The coverage of the mid-term election provokes me once again to think that Americans are mad. I know, my American readers are already reaching for the delete or the reply button.
The madness appears in the weight of the Tea Parties and Sarah Palin, plus the intensity against the president''s efforts for economic rescue and health reform.
These point to a country that stands alone among well-to-do democracies on its cultural antipathy to social programs and an obsessive opposition to taxation. The United States may have among the best medical and educational facilities in the world, but the worst delivery systems in both fields when compared to other countries. The health care and education available to most Americans is a long way from what the most fortunate receive in the best clinics, or the best schools, colleges and universities. The country is also an oddity in its concerns with abortion, evolution and sexual preference. The problems of doing away with "Don''t ask, don''t tell" in the American military contrasts with other armies of western countries, including the IDF, where the theme is "Who cares?"
The peculiarity of the United States occurs along with a disturbing level of self confidence and insistence that it alone can determine its destiny. The trait appeared before the United States was a great power, in the opposition to joining the League of Nations. It was prominent again after World War II, when the country insisted on a right to veto important matters as a condition for joining the United Nations.
Now that the United States is the dominant super power, the trait has an uglier side in its concern to say how other countries should govern themselves. Important here is the combination of military might and ignorance shown in the invasion of Iraq, and efforts to remake Afghanistan.
The trait bothers Israel in the campaign being led by the White House against construction of Jewish sites in Jerusalem and the West Bank. Beyond Washington, the arrogance that appears widely in American culture shows itself in the anti-Israel demonstrations on campuses, and other efforts to boycott, disinvest, and impose sanctions on Israel. The movement is not entirely American. Indications are that its promotion is heavily Muslim, but it draws strength from the economic and political weight of Americans, including some American Jews who claim to know what is better for Israel than Israeli Jews.
Arrogant critics of others have no trouble screaming their accusations. If they were equally concerned with comparing Israel with the United States and other countries, they would find that what they say about Israel is often a mere shadow of what occurs elsewhere.
People concerned about human rights should stop eating bananas grown in Central America or the Caribbean, and stop buying clothes and other things made in China. If Israel constrains the movements of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, those judging it should take into consideration the record of Palestinian violence.
Claims of discrimination against Israeli Arabs pale in comparison to what occurs in other countries. Israeli Arabs have better health indicators that white Americans, and far better indicators than American minorities. The incomes of Israeli Arabs are closer to those of Israeli Jews than are the incomes of African Americans to those of white Americans. Israel provides instruction in Arabic to its minority, and there is no problem of Muslim women dressing according to their religious tradition. Compare those freedoms to the experience of the Kurds in Turkey, or Muslim women in France. Israeli courts act against the political activities of Arab citizens (or Members of Knesset) only in extreme cases when there are charges of incitement to violence, or aiding the enemy against the background of armed conflict.
It will take more than a little while to understand the outcome of the mid-term elections in the United States. Commentators will blabber endlessly about what the results mean for the President''s perceived mandate of Change. It will be months or more before we know if Tea Party activists help or hinder Republican efforts to do something in Congress that will help them in the presidential campaign of 2012. Some Israeli commentators are certain that the president will express his frustration and seek to make a record by pressing harder on Israel to stop the construction and make other concessions to the Palestinians.
There is much to admire in the United States. I have described to several of my Russian friends how I benefited from my grandparents'' migrations from Poland and Lithuania in the 19th century. Along with several of my cousins, I grew up poor, and poorly educated in public schools, but scholarships allowed us to study in decent institutions of higher education and put us on the road to professional success. I learned from my better teachers the value of skepticism and a willingness to criticize. I do not consider myself a traitor against my roots, or an excessively patriotic Israeli, for practicing those traits.
No doubt that the United States is unique, but not always in ways that inspire confidence in the rest of the world. Especially worrisome is the combination of its oddities and power, along with an arrogant fixation with American rightness and its ignorance of the places it seeks to control.
American madness may be extreme as a theme, but using the term is not as bizarre as much of what occurs in American politics, and American efforts to control others.