The US pulled back from the brink this week, but the underlying problem won’t go away. Seldom, if ever, says Max Hastings in the Daily Mail, “has the chasm between the sophistication of America’s East Coast and the primitive passions and thought processes of middle-American lawmakers yawned wider”.
You can paper over the cracks, but eventually they’ll tear, says Justin Webb in The Times. “Political America appears to be boiling with fissiparous rage.”
When I lived in America, says Webb, Americans were “among the most peaceable, genteel people on the face of the Earth”. In fact, “the sheer niceness of life” made him want to scream.
“To keep sane, we used to have an annual screening, for British friends, of the crime caper Sexy Beast. The film is packed with ironic humour, violence and swearing”, none of which was available in suburban America.
However, the reason for the bitterness these days, thinks the conservative commentator Jay Cost, is simple: the money’s run out. Now, even the good times aren’t good anymore and such spoils as there are go increasingly to the top 5% – making everyone else angry. It is this anger that Republican congressmen are venting.
Their “irresponsibility” has exasperated Washington, says Hastings. The problem is that while in Britain most MPs consider Westminster to be as much a home as their constituencies, this is not true of the US.
Senators and congressmen always feel more attached to, say, Montana or Kansas, than they do to Washington. “Everyone is too far from home,” as President Eisenhower once ruefully put it.
Some Republican constituencies are not merely thousands of miles from the capital, says Hastings: “they are also culturally light years distant”. Many congressmen “feel as foreign among East Coast smart asses – as they would characterise Washington’s elite – as did the Tennessee frontiersman Davy Crocket when he was elected to Congress in 1826”.
Meanwhile, moderate Republicans live in dread of being ousted by right-wing Tea Party Republicans – and what a crew they are.
“Steve Stockman, a Texan [congressman] is a former homeless man who has faced drug charges. He distributed bumper stickers during his last election campaign urging the arming of foetuses: ‘If babies had guns, they wouldn’t be aborted!’” Talking to grassroots Republicans who think like this is “like holding a dialogue with Martians”, says Hastings.
In the end it boils down to fear. The Fox TV channel – “the Wailing Wall of the American Right” – is currently advertising a bestseller called National Bankruptcy – Why the Middle Class is Doomed.
Most Republicans want to reset the clock to around 1955, “when women and blacks knew their place, there was no swearing on TV, and sex was kept in its proper place under the carpet”.
So sclerotic is the American system now, as the greatest democracy on earth stumbles towards the future, says Hastings, that the US now looks “frighteningly close to being ungovernable”.
Tabloid money: ”Teachers shouldn’t get a pay rise, but a pay cut”
• Teachers went on strike last week, wreaking havoc, because “they want more pay and bigger pensions (already among the highest in the public sector)”, says Carole Malone in The Sunday Mirror.
“They’re also furious at changes in the curriculum to improve children’s literacy and numeracy skills because they don’t fit in with progressive ideas. Which makes you wonder how smart they are as last week one of the biggest educational surveys of its kind showed Britain is languishing at the bottom of literacy and numeracy tables. Out of 24 countries we came 22nd in literacy and 21st in numeracy – below Slovakia and Estonia.”
This means our teachers “are incapable of teaching our kids even the basics: to read and write… Teachers shouldn’t get a pay rise for that kind of travesty. They should get a pay cut”.
• The OECD survey shows the truth behind Labour’s “education, education, education” soundbite, says Trevor Kavanagh in The Sun. “It shows what employers and universities have known for years – that millions who spent their entire school lives under Labour cannot read nor write a letter for a job. New Labour borrowed and squandered billions on new school buildings, extra teachers’ pay and a legion of unnecessary classroom assistants. But while Blair and Brown were flashing your cash, one in five children were leaving primary school unable to read or do sums.”
• “Days after David Cameron ordered a review of green taxes, which add £132 to power bills, the Lib Dem energy secretary vows to block any attempt to cut them,” says the Daily Mail. “Reaffirming his commitment to the levies, which will subsidise record numbers of inefficient wind farms… Ed Davey adds: ‘I think we will see more price rises’.”
The Daily Mail can do no better than to quote lyricist Sir Tim Rice, who has declined more than £1m to allow a wind farm on his Scottish estate. “‘I don’t see why rich twits like me should be paid to put up everybody else’s bills,’ he says. ‘Especially for something that doesn’t work’.”
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