Thursday, December 14, 2006

Obscure? Who You Calling OBSCURE?

Poor Stephen Harper.

Scary in his own country, and now obscure outside of it, at least according to Chris Matthews, host of the MSNBC political show, Hardball.

On Tuesday’s show, Matthews interviewed potential presidential candidate John Edwards and decided, somewhat playfully, to quiz him on foreign affairs in a similar manner to how then-candidate G.W. Bush was quizzed during the 2000 campaign.

The transcript is here; scroll down about a third of the way, or search for the word “Canada”.

Edwards did not do too badly, correctly naming the leaders of Canada, Mexico, Iraq, Germany and Italy but missing South Africa. But what really really REALLY has me steaming is this: Matthews, obviously impressed, remarked,

I‘m going to go back in my box because Harper is pretty obscure.

Obscure: Among other definitions,

of little or no prominence, note, fame, or distinction

far from public notice, worldly affairs, or important activities; remote; retired

Previously Matthews had called the country Italy obscure; I take exception to that as well, particularly since Italy, unlike Canada, was a member of the “Coalition of the Willing”. But how, how on EARTH can a (presumably) educated talk show host call the elected leader of one of the US’s largest trading partners (if not THE largest) and the country with which the US shares the world’s longest undefended border, OBSCURE?

Furthermore, Edwards then was unable to elaborate on Harper’s first name or, and this is important, POLITICAL PARTY.

Can you function as President of the United States without knowing the political leanings of your allies? That might make it difficult to know which countries indeed ARE your allies, wouldn’t it?

Now, I realize that anything, even a mushroom, would be an improvement over the current President. But we are looking ahead here and maybe trying not to repeat past mistakes?

After the little quiz, indeed immediately after it, Matthews launched into a discussion of why “America” is hated throughout the world.

I had to laugh.

Among many other reasons, some arguably valid and some invalid, perhaps “America” is hated because its citizens and its leaders can’t tear themselves away from gazing into their own navel long enough to acquire some sort of global perspective.
(That language substantially cleaned up from what I actually wanted to say.)

This is a long-running pet peeve of mine dating back decades: anything that happens or relates to anything outside of US borders is looked upon with disdain and indifference in the US if it is looked upon at all.

Several years ago, way before 9/11, I entered into such a discussion with an American acquaintance, asking why there was no interest there about events in Canada. She replied, because you are not a threat to us.

But how did she know that if she didn’t know anything about us?

Now that the unthinkable has happened, Americans are a little more aware that there IS an outside world but I feel they still do not attach enough importance to being educated about it – if not for themselves, as citizens, then at least for their leaders and policy-makers. It seems like the electorate champions mediocrity, while those like Al Gore just make people nervous.

This happens to be not only my opinion, but that of political columnist Roger Simon, who stated on the Wednesday edition of Hardball,

Americans distrust people who are too smart. Remember, Adlai Stephenson ran into this problem. If you seem too intelligent—Dukakis had this problem.

When questioned, in an incredulous tone, by Matthews, who pointed out that Bill Clinton has a very high IQ, Simon replied,

We want it both ways. Clinton was smart enough to hide his intelligence. He ran as a good old boy, the boy from Hope. He ran as a nice guy that you want to live next to.

Smart enough to hide his intelligence.

Doesn't that just speak volumes.

This phenomenon is also reflected in some of the responses I received for an abbreviated version of this rant, in the comments section of this Newsvine post. My favourite, "that's what staffers and briefings are for", neatly sums up why and how the US has gotten into the mess that it's currently in.

I don’t get it. I will never get it. People who tolerate and excuse ignorance end up setting an abysmally low standard for those they depend on to lead them and – dare I say it – keep them safe.