Goddamn it, I said I wanted this blog to have a topic besides my smashing novels, but I didn’t mean for that topic to become politics. It’s just that… well… so I’m reading Barack Obama’s autobiography, and after a while you feel more like you’re reading a good novel than a politician’s autobiography, and start wanting to have a beer with the main character. (Steve Sailer found the to-be president’s writing style obtuse and wandering, which confuses me since I found it to be the opposite; his analysis of the book’s content is lucid enough that I worry whether this means I’m obtuse and wandering myself and don’t even know it. Shit. This is, after all, a parenthetical.) It feels incredibly strange to have a likable, thinky fellow in such a high position. After the past few years, it feels positively unnatural. (Still, weird as it is, I hope he gets reelected: the last thing I need is, within four years, to have a former president who can write getting into the novels market. When that kind of shit starts happening, any novelist who isn’t well established already is going to drown.)
As a politician, the thing that excites me about Obama is actually kind of sad, when you think about it: what he’s doing is his job. He’s doing it with unprecedented energy and decency, of course, but when you come down to it all he’s doing is his job. And we’re excited about it. After eight years of the President not doing his job, we’re all dewy-eyed over the fact that, when high-paid officials at companies that are bailed out with public money get huge bonuses, the leader of our country actually has the balls to try to get the money back instead of winking, nudging and asking for his cut. Oh, blessed light, will the Catholic Church allow a communiss to be named a saint? He’s like the nice boyfriend who comes after the one who beats you up. “Sweetie didn’t hit me once this year, I think he must be an angel from Planet Love God!” “The president won’t give the auto companies more money till they start making cars that won’t choke us all to death? WOW! I BET HE CAN FLY!”
Still, it’s really nice to see him do stuff like cozy back up to France. (And it can’t be easy, after all; President Sarkozy seems about as easy to snuggle as an angry sea cucumber. Carla Bruni must spray herself with Teflon before bed.) Yes, it can be such fun to make fun of the French, I guess, if you don’t know how to make real jokes, but don’t let’s forget: the rivalry we share with them is sibling rivalry.
Why is it so hard for Americans to remember that most of the Greek and Roman ideas—not to mention the Age of Enlightenment spin-offs—which form the foundations of our democracy were funneled directly from French thinkers through the likes of Benjamin Franklin? Why in God’s name do we make French jokes instead of British jokes? And why can’t our collective consciousness hang on to the fact that it was aid from France that let us win the Revolutionary War?
My guess is it’s the same reason the French are grumbly about being beholden to us for WWII. Our ideals were formed around the same time; the modern form of both countries arguably came into being around the same time (with more fits and starts on their part, but we did have legal slavery till 1865, and Caesar Napoleon has been comedy gold for so long that in the end the detour was probably worth it); basically, we’re brothers. And I’ll be damned if I’m going to admit that my younger/older brother beat up the bully for me!
Of course, not all of us feel this way. One of my favorite Inspirational Moments in History was when U.S. General Pershing arrived on the scene in WWI and shouted to the disspirited French troops: “Lafayette, nous voici!” (Lafayette, here we are!) I get teary whenever I think about it.
In case you’re scratching your head: have you ever noticed that goddamned everything in the U.S. is named Lafayette? Ever wonder why? Lafayette was a French noble at the time of our revolutionary war who really, really believed in the ideals of the Enlightenment. In fact, he loved them so much—and felt so sympathetic toward Americans, presumably—that instead of sitting on his ass and fucking the maid, he got on a ship (in an era when just getting across the ocean was a likely way to die) and, before the French crown had even decided to send help (presumably to annoy the British in the main, since they were still the crown), went with his own men to fight for the rebels. So when it came time for Pershing to come and return the favor, he signaled it for what it was: Lafayette, we’ve come to repay your generosity and courage! OK, you’re dead now, but it’s the thought that counts!
Of course, many Americans hate the French because they think the French hate us, which is merely a cultural misunderstanding. Yes, they do bitch about us an awful lot, which sounds rude to us; we kind of like to walk around with these shit-eating grins on our faces and pretend that everything everybody does is just ducky. I think this may have something to do with the fact that more of us carry guns. If you criticize somebody in America, you’re implying that you generally don’t like them and don’t care if they resent you. You might also be suicidal.
The French, on the other hand, bitch as a means of displaying affection. Have you ever listened to a bunch of French people bitch about France? Oh my God, if you didn’t know better you would think they were talking about a horde of barbarians that had invaded and enslaved them. “The French can’t learn foreign languages, the French are neurotic, the French are too hidebound, the French can’t run a company, the French can’t make the trains run on time [absolute lie, unless there’s a strike], the French make annoying noises when they eat, the French are driving me mad…” Holy crap, France: who are these French people and why don’t you kick their asses back to wherever they came from?
They bitch about their country because they love her, and they want her to improve (how the interior walls of the bar are going to solve the social ill upon which the patrons and staff are expounding is beyond me, but once again it’s the thought that counts). Connect the dots: they bitch about America for the same reason. After 9/11, I visited some friends in Paris; it was Christmas, and the French were still in a state of shock and horror. You’d think it had happened to them. (But not to those French bastards. Then they’d be partying in the streets.)
When they bitch about us, I don’t think it occurs to most of them that we may be hurt by their loving abuse. They just want to help. They didn’t tell us to stay out of Iraq out of surrender-monkey spite; they were probably hoping that we would risk our troops’ lives in a place that was already a hotbed of terrorism. Sure, there are French people who hate everyone else based on general jingoism, but they’ve hardly got an exclusive patent on that vice. They need our massive democratic population to protect them, and we need our older brother to tell us when we’re being adolescent loons. Repairing our relationship with our oldest allies is, once again, part of Obama’s job.
But the British, however… he’s too goddamn nice to them, them and their lousy aristocratic protocol. (I’m referring to the humorless ones, of course; surely Eric Idle and Matt Lucas find it as silly as I do.) Are you following this crap about how Obama should be made to walk the plank because he shook their queen’s hand with two hands instead of one? Oh God, they’ll never recover from the emotional scarring. Can’t they just be happy and smug that our last President sold us to their banks? (Or is it China that owns our war debt? Or Bill Gates? Myehhh…) The French fought a war so we wouldn’t have to memorize all this bull-pucky. We need to use our brains for more useful shit, like NFL stats. And popping caps in the Nazis. If Their Serfnesses want to pitch a fit because our First Lady hugged their queen back (instant replay shows this to be the case, pffft), then they can stick it where the sun don’t set. The Crown is not the boss of us anymore.
The banks, on the other hand… well, Mr. President, I suggest you think of a nicer gift than a bloody iPod when you have tea with those guys, huh?