After six months away, our correspondent finds the U.S. suffocatingly inward-looking — and gauche.
Returning to New England after six months away in France, I find this country suffocating in its own domestic issues, strangely unconcerned by the momentous events in the Middle East or the dual tragedy in Japan. We have always been an isolationist people but if anything could shake Americans awake, I thought, it would be the historic events unfolding today.
But no, domestic squabbles over education, healthcare, and taxation seem to blot out the world, even for President Obama.
Try watching international news on CNN — a jerky experience at best, with ridiculous advertising spots for Japanese cars interrupting the story every few minutes, sometimes every minute. Coming from Europe, this is maddening. Fortunately my cable company provides TV5 Monde, the French-language channel for export. The commentary there is a marvel compared to the superficial U.S. choices.
Seemingly educated young Americans are turning their backs on the outside world. When I bought a cell phone at an AT&T outlet in Brookline I was asked by the clean-cut, 6-foot-3 salesman for my permanent address. When I said “Bordeaux,” he looked disoriented. “Is that a town or a country?” he asked. I chastised him but he was defensive. “I have a B.A. in political science,” he countered. I doubt that it was from Harvard.
A few days later I decided to have a look at the new Mark Twain autobiography, the one with the unreadable 6-point typeface. Barnes and Noble has a monster bookstore on the edge of the Boston University campus, a perfect place to browse. When I couldn’t find the book, I asked the comely salesgirl with long dark hair if she had it in stock. She turned to her computer and got to work. This dialogue ensued:
“What’s the title again?”
“The Autobiography of Mark Twain.”
“Okay, I’ll find it. Author’s name?”
“Pardon?” I said, thinking I had misheard.
“Who wrote it?”
“It’s an autobiography,” I said.
She dug in her pretty little heels. “I still need the author’s name,” she insisted.
I promised her I would not repeat that to anyone. (I lied.) But out of pity I bought the book.
Taking the temperature of the U.S. on a regular basis, I have discovered that the New York Times crossword puzzle contains some pretty good clues to what’s going around. One recent day a clue was “John Boehner’s outstanding characteristic”. The answer was a three-letter word, “tan”.
Even the world of journalism seems to be going astray. Journalism is no longer sacred, if it ever was. Northwestern’s Medill School, one of the nation’s top five, has just changed its name to “The Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications.” Come to Medill and study PR. That’s where the money is.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?
H/T to National Review Online