Uncle Sam or Rip Van Winkle?

By | June 3, 2013 | 0 Comments


Nations pick symbols for themselves, and often these symbols are quite revealing of how people see themselves – or how others see them. The symbol of the British is John Bull, a stodgy, overweight fellow with a stubborn expression on his face. He typifies British resolution in the face of adversity. The symbol of France is Marianne, a beautiful young woman who exemplifies liberty and reason.

Nevertheless, these symbols may be outdated. Current Brits seem considerably less resolute than their forebears, and current French politics are characterized by neither liberty nor reason. But at least the symbols may remind people of who they used to be.
So what should the symbol of current Americans be? Should it continue be Uncle Sam, a fellow who is amiable until he is crossed – but then becomes angry and determined? In times of trouble, he points at us and reminds us of our duty to fight for our beliefs. Or should our symbol be Rip Van Winkle, a lazy fellow who avoids work and goes to sleep for 20 years, only to wake up and find things greatly changed?
This question occurred to me as I sat watching TV one evening. First I watched Fox News, where I saw Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly. They dwelled on the current scandals besetting the Obama administration. They delved into Benghazi, including both the failure to heed Ambassador Chris Stevens’ repeated requests for more security, and the failure to send help when the attack finally came. Then they dealt with IRS harassment of conservative organizations, and with the snooping into phone records of Associated Press and Fox News reporters.
Hannity and O’Reilly emphasized the repeated claims of administration officials that they did not know what was going on  – with a preposterous succession of I don’t knows and I don’t remembers. Anyone watching this montage of clumsy denials of responsibility would be forced to the inescapable conclusion that a series of cover-ups is in progress. The word “Nixonian” comes to mind. But the key question is this: How many Americans were watching Fox News and saw Hannity or O’Reilly?
Yes, these programs enjoy large audiences by satellite and cable standards. Still, these audiences make up only a small fraction of Americans. The large majority watches ABC, CBS, NBC, MSNBC, CNN – or no news source at all. Whether we consider such people uninformed or misinformed, the fact remains that they are ignorant of much that is important today.
By chance, that same evening I watched Bill Maher on HBO. Among his guests was that vast source of wisdom, Michael Moore. Maher complained about how Americans were clinging to their guns and religion, echoing the thoughts – or rather the biases – of President Obama. But Moore encouraged Maher by claiming that young Americans don’t want to own guns and are less interested in religion than older Americans.
That is, the young people whom Michael Moore knows aren’t interested in guns or religion. When the liberal elite circulate in their liberal bubble, they conclude that most Americans have similar opinions. But neither Moore nor Maher have the self-awareness to recognize that their horizon is severely restricted, and their liberal sample is hardly representative of the population as a whole. They despise guns and religion, so they assume everyone does. They believe the Obama scandals are unimportant, so they assume everyone does. Narcissism is a poor basis for sweeping conclusions.
The previous day I saw Chris Matthews on MSNBC, spouting the libel that those who oppose Obama’s policies are motivated by racism. The obvious result of this line of reasoning is that we must not criticize Obama at all. How this notion is compatible with democracy or freedom is difficult to state. How people who condemn all criticism of The Leader can consider themselves “progressive” is even more difficult to state.
And then I switched to CBS and watched the David Letterman show. I was surprised to find that Letterman, supposedly a topical, up-to-date comedian, had regressed four years and fallen back onto his old favorite – ridiculing George W. Bush. Bush left office January 20, 2009. But Letterman was unable to find anything to ridicule in over four years of the current administration.
Obama claiming he visited 57 states? Obama unsuccessfully trying to open a locked door at the White House? Obama twice mispronouncing corpsman as “corpse-man” while reading from a teleprompter? Obama claiming he learned of the IRS scandal by reading it in the newspapers – after the IRS commissioner visited the White House 157 times in four years, while his predecessor visited the Bush White House once? Letterman loves to show video clips of Bush stumbling, but in four years, Obama has never stumbled? Really?
No, nothing humorous here. Nothing to ridicule. No subject for jokes. Not about the progressives’ guy. No way.
After watching Maher, Moore, and Letterman, I was reminded to take out the trash. The Los Angeles Times, like the New York Times and most papers in between, either bury stories about the Obama scandals on inner pages or ignore them entirely. I concluded that unless people make an effort to watch Fox News or listen to talk radio, they are unaware of what is happening to their country. To a considerable degree, they are asleep politically, soothed into a peaceful stupor by the mainstream media.
The most glaring example of this stupor is the denial of terrorism. Two weeks after the Benghazi attack in which Ambassador Stevens and three other Americans were killed, Obama spoke to the U.N. He persisted in blaming the violence on a YouTube video that virtually no one had seen, and no responsible person believed was the cause of the attack.
No, Benghazi wasn’t terrorism – it was a “spontaneous demonstration” against the video. Do people walk around carrying machine guns, mortars, and rocket-propelled grenades, and then something happens to irritate them? But no one in our mainstream media asked that obvious question.
And the Fort Hood attack also wasn’t terrorism – it was “workplace violence.” Yes, Major Hassan repeatedly expressed radial Muslim beliefs. Yes, he was influenced by the extremist Imam Al-Awlaki. Yes, he shouted “Allahu akbar” as he shot 14 people to death (not 13; one was pregnant). But if we are in a deep enough sleep, dangerous reality eludes us, and we remain in a peaceful dream state.
But if we remain in a dream state despite danger, our prospects for a really long sleep are excellent.
Rip Van Winkle woke up after 20 years and found that America was no longer a British colony but an independent nation. He had difficulty adapting to the changes, but at least the changes represented improvements. On the contrary, when today’s somnolent Americans finally wake up, the changes they will have to accept will be very far from improvements. But then it will be too late.
It’s a dangerous world. Those who go to sleep risk – at best – waking up in a country they scarcely recognize, one that no longer looks like home. And at worst, they risk not waking up at all. Uncle Sam makes a much better national symbol than Rip Van Winkle. Let’s keep him.
Contact: dstol@prodigy.net. You are welcome to publish or post these articles, provided that you cite the author and website.

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