Resisting the pull of cynicism since 1969.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Dead sparrows

In Dutch, there is a pair of similar expressions: "to make someone happy with a dead sparrow" and "to be happy with a dead sparrow." The first one translates approximately as "to get someone's hopes up," in the sense that you tell them that they're getting something cool and they get all excited and then it just turns out to have been nothing but a dead sparrow. The second one doesn't quite have an English equivalent, but it's the same idea without an antagonist, i.e. when someone gets all excited about something and everybody else who's watching kind of shakes their head because they can tell that the thing the person is excited about is really just a dead sparrow.

I've been trying to come up with instances where these expressions fit, mostly because it's hilarious to me to use directly-translated weird Dutch expressions (I mean, there's pretty much nothing funnier than a bunch of people overhearing someone saying something pedantic, pointing at the offending individual, and saying: "antfucker!!!"). And the best one I can come up with is U.S. Democrats. The Americans who thought Barack Obama was going to be their saviour in the darkness, see, they were "being happy with a dead sparrow," and the Democrats who promised them the moon, they were "making the country happy with a dead sparrow." Except the saddest part is that the dead sparrow isn't Obama himself and his administration, but the whole country, and the system they're stuck with, and the backwoods culture/thinking of far too many of their compatriots.

I mean, right now the U.S. has a Democratic president, and a Democratic Congress. But even so, the closest they can come to fixing their travesty of a health care system is a piece of legislation that seems tied together with bits of string and twigs. Even if they manage to pass it (by no means a sure thing, at this writing, but even if), what they will have is a piece of legislation that keeps the "insurance" system as it is, but expands it to about 15 million Americans. And it does this by forcing people to buy health insurance from currently-existing private insurance companies and compromising on things like abortion rights for people who buy that private insurance with their own money. Um, yay?

Even with a brilliant, charismatic Democratic president and a Congress that's as firmly behind him as any Congress is ever going to be behind a Democratic president, they've still got a country where a mild-mannered Canadian writer can be pulled over by border guards, injured by them in several different ways, and then arrested, tried, and found guilty, all for the crime of looking suspicious around jumpy people. They've still got a country in which even a minority Republican Congressional contingent holds up every piece of legislation that doesn't suit them with the threat of a filibuster. They've still got a country that has decided a corporation has equal rights with human beings--because for all practical purposes, it is a human being. They've still got to grow old in a country where health care is considered "insurance", as if human beings were vehicles, and administered by private companies that can take it away. They've still got a country where sex education programmes called "Abstinence Plus" get torpedoed because they're not "Abstinence Only." They've still got a country that holds prisoners without rights on foreign soil. And come on, if you can't see that that's a freaking dead sparrow, you've got blinders on the size of Texas.

When people here in Canada find out that I was originally American, a lot of them assume that I left the U.S. in the Bush years. I didn't--I left during the Clinton years. And yes, a lot of that had to do with the timing of my job search, but what got me wanting to leave in the first place was the bleakness that comes with having the Democrats in charge. At least when the Republicans are in charge, lefty Americans can delude themselves by thinking that everything would be okay if only the Democrats had the reins. But whenever the Democrats do grab the brass ring, the thinking American public is always eventually forced to admit that things can never really get any better there than a dead sparrow.

P.S. Before you guys get all "she's back! she's back!" in the comments, I have to tell you that still not really up to talking about Canadian politics. But I had to get this one off my chest, anyway.