re-awakening to a different america
I’m in that lull time between my friend Jodi leaving to head back to her Cincinnati home and registration for Netroots Nation (and my hotel check-in) opening later this afternoon.
I’ve been here in Pittsburgh for 4 days. Re-acclimatising myself to the American way: to US portion sizes and distances; to the accents and the attitudes; to the increasingly rowdy debates on healthcare; to the So-Co and Lime that tastes so much better this side of the Atlantic.
I certainly find it easier striking up conversation with people here – whether on the plane, in the street or by the bar. Sure there’s normally an enthusiastic response to my accent. But there’s often something more: a seemingly genuine interest in what I’m doing or in an exchange about politics, culture or places.
From Demo(thesnes), the Greek-American restaurant owner with an impressive foreign affairs knowledge who invited us for a drink and we ended up chatting all evening; to the guys from AmericasPower grassroots organising to promote a better image for the coal industry but willing to engage in an open and intelligent discussion on energy; to the owniter and barista at the BigDog coffee shop I’m currently sitting in talking enthusiastically about the DirectTrade coffee they serve.
However, watching the cable news channels yesterday, with their reports on the heated healthcare townhalls by Obama, Senators Maskill and Specter and other Democratic politicans, the debate seems anything but civil. Protestors, hecklers, argument and intractable differences were portrayed as the norm. This looks like one hard sell for the Obama administration; especially now the tags of “Socialism” and “Obamajinedad” (yes, really) are being hurled at increasing frequency. Jodi said she had never seen such an ugly mood about a domestic policy before.
There is no doubt the scare tactics by those opposing healthcare change are having an effect. Last year I’d seen “hope” and optimism as the predominant emotion. Now it seems fear and unwillingness to let go of the failing status quo are rising to pre-eminence. I think I’d forgotten how much fear – of the other, of lawsuits, of government possibly being a force for good – is part of the American psyche too. I’m hoping a couple of days with the Netroots and especially the Howard Dean healthcare townhall here at NN will be good antidotes and allow me to get a more rounded perspective on the issue.
Nevertheless, my observation of the week so far: that America as a nation and Americans themselves are both far more optimistic and far more fearful than us Brits.
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