Near Yellow Mountain

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Politically Incorrect ??

As I traveled around Asia the past 17 years, it has always amazed me how interested people are in American politics. Upon reflection I guess it is natural for people to be interested (and concerned) about who is in the White House given the impact the American president has on the balance of power in the world. Generally speaking, the people I knew well in Asia were much better informed about both US politics and their local politics than most Americans.
My Japanese sensei not only knew all the main players in American politics - she knew where they went to school, where they worked before they entered the government, etc.   I was often asked for my opinions on politics and the politicians. We had many heated debates given her tilt toward the left and mine toward the right. Her favorite target was the secretary of defense and his “beady eyes”. Her level of interest and knowledge always amazed me.
Since Japan changes Prime Ministers like Imelda Marcos changes her shoes it was always quite easy to deflect criticism of American politicians by asking questions about the current Prime Minister. One famous line from a Japanese leader to Bill Clinton was “me, too”; when Clinton introduced himself as “Hillary’s husband” at an official function. 
More recently a Prime Minister’s wife told the Financial Times that she believed she was married to Tom Cruise in a previous life. One of the more popular Japanese Prime Ministers of the past decade was rumored to sit naked in the official residence singing opera at the top of his lungs. I want to thank Japan for keeping the political bar low - America needs that, especially now.
Our driver in China, the often quoted Philip, was a George Bush fan. He often told me: 
 “I can understand Bush, his English is very clean but Obama chews his words and says ‘blah, blah blah’”. As usual Philip’s political analysis was no nonsense. Philip was a big fan of what he saw as American values. One day when Philip first started driving for us, we were on a crowded street and I saw a man with a push cart struggling to get across the road. I asked Philip to pull over and I got out and helped the man get his load to the safety of the sidewalk. When I got back in the car Phillip told me: “that is why I love America, you will help anybody but a Taiwanese guy would never do that”. I am not sure why Philip brought Taiwan into the discussion but he loved to make comparisons. 
Like many Chinese who were not alive during World War II, Philip still knew the details of Doolittle’s Raiders who bombed Tokyo in 1942 and then ditched their planes in China. He saw them as heros that supported China.
Philip knew the details of Henry Kissinger’s visit to China prior to Nixon’s visit in the 70’s. In Philip’s mind America equals freedom no matter who is in the White House. Unfortunately as time passes, I think Phillip may have to revaluate his beliefs.
The Chinese professionals who worked for me in Shanghai had much different views than Phillip. Most believed the Chinese government does what is “best for the people” and accept the party line in most things. One example - they almost universally believed  the Tibetan’s and people in Xinjiang really wanted to be part of China.  Philip was very cynical when it came to the intention of the Chinese government, yet many more educated people seemed to rationalize almost any act of the government. I never could understand that. 
Perhaps my feelings have been impacted by an unrepresentative sample but like most things in politics, opinions rather than facts seem to matter most.

An update since I wrote this in May, 2012

I haven't lived in the US for a Presidential election since 1996 - can't say things have changed for the better.

As a resident of Charlotte, NC  I am on overload from the just finished Democratic National Convention. I flew into Charlotte last Saturday sitting next to a democratic icon from prior decades " the Reverend Jesse Jackson" and this morning, the day after the proceeding ended, I had to deal with blocked streets taking my wife to a medical procedure near the hotel where the President was staying. It seemed every police car in Charlotte was clogging a square mile of the city. Fortunately, by now, Air Force One is back in Washington. Other than my two minor brushes with the convention activity, I avoided live contact with the proceedings but watched on TV switching back and forth between CNN and FOX so I could hear two entirely different accounts of the same speeches. Where was the BBC when I needed it?

The convention itself seemed to be powered speakers long on rhetorical skills and short on factual content. For 3 days Charlotte seemed to be the capital of the new socialism.

Only 60 days until the election. I am not sure I can deal with two more months of mud slinging and gratuitous distortion of statements made by the other side. I already know who I am voting for and why.