That general winding down feeling you’re getting is not an illusion

By Amanda Marcotte
Wednesday, January 26, 2011 15:14 EDT
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So, that speech sucked. The prior sentence could refer to all of the speeches last night, but obviously the one in question is Barack Obama’s State of the Union address. Last night, the emptiness of it pissed me off, particularly how he talked a big game about innovation and moving forward and education, and then proceeded to concede the argument to Republicans that we really shouldn’t do any of those things because they cost money. But this morning, I’ve mellowed out on it a bit and basically feel like I saw a man who has given up. And I can respect that; it’s not like anything can be done with the den of wingnut weasels the country just elected to Congress. All he’s got left is admonishing us to try harder, while knowing we totally plan to fail and fail hard. Until people who care more about the possibility that women are having unauthorized orgasms than about the state of our economy and our future, we’re going to continue this slide downhill, and that’s basically all there is to it.

We are a country that’s basically given up. The Republican rebuttals just drove this home. The theme of Paul Ryan’s was “I have a Bible and can talk shit like a motherfucker” and Bachmann’s was “I think my audience is really stupid, though I enjoy the hell out of taking them for everything they’re worth”. Even wingnuts seem to be going through the motions lately. I see conservatives dutifully ranting online about the latest villain they’ve been instructed to hate—government workers—but you can tell they long for the days when they could rail about “welfare queens” driving Cadillacs. The country’s lost its spark. The President mentioned Facebook in his speech, and we had to admit that it was the best thing that’s happened to us in a long time.

Just one example of how we as a nation have given up is this story in the NY Times about how legislators have decided to go after pedestrians who use headphones. This is in response to a slight uptick in pedestrian deaths, one that strikes me as small enough to be statistically insignificant. This is after there was an attempt to use some really silly quotes from the Governors Highway Safety Association to blame Michelle Obama for pedestrian deaths because of her evil plot to get people moving. The common theme here is to focus all attention on pedestrians, and none on the people who are actually doing the killing, the drivers who run over them. In some cases, pedestrians are the parties at fault in these accidents, but anyone who actually walks around can tell you from experience how much drivers can act like you have no right to the road, and thereby will speed, pull into intersections without looking, treat traffic lights geared at pedestrian safety as suggestions that are safe to reject, etc. But doing something about that would be hard work, and it would also offend drivers by suggesting, gasp, they have to share the road. And god forbid we do that. Next thing you know, we’ll be suggesting they perhaps cut down on gasoline usage so that we don’t burn our planet up with global warming.

This is just the essence of giving up. Everyone knows that it would be better if more people walked, and that in total, it would save more lives—there are way more traffic accidents involving one or two or more cars than involving pedestrians. Plus, just increasing the amount of exercise people got would improve the health of this country, saving money and lives. Knowing all this, we should prioritize making it easier and more appealing to walk whenever we can, even if that means we burden car drivers more with things like—horrors—having to pay more attention or concede more of the road to pedestrians. But we’re a nation that’s given up. At the end of the day, we’re a country where people will circle a parking lot for 15 minutes to avoid 2 more minutes of walking. Facing up to that sort of thing while making public policy requires spine, and that’s something we’ve got on short supply. So, instead we concede the argument and let the worst instincts of the country take over, while kicking the hippies that have the nerve to want something better.

Sometimes I feel like America is just in a holding pattern. We’re basically waiting for all the people who are still bitter about modernity to pass away in large enough numbers that those of us willing to move into the future can actually capture the electorate. I never felt that so keenly as listening to Obama speak last night. It’s like living in a house where a cantankerous patriarch won’t let you fix anything up or clean anything, and you’re sitting around watching the house fall apart while waiting for him to die. (Vague memories of “The Secret Garden” surface.) And that’s pretty much exactly what’s going on, right down to our crumbling infrastructure and cannibalistic economy. The problem with this is that not cleaning up the house means that we’re seeping poison into the air, and that may not be something we can clean up when we get the signal to go ahead and actually start fixing things.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
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