Friday, July 6, 2012

The season of politics is upon us

I've had politics on my mind all morning. It's part of the natural post-July 4th self-examination, multiplied because this is not only an election year, but the bicentennial of the War of 1812. That's the Tea Party's favorite war, because Washington was razed. Their only regret is that it was rebuilt.

I got an email from the AMA today, offering to help Backmarker's readers to decide how they should vote in November, in order to further the AMA's agenda.

No matter how desperately the AMA wishes it had the political clout of the NRA, I don't think the rise of single-issue voter blocs did the U.S. any good. All of the AMA's political projects -- whether they're legitimate civil-rights issues involving motorcycle-only checkpoints; semi-legitimate issues like ensuring a reasonable counter-balance to environmental protections, in order to preserve access for motorized recreation; or the knee-jerk opposition to helmet laws -- pale in comparison to the larger battle being waged between the Democrats and Republicans on central, philosophic issues that will determine the rate of the decline of American Empire.

And, frankly, even if the soul of America wasn't at stake, who would trust the AMA for voter guidance?

Admittedly the foregoing had little to do with motorcycles, but be warned that if you choose to read on -- from here down, it's all politics.

What did you do on the Fourth? I spent it with old friends on Lake Lotawana, which is a picturesque reservoir that used to be surrounded by quaint cottages, and is now mostly lined with McMansions. It's become a fancy exurb of Kansas City.

As darkness fell, we all got into my friend's boat. As we stowed big coolers full of beer and such, one of our party looked over at the next door neighbor's dock, where two kids were playing on a moored pontoon boat. When he saw that they weren't wearing life jackets, he got off our boat and walked partway up the neighbor's lawn to call out to them, pointing out that their kids weren't wearing life jackets. Some parent gruffly said, "They're fine," or words to that effect, and my friend's friend returned to our boat a little snotty.

Then, we joined a ragtag flotilla of hundreds of small powercraft, decked out in stars-and-stripes flags and sorority girls in matching bikinis, like a flock of drunken fireflies, our running lights bobbing in the same direction towards the end of the lake where the local fireworks display was to take place.

There were already a small smattering of private rockets going off around the wooded shoreline, and fireworks from neighboring communities flickered on the horizon. As we motored into position, and my eyes adjusted to the gloom, I watched a couple of boats pass us, driven by guys whose pale, moon-like pot bellies lapped over their board shorts, pointing the way towards the last few good spots to drop anchor.

We stopped and dropped ours (our anchor, not our shorts) and two very crowded boats hove to near us, in a position where the wind would surely bring them into contact with us. My friend, whose boat we were on, called out for them to move. They did, but only after making a few surly remarks.

How many of those small boats had guns on board? Here and there, people took photos, and the first couple of times I caught a flash in my peripheral vision, I expected to hear a crack and the demented-wasp sound of a bullet passing my ear.

I decided that if that happened, I'd leave my friends to fend for themselves, dive overboard and swim for shore, iPhone in my pocket be damned. Luckily, I was distracted, as we all were, by the fireworks display, which was surprisingly good for a small community. When it was over, even I wanted to sing 'Star Spangled Banner', and I’m a Canadian. Instead, there was just a smattering of applause; we all weighed anchors and returned to our docks. The moon rose over the trees.

After ferrying coolers back up to the house, I excused myself and rode home, at first probing the darkness for the glinting eyes of deer and then, as I got closer to Kansas City, catching the glint of intermittent fireworks. I passed a few fireworks tents, all red, white, and blue bunting; exhausted moths circled bare, dangling lightbulbs.

The two most-American holidays are Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July. Of course, almost every culture has some kind of harvest festival, and lots of nations have independence holidays, but the Fourth is the one most wrapped up in the flag and the American creation myth. The fireworks evoking the "rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air" (even though that song actually commemorates the War of 1812.) It's all a glorious, militaristic pean to the way America threw off the chains of tyranny.

But wait a minute. It’s not as if America won independence from czarist Russia, or Syria. It won independence from England.

I spent July 5 wondering, what if the Revolutionary War had never happened? What if the states had spent the nineteenth century as British colonies?

In that slightly-different world, America would be an ex-British colony, the same way that Canada or Australia now is. I guess, like Canada, it might still have the Queen on its money, but other than that, Canada’s so similar to the U.S. that Toronto and Vancouver often stand in for American locations in movies.

Maybe, like Canada, the U.S. would have had banking regulations that obviated the economic collapse of 2008. And maybe the whole Supreme Court/Obamacare thing would've been a non-starter since, as in Britain, every single citizen would just get great health care as a natural right and at a cost in increased taxes that is a fraction of what insured Americans and their employers pay.

I guess Australia is not quite as much like the U.S. as Canada is. I mean, the Aussies have some unique aspects to their culture and history; shameful ones like the way they marginalized and abused their aboriginal populations, and charming ones like the way warm holiday nights are celebrated by grilling meat and drinking huge quantities of beer.

Where was I?

Seriously, if you looked all over the world, for the two countries most like the United States, you’d pick Canada and Australia, if for no other reason they are the only countries in the world where a ‘football’ has pointy ends.

In other words, the Revolutionary War with all its wanton killing; the whole Fourth of July thing; the paroxysm of fireworks, flags, and Facebook posts of the Declaration of Independence; all that stuff is to celebrate a historical event that prevented the U.S. from being a little bit different.

That's incredible, when you think of it. Winning or losing the War of Independence ended up making almost no difference at all to the American outcome.

What the fuck? Maybe you should let the AMA tell you how to vote. If you want to do that, please pick one minor 'AMA' issue, which is the problem that ethanol fuel blends have caused for some motorcycles. Search for the rare politician who will risk alienating King Corn by calling ethanol a boondoggle, a waste of money, and an environmental disaster. There are plenty of reasons to kill those subsidies, and damage to motorcycles ranks very low among them, but there you are. Vote AMA.

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