Thursday, 25 March 2010

Trying to Make Sense of America's Political Landscape

Okay, so I look like a crazy nomad today. I don't care. I am comfortable and warm. What I do care about today is American politics. Once again I finished reading my morning paper with way more questions than answers regarding the way things work in this country. Perhaps it is because of the recent debate regarding Obama's health care plan, but the political landscape here has been looking a little scary to me lately. I'll go ahead and confess that I have very limited knowledge of American political history, and I don't have the tools in my disposal to write balanced analysis, nor do I really want to. What I am interested in writing about, at this moment anyway, are my personal impressions as a foreigner.

I never realised (before living here) how divided the United States really is, politically speaking. You'd think that that is what you get when you have a two-party system, but I don't recall a division this strong in the United Kingdom (although I guess the LibDems don't quite make it a two-party system anymore over there). It is not just about politics either, about how to use public funds and how to create a powerful society - the political debate here is incredibly value-based. Issues of morality come into domestic politics here every day, sometimes via religion. The language of politics is very harsh as a consequence of this. There is an awful lot of distrust, and even pure hate in the political climate, which seems to lead to a strange mix of agressive populism and we-are-above-debate type of rhetoric.

When I became aware of politics in Finland in my late teens and early twenties, my country was run by a coalition government of five parties, and those parties in question ranged from the Left Alliance to the Greens, to the Social Democrats and the right-wing National Coalition Party. Perhaps it comes with having a relatively young multi-party system that politicians don't have a choice but to discuss issues in a constructive manner, and that political alliances must cross party-borders. There are political divisions in Finland just like everywhere else, but it still seems to me that for the most part, the parties are trying to do the same thing: to create a prosperous nation where democracy and human rights are important. No citizen is to be left behind. The state is there for you, and for your own good, as a citizen, you pay taxes. Parties don't have a choice but to co-operate. Of course politics is more complicated than that. People do get left behind, and parties have their own particular interests, ideological and material, everywhere. It would be naive to think otherwise.

To me, a citizen of a country where universal health care and free education have existed longer than I have, it has seemed awfully odd to listen to American politicians debate about the "communist nature" of a public health care system. Why would anyone oppose a new public health care plan if the current disfunctioning one is more expensive per citizen than the huge, entire-nation-covering programmes in Scandinavia, which seem to work pretty well? I try to get my head around these things by reading the newspapers, but even they are leaning heavily on one side or another. Neutral information is really hard to come by, because it seems that everyone has a political and/or moral agenda. This extends to decision-making processes regarding school curriculums. It seems really scary to me that dentists and real estate agents get to decide school curriculum issues from the basis of their own political beliefs, as the recent Texas Board of Education did. Perhaps this type of stuff happens everywhere, but there is just more transparency here?

Trying to understand how any country's political system works is difficult. I spent an entire year trying to make sense of Hungary's party system while living in Budapest many years ago, and at the end of that year I just felt even more puzzled. There are cultural and historical aspects to every political system, and I am sure many Americans would be horrified to see how things work in Finland. For now, all I have to say is that the atmosphere of hatred over here scares me. Why can't people just get along?

Long dress: Urban Outfitters
Tie-dye t-shirt: second hand / Salvation Army
Cardigan: men's H&M
Green scarf: souvenir from Dusseldorf fashion fair in, sheesh, 1999?
Gold scarf: ?
Boots: second hand / Salvation Army


mirattes said...

You look so tall with this skirt and great!
nice post ;)

Jane W. said...

I always feel a bit stupid leaving a short, pithy comment in response to your thoughtful posts--but not stupid enough not to comment. So here goes.

The insurance lobby is very, very powerful in this country and substantially funds the campaigns of the geniuses who are "suing" the government over this week's healthcare legislation.

If they feel so strongly that healthcare is not a basic human right, then perhaps they'd be willing to forgo their own benefits once they're no longer in office.

gina said...

Love the long skirt and all the layering.

It's interesting reading your impressions of the United States and its political climate, and your response to that as someone who is relatively new to the U.S. and comes from a country with very different basic assumptions about the role of government in society.

jesse.anne.o said...

Yeah, we are just about $$$ here

Lady Cardigan said...

There's so much anger and hate in political discussion today that I usually just try to tune it all out. I think a lot of Americans do the same, and that's one reason the loudest, nastiest people get to run much of the show.

Modesty is Pretty said...

I like this outfit, even though the things don't seem to match they go well together.
As far as political views, I grew up in a country where political parties were nothing more than groups of skunks trying to get rich and not caring about people, and if someone cared enough to try to changed things, they would get killed. That's how things get done in Mexico. =/

Rad_in_Broolyn said...

Love the pairing of the boots and the long skirt. Lovely scarves as well.
I study/teach politics for a living, but to be honest, American politics befuddles me too. Maybe as an "urban East Coast liberal" I'm not in touch with the sectors of country that react to social programs as "communism" but won't blink a eye when trillions are spent on an endless war.
The institutional arrangements in the US (non publicly financed campaigns, single member districts, regularly scheduled elections, presidential not parliamentary system) also create incentives that lead to polarized political opinions and disproportionate amount of influence to campaign contributors (health insurers, for example), and lead to really bad outcome. The majority of American supported the public option, but a small number of Tea Party types exaggerate dissent. OK, enough Intro to Comparative Politics for now.

Eline said...

Oh I love you looking like a crazy nomad lady. A fabulous crazy nomad lady that is :D

I am really really really boggled by the strong opposition to healthcare. HOW could that ever be a communist thing? I've stopped trying t understand it, really.