Wed | Dec 7, 2022

Only in America

Published:Saturday | May 26, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Tony Deyal, Contributor

"To those of you who received honours, awards and distinctions, I say, 'Well done.' And to the C students, I say, 'You, too, can be president of the United States.'" This was George W. Bush at his best.

Now, as America gallops towards the polls and as the Gallup polls show a dead heat between Romney and Obama, there are many people asking the age-old question, "Are Americans truly that dumb?" Maybe we should ask former Republican Vice-President Dan Quayle, who said, "Republicans have been accused of abandoning the poor. It's the other way around. They never vote for us."

Expanding on the theme first propounded by George Bernard Shaw that America and Britain are two countries separated by the same language, a British wit remarked, "Americans have different ways of saying things. They say 'elevator', we say 'lift'. ... They say 'president', we say 'stupid psychopathic git.'" As one observer noted, "Half of the American people have never read a newspaper. Half never voted for president. One hopes it is the same half."

We are all fascinated by America and are engrossed in its politics mainly because its television and movies have penetrated deeply into our countries and consciousness. We and our children are growing up in the reality about which it has been said, "By the age of six, the average child will have completed the basic American education ... . From television, the child will have learned how to pick a lock, commit a fairly elaborate bank hold-up, prevent wetness all day long, get the laundry twice as white, and kill people with a variety of sophisticated armaments."

Crime does pay

A late-night comedian pointed out, "I hate this 'crime doesn't pay' stuff. Crime in the United States is perhaps one of the biggest businesses in the world today."

Elbert Hubbard (1856-1915), an American publisher and writer, emphasised the point, "The only foes that threaten America are the enemies at home, and these are ignorance, superstition and incompetence." Hubbard died early in the 20th century. Here are some examples from 21st-century America:

Almost 50 per cent of Americans believe that Judaism did not come before Christianity; a Gallup poll shows that one in four Americans believe that the USA won its independence from a country other than Great Britain - many people said France, and others said China; one in five Americans believes that UFOs have abducted someone they know; six per cent of Americans believe that Elvis is still alive; and 12 per cent of Americans think that Joan of Arc is Noah's wife.

Sarah Palin wrote in August 2009 on Facebook that Obama would institute a 'death panel' as part of health-care reform. It became a major controversy. In 2010, four in 10 Americans believed that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act created a panel that makes decisions about end-of-life care. Despite all the denials and corrections, 25 per cent of Democrats in America still believed in 2008 that Bush had something to do with the 9/11 attacks, and most Americans still believe Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

However, when you consider that 20 per cent of Americans believe that the sun revolves around the Earth, you realise what you're up against. Despite all that has happened and is happening between America and Iraq, 63 per cent of young, Americans cannot find Iraq on a map, and 90 per cent have no idea where Afghanistan is, even if you give them a map limited to Asia. More than 33 per cent cannot tell you on which continent you can find the Amazon River. Eighteen per cent of Americans believe that Obama is a Muslim.

Questionable logic

Author Rick Shenkman, in Just How Stupid Are We?, says, "Even after 9/11, when fresh thinking was needed most, we neglected, as a society, to confront the harsh truths about the limits of the public's wisdom. Busy spreading democracy around the world, we refused to reflect bravely on the defects of our own. Instead of admitting our flaws, we settled, somewhat defensively, on the myth that we are a good and great people with noble aims ... . Of course, this is highly questionable. We had just elected two convicted drunk drivers to the highest offices in the land, president and vice-president. That alone should give any thinking person pause in considering the wisdom and intelligence of the American people. We not only elected them, we re-elected them ... ."

Nobody really believes that all Americans are stupid, but when you hear what travel agents say, it is hard to retain any faith in even basic American common sense. One travel agent recounted, "A client called in inquiring about a package to Hawaii. After going over all the cost info, she asked, 'Would it be cheaper to fly to California and then take the train to Hawaii?'"

Another travel agent said, "I just got off the phone with a man who asked, 'How do I know which plane to get on?' I asked him what exactly he meant, to which he replied, 'I was told my flight number is 823, but none of these darn planes have numbers on them.'"

Yet, despite everything, we are still fascinated by America where, as one list puts it, a pizza can get to your house faster than an ambulance; stores make the sick walk all the way to the back of the store to get their prescriptions, while healthy people can buy cigarettes at the front; people order double cheeseburgers, large fries, and a diet Coke; and they have drive-up ATMs with Braille lettering. On the other hand, they use the word 'politics' to describe the process so well: 'poli' in Latin meaning 'many' and 'tics' meaning 'bloodsucking creatures'. Unlike other countries where an election can be legitimately described as the 'silly season', in America it seems to be always silly season.

Tony Deyal was last seen repeating that Americans have more food to eat than any other people and more diets to keep them from eating it.