necessarily entitle one to the potential leadership of the entire free world.

Now many Britons, along with French and Germans and Italians, will be yawning at this point, and saying that this is simply too tedious. In Europe, families have for decades been riven by ideological divides than make America's currently seem shrimpy to the point of senselessness. Indeed, the range of candidates in any given European country would make most Americans see Obama on the political spectrum for what he truly is: center-right: still right-wing, though not nearly as right-wing as some.

But where such Europeans would be wrong in yawning is here: in the religious element of the fury of this election. In other words, here, for the first time since the John F Kennedy Catholicism controversy there is a religious divide in American politics. The Republicans, in addition to being, at least at present, 'more desperate than thou', are also perceived, by themselves at least, as 'holier than thou'. This is despite the fact that Obama's perceived liberalism is actually pretty tame (consisting of nothing more than allowing a woman -- possibly raped, or the victim of incest -- to choose abortion without being in imminent fear of losing her own life and what amounts to a faint, feeble hope that those arrogant fat cat bankers who got us into our current economic mess might be willing to part with more than a miserly percent of their enormous incomes in favor of the poor and the uninsured).

In short, an Obama victory wouldn't involve so much as a sea-change in American politics as a gentle pull against Bush's reactionary tide towards the entire rest of the world. A hand held out. A chance given. In other words: No big deal.

Who would you choose?

So yes: the election is indeed bitter. But remember, one way or another it will all be over in less than a month, and then, as it always has, America will heal and grow and move forward, because that is the nature of my country. My own feelings are no secret. I long for the healing of America's long-term racial divide, and for Obama's success. But if I'm wrong, and the country turns to McCain, I hope that it will still heal, and that I can at least attempt to be gracious about it.


Ask Alice

? ' Dear Alice,

How do you get a drummer off your porch?
Pay him for the pizza.

How do you get a drummer to play quieter?
Put a chart in front of him

'Hey buddy, how late does the band play?'
'Oh, about a half beat behind the drummer.'

More of these at my fav site: Drum!!!

Copyright © 17 October 2008 Alice McVeigh, Kent UK

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