Image © Austin Cline
Original Poster: National Archives
Click for full-sized Image
Will our planet be ruled in the future by a bunch of hairy simians on horses and speaking with outrageous French accents? Many Americans believe that it is this country's Manifest Destiny to bring civilization (Fox News), prosperity (McDonald's), salvation (James Dobson), and democracy (Diebold) to the people of the world. This belief in a divinely-ordained task is one that reaches back to the earliest colonists in North America, but given the current state of affairs it's hard not to wonder if perhaps everywhere Americans turn they will find that the French are already there.
As nations, both France and America are children of the Enlightenment. Their foundations in Enlightenment ideals of universal rights, suffrage, and democracy are natural incubators for the belief that one has a duty to spread those ideals around the world. It has been France which has most closely paralleled America's drive to spread its political ideals, but with one key exception: France's idealism has been far more secular and not so deeply contaminated by messianic, even apocalyptic, religion. As despised and resented as French colonialism has been, then, America's meddling has attracted even more rancor.
Perhaps it is the strong secular nature of France's Enlightenment that has allowed it to be more mature in so many ways. As Bill Maher writes at MSNBC:
We think they're rude and snobby, but maybe that's because they're talking to us. For example, France just had an election, and people over there approach an election differently. They vote. Eighty-five percent turned out. The only thing 85 percent of Americans ever voted on was Sanjaya.
Maybe the high turnout has something to do with the fact that the French candidates are never asked where they stand on evolution, prayer in school, abortion, stem-cell research or gay marriage. And if the candidate knows about a character in a book other than Jesus, it's not a drawback. There is no Pierre Six-pack who can be fooled by childish wedge issues. And the electorate doesn't vote for the guy they want to have a croissant with. Nor do they care about the candidate's private lives: In the recent race, Ségolène Royal had four kids but never bothered to get married. And she's a socialist.
In America, if a Democrat even thinks you're calling him a liberal he immediately grabs an orange vest and a rifle and heads into the woods to kill something. As for the French conservative candidate, he's married but he and his wife live apart and lead separate lives. They aren't asked about it in the media, and the people are OK with it, for the same reason the people are OK with nude beaches: because they're not a nation of 6-year-olds who scream and giggle if they see pee-pee parts. They have weird ideas about privacy. They think it should be private. In France, everyone has a mistress. Even mistresses have mistresses. To not have a lady on the side says to the voters, "I'm no good at multitasking."
How can America bring democracy to the world when Americans practice so little democracy at home? How can America presume to lecture others on how best to run a nation when Americans do so poorly at running their own elections? Are Americans too immature? Too religious? Maybe it's both — and how America's corporate media, corporate schools, and corporate culture all work to keep the population too religious, too gullible, and too immature to ever do anything about it.
One of the biggest political issues right now is health care — more and more are starting to come around to the idea that perhaps a more universal health care system would be a good idea. Who is number one in health care? France; poor America, the last remaining super power, doesn't even place in the top ten. Top 25? Wrong again — America is just 37, coming in between Costa Rica and Slovenia. There's a good GOP slogan for the coming election: "Still better than Slovenia and catching up to Costa Rica!"
America also ranks behind France in education, life expectancy, press freedom, percentage of people above the poverty line, and other important social factors. France is by no means perfect, of course. There is a lot of unemployment (America doesn't have so much trouble with unemployment, underemployment, working poor, and poverty), problems with integrating Muslim immigrants (America is one big happy family), and snooty cheeses (whatever happened to good old Kraft American slices?). Still, you have to wonder just how long America can retain any sort of world-wide influence given its current conditions and lack of adult leadership.
This image is based on a French propaganda poster — I'm really not sure whether it is WWI or WWII, though.