Along came Polly
Not one to mince words, Toynbee describes the US as an illusory “Oz” where “the Wizard is a small man with no magic power at all”, a “fearsome robotic dinosaur stomping across the landscape”, “a gigantic Power Ranger toy, all bright gadgets and display but no power and nothing inside,” a “Buzz Lightyear” which “can't actually do anything useful after all”, and finally as a “hollow superpower.” All that comes in the span of 3 sentences. I think it’s safe to say she’s got a problem with the US.
Naturally, as with any lefty rant against the US, Iraq must feature, and Toynbee follows the script, even to the point of ingeniously invoking the image of Vietnam. Toynbee is nothing if not original. But her real purpose is to spin Katrina, and she gets to it quickly. Exposing her inclination to use a human tragedy in order to prop up her political ideology, she writes:
But it took Hurricane Katrina to expose the real emptiness under the US carapace. No wonder governing Iraq was far beyond the competence of a nation so feebly governed within its own borders.Even if we are to accept the questionable presumption that the government’s response to Katrina was “feeble”, it is clearly ridiculous to conflate its management of a calamitous natural disaster with every day governance. Surely Toynbee knows this, which, as I said, shows exactly her purpose…to exploit the tragedy of Katrina in order to advance her preconceived prejudices against American governing principles.
Mistaking cause for effect, Toynbee asks:
How does a state where half the voters don't believe in government, run anything well?A more interesting question might be how Toynbee can believe in so much government when the one she has runs hardly anything well. But we’ll leave that for another day, for her own question is built upon a fallacious caricature. There are virtually no voters, not even in Louisiana, who “don’t believe in government”. What many voters do believe in, however, is limited, decentralized government. But of course it’s a lot easier to rail against a straw man than an actual, substantive argument, so Toynbee, displaying a certain intellectual dishonesty, takes the path of least resistance.
Not content to mischaracterize the thoughts of people who aren’t in a position to set her straight, Toynbee takes on the very founding principles of America. In what seems more an expression of desire about the fate of American than an observation she says:
A nation ideologically and constitutionally committed to non-government is bound to crumble at the core. Rome had no doubts about governance.It is, of course, manifestly idiotic to assert that a nation the founding ideology of which not only expressly endorses government but even goes on to explain its purpose – “…that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men” – is committed to “non-government”. But I am at a loss for words to describe the kind of bizarre thinking which concludes that a nation can be “constitutionally” committed to non-government, a constitution being the very laws and principles which define the functions and powers of, well, government.
(Toynbee’s remark about Rome seems to indicate that she thinks the Roman Empire has not yet “crumbled”, but even she can’t be that daft, so perhaps I am missing something.)
In addition to having exposed the inadequacies of American governing principles, Toynbee thinks that “above all [Katrina] shows how the rich don't acknowledge shared nationhood with the rest.”
What the great Louisiana catastrophe has revealed is a country that is not a country at all, but atomised, segmented individuals living parallel lives as far apart as possible, with nothing to unite them beyond the idea of a flag.How strange, then, that people from as far away as Connecticut are banning together to help out their fellow “atomized, segmented individuals” who have lost their homes. And that evacuees from New Orleans are currently being housed and cared for by people from as far north as Minnesota and Michigan, as far west as Arizona, and as far east as Florida and North Carolina. And that Massachusetts has budgeted $25m for relief of the victims of Katrina. And that California has deployed all kinds of resources to the disaster area. And that even a small township in New Jersey has set up its own relief fund. (This is not, obviously, an exhaustive list.) Not to mention the huge amounts of private funds that have been donated or relief.
Living as far apart from each other as possible? Nothing to unite us beyond the idea of a flag? What utter rubbish. That Toynbee can look at how Americans have responded to Katrina and conclude as she does shows just how utterly blind her ideology, or perhaps simply her hatred for American culture, has made her. Her thinking, if it can be so characterized, is simply beyond rational understanding.
Perhaps sensing herself getting into uncharted territory, Toynbee quickly retreats to safe, well-trodden left-wing ground.
The 40 million with no health insurance show the social dysfunction corroding US capacity. For the poor at the bottom of the New Orleans mud heap, there never was even the American dream to cling to.What is she talking about? Does Toynbee think that health insurance would have spared those who drowned in the flooding, or provided clean water for those stuck in the Superdome? Does she imagine that an American NHS might have saved those stuck on the roofs of their houses sooner? I’ve puzzled over this for some time now, and I am still at a loss as to its relevance, apart from as a generic denunciation of American free-market economics. What it has to do with Katrina is beyond me. Indeed, even taken on its own, the reference to insurance is incoherent. What “social dysfunction” is shown by those who lack health insurance? US capacity to do what? Does even Toynbee have the slightest clue what she is talking about?
Getting into full, class warfare, high dudgeon, she procliams that:
…to talk of "average" incomes or GDP per capita in the US is meaningless: there is no "average", only first world and third world, with virtually no mobility between the two.The “US-as-third-world” theme has become all the rage among the anti-American left since the disturbing scenes of last week were broadcast, so it is no surprise that Toynbee raises it here. And while it may be true that the images we saw from New Orleans brought to mind images of the third world, or that it was indeed much like a third world country for the few days it took for the relief operation to gain steam after Katrina hit, the notion that the poor in the US regularly live in third world conditions is patently absurd. The poverty experienced in the US is primarily a first world kind of poverty.
46% of all poor households actually own their own homes.
76% of poor households have air conditioning. (By contrast, 30 years ago, only 36 percent of the entire U.S. population enjoyed air conditioning)
97% of poor households have a color television; over half own two or more color televisions.
78% have a VCR or DVD player; 62 percent have cable or satellite TV reception.
As for the lack of mobility, that’s bunk too. This is not to belittle the hardships suffered by the poor in America, or even to suggest that serious poverty does not exist there. But for Toynbee to imply that third world conditions are a staple of life for America’s poor is simply beyond the pale.
Providing a particularly inapt metaphor (and not just because of the outdated understanding of economics it betrays), Toynbee says:
Who has what defines a nation, not how much is in the pot from which only the well-off feed.Considering that we are increasingly seeing reports about America’s obesity problems, and that the rates of obesity are highest among both blacks and the poor, the suggestion that the less “well-off” are having a hard time “feeding” out of the “pot” in America rings a bit hollow. Certainly, in any event, the suggestion that Americans are suffering from actual third world conditions is at least a tiny bit overwrought, don’t you think?
Segueing into a critique of her own country, Toynbee says:
But before we get too piously smug about America, just imagine a flood crashing through the Thames barrier and drowning London and Essex.An interesting admonition, that, considering the piety and smugness she's shown throughout.
Given the righteous indignation with which she's entertained us so far, Toynbee does at least have the style to provide us with a little levity as a conclusion. Having condemned the UK for being a bit too much like dreadful, “atomized” America, and not quite enough like gloriously socialist Scandinavia, she hilariously leaves us with her desire to “…bring the share of wealth closer to the way we were before Mrs Thatcher.”
Ah yes, those halcyon days of the pre-Thatcher era, when unemployment, growing piles of rubbish, and the inability to bury the dead were equitably distributed to everyone across the country.
Surely she was joking. Wasn’t she?