I am currently writing a book about American ignorance.
To be more precise it is about the 200-year-old perception that Americans know less about the geography, history, and current affairs of the world than people in other developed nations.
Before you think that is so old hat, so 2008, so BC (before Obama), I have one name of my own to justify this backward looking study: Sarah Palin.
But now, alas, my poster girl, the Governor from the America's frozen north, has resigned. Next thing the Governator of California will return to the movie business and America will look like a regular country.
In fact plenty of people are suggesting that America has already come back into the Western fold: that it is once again just another nation. Sure Obama's administration may lack the array of lay-preachers and recreational hunters that made up the Bush administration and his views on health-care, nuclear weapons and the need for a Palestinian state all seem, well, positively European.
But behind the front man, American politics still dances to its own tune (is that "Achy Breaky Heart" I can hear on CNN in the background?).
Last month it was the Governor of South Carolina going AWOL on the Appalachian trial (that's the Argentinean section of the long trail); earlier this year it was the Governor-cum-Mafia-Don Blagojevich asking for bribes from people hoping to be Obama's replacement in the US Senate. Blagojevich's denials and pleas of innocence were worthy of a starring role in the soap opera Days of Our Lives.
But my favourite was the 2008 revelation that the New York disciplinarian Elliot Spitzer had been caught breaking banking laws he was particularly keen on using to catch white collar criminals. Spitzer's crime was illegally ferreting away cash in accounts to pay for very expensive prostitutes, the kind you can take across state-lines (which is also illegal in the US).
I am tempted to try to argue that we sensationalise the indiscretions of Americans and that these recent spates of resignations (and sexual revelations) are all just the result of America's open and inquisitorial democratic culture. I could go further to say that all it reveals is that age old human tendency to first deny and plead innocence and then as a last resort ask for forgiveness in the face of categorical evidence of malfeasance.
The more Baptist a politician the quicker they seem to reach the “begging for forgiveness” part. The more old school Protestant or Catholic they claim to be the less likely they will admit anything - witness the similar approaches taken to truth telling by Richard Nixon and the three Kennedy Senators.
However, faced with all of these examples (and America's “made for movies” political history) it is hard to claim our American cousins are just like us but with more money, more power and more naked ambition. The reality is that their political culture is simply different to that of Australia or any other Western nation.
All this brings me back to Sarah Palin, another great American story. My guess is we have not heard the last of the already overexposed northern governor. A run for the presidency or at least her own TV show is surely to come. And the film Couric-Palin could be, I tell you, the Frost-Nixon of the next decade.
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