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Alan Cumming

Alan Cumming

Posted: October 13, 2008 04:52 PM

Why Is America So Content With Mediocrity?


I had intended to write this entire piece and then go back and remove the 'g' from every word that ended in one.

But then I thought that would make me a churlish, smart-arsed, lefty stereotype and alienate the very people I want to try to hear me. (Although I imagine there ain't gonna be many of them readin' the huffpost, huh?! Wait for the audience to realize they should clap and/or boo, nod, smile even more, carry on.) Sorry, I couldn't resist.

Ok, this is basically it: Over the last few weeks I have watched with mounting bemusement as John McCain and Sarah Palin have constantly referred to the American work force as the best in the world, how America is a force for good in the world, how America is the best at (fill in the blank here depending on who you're talkin' to, wait for applause, wink, smile, and on).

You know what? I'm sorry to be blunt, and I wish it were not true, but America isn't any of the above. Its poor downtrodden, unhealthy, under-educated and depressed workforce cannot surely believe it towers above all others in some sort of World Worker Idol type way? If so, why are its bosses firing so many of them and giving the jobs to people in other countries?

And although the notion of America being a force for good is noble and beautiful, the reality of how the world sees America is very different: America is an imperialist power that invades oil and mineral rich countries on little or flimsy evidence, and at the same time turns a blind eye to blatant genocide taking place in other parts of the globe. Perhaps if Ms Palin had a passport before 2007 and had a little less xenophobic viewpoint, she would have experienced, as I have, the terrible sight of American friends of mine being afraid to open their mouths when abroad for fear of reprisal for their nation's 'force of good.' (And I'm not talkin' about scary, rearin' their head places like Russia or Iran. I'm talkin' about in like cool places like London.)

This country is a mess. It is entering a depression. It is waging two wars. It has an administration so blatantly corrupt that the world is baulking at its arrogance. It lets its poor die.

And on top of all this, one of the presidential options available to its voters - although having cynically plagiarized its opponent's keyword of 'change', and positively wearing its flaws and shortcomings as a badge of honor - is actually endorsing the past eight years and playing down the gargantuan problems!

Now I understand that election stump speeches are partly about trying to make people feel better/confident/happy/deluded but I am really shocked that a political party in a country that so trumpets its democracy and freedom is offering its voters such a shoddy product, and WORSE, they are still buying it!! (I thank you, my fellow Americans!)

So why? Is loyalty the value that Republicans vaunt above all others? Above common sense? Are the right of America all colluding in a giant version of the Emperor's New Clothes?

When I encountered a Republican TV pundit at a party in New York last week I reeled off my litany of reasons about why I feel the appointment of Sarah Palin is a disgrace and a terrible blight on America's history, and I was met with a thin smile, a nodding head, maybe even a nascent wink and the line: 'She's learning.'

She's learning? (Gosh yes, she's only been doin' this for, what, five weeks? Smile, shout out to class 3, ignore question, on.)

I actually have so much sympathy right now for the hundreds of Republicans out there somewhere - well intentioned, well-informed, prepared, lucid for goodness' sake - who must be utterly furious that they were overlooked for the VP post. Imagine being a doctor and thinking you're about to be made a partner in the practice and then the receptionist who's a big fan of Grey's Anatomy gets it over you and we're beginning to understand how those poor people must be feeling.

But back to the Republican pundit: I then moved on to say why I thought the policies - the policies, remember those? - of the Obama-Biden ticket were better for America. Again the smile, a little attempt at an argument in that she wasn't sure that all those great ideas could be achieved, to which I responded that yes, in the light of the economic holocaust caused by the greed and corruption that her vote had validated, perhaps these plans might take a little longer to implement now, but didn't she agree with the thrust of them? That crazy, trying to help people who weren't doing so well thing?

She looked at me, a little hurt.

'You're not going to say you're a fiscal conservative, are you?' I asked.

'Actually I was going to say I'm an economic Republican,' she smiled. Checkmate, I could see her thinking. But I wasn't done.

'You know what I think a fiscal conservative or an economic Republican means?' I asked. 'I think it means you are clever enough to agree with the notions of what Obama stands for, you'd love everyone to have access to healthcare and good education and to be treated equally...'

She was nodding slightly now.

'But when it comes down to it, when you're in that polling booth, you actually think 'Screw them' and you vote with your pocket. And I think you use that phrase as an excuse to not care!'

She looked a little taken aback. I thought I might have gone a little too far. But no.

'I love your passion', she said and turned to her colleague. 'We should have him on the show.'

You see, I think that when it comes down to it, American politics is split into people who think it's their duty to care about other people, and those who think it's every man for themselves. That's it. That's why I think the system is systematically flawed and is in dire need of a third party to shake things up a little.

But I digress. I truly think that Americans, some Americans, are comforted by mediocrity. Even those who have been battered the most by the last eight years can be reticent to the idea of change, because they are told to fear it and to leave things as they are, sit down and open a six-pack and forget their troubles. And so, all the more reason to take our hats off to Barack Obama and the Democratic party for making that scary word the touchstone of this election campaign.

I have lived in the United States for ten years. When Obama began his presidential campaign I was so inspired that I decided to start the process to become a naturalized citizen of this country. I am, at present, a resident alien (or green card holder), which basically means I do everything here -including pay taxes - except vote.

I wanted to become a citizen in time to vote on November 4th, but the immigration system of America is a little slower than it was when I first came here and I will not be sworn in properly in time. However, the point is that I want to be a part of America's future, of its potential, because I am fed up with mediocrity.

Obama has a combination that is rare in a modern politician. He has the rhetoric and the charisma to inspire whole swathes of the hitherto dispossessed to engage in the political system. And he has the real-life experience of prejudice and poverty to both understand and make people trust that he understands their needs and his desire to help them. But he also has the intelligence and the sophistication to deal both in big ideas and incredibly detailed plans. His election campaign has been a model of harnessing a generation's desperate desire to be heard and making them integral to the future of our society.

I hear him and he makes me excited about the prospect of being an American, an American that looks out for other Americans, in an America that is indeed a force of good in the world.

(Smile. Wink. Thumbs up. Wave.)