Monday, November 23, 2009

Rechts Politik in Amerika

[ Right-wing Politics in America ]

Hamburg was extremely fun, but a fun weekend doesn't come without a full week of classes, speeches and work ahead of it. I had a project this past week in my American Government class - yes, I am in American Government. Even the professor jokingly questioned why I would come all the way to Germany to take that class - well, A. Because I can at least somewhat follow along with the curriculum, and B. Because it is a great opportunity for me to hear many new viewpoints and observation of American news from a European perspective - The class comprises completely of Germans and has many discussions, interesting opinions, as well as biased, media-based stereotypes. Hearing about the American Constitution with German grammar made me realize just how much more confusing the American system seemed [ Along with Germans loving to make charts and diagrams with tons of intersecting arrows - like our checks and balances system...and a criss-cross of legislative, executive and judicial branches... all on one powerpoint slide...].

In the beginning of the class, all of the students had to volunteer for their semester speech for the course and select their topic. There was one unique opportunity to join a seminar on campus led by the 'Democrats Abroad' to discuss the current situations dividing the political scene in America, mainly the current loss of power in the Republican Party. I felt that the speech would be a unique way to allow me to make more connections back to current events in American politics while living abroad in Germany, and also the fact that this seminar was all in English was also an incentive since so much of my week was filled with reading and speaking in German already.

As the first weeks of class flew by and I had to start preparing for my part of the presentation I was quickly made aware that this was not going to go by without its challenges. Not necessarily challenges of getting the project done - but challenges of what I represented doing this project AS an American talking about situations that, well, make America look pretty circus-like at the moment.

My portion of the presentation, as I later found out, was to further explain the current 'Tea Party' movements and Town Hall Interruptions taking place in America mainly out of fear and confusion over the Obama administration's actions with the stimulus plan as well as health care reform. To briefly recap - since it has been pretty hard to miss on all news broadcasts, from rightwing with Fox News, to more liberal broadcasts - the 'Tea Party' protests are apparent 'grassroots' groups [freely gathered groups of protesters] that are protesting the national debts and `unconstitutional` actions of the new stimulus plan. Many protesters come together referencing the founding fathers as well as images from the Boston Tea Party claiming their anger over these controversial plans by the government [ all of which have been received as ridiculous and often turned humorous due to its lack of connection to the real historical events by leftist media] .

The other topic was Town Hall Interruptions which is very similar to the Tea Party since it also deals with protests rooted in fear and confusion. Many conservative Americans have filled up Town Hall meetings across the nation discussing the new Health Care reform plans creating huge commotions and uproar with their often misinformed understandings full of fear of what this reform would mean for America. The main topic of discussion from this was how the media has portrayed it.

There has been a stark contrast in coverage leading to debates over appropriate journalism, as well as the 'entertainers' and radio show hosts, such as Rush Limbaugh and Anne Coulter, that have a huge pull over American audiences on both sides of the political spectrum, even when they aren't Politicians or credible journalists. Rightwing coverage has slammed the left for being arrogant and straying from American fundamentals, while the Left is claiming the right to illegally funding and promoting these protests [ considering them 'Astroturf' - privately funded - and not grassroots] as well as widely broadcasting the ignorant remarks made by emotionally-driven, often non fact based protests of conservatives.

What does this leave me with ... a lot of naïve Americans, a lot of bias, a lot of sensationalized news, and unfortunately a lot of protest imagery that loves to compare both sides of the political spectrum to Nazis. Amongst the anger and fear involved with these protests, terms such as Nazi, communist, socialist ect. have been freely used by civilian Americans, often just to associate someone with evil or fear, and not necessarily with what the -ism really means or represents. This is the hardest to explain to a German audience especially since BOTH sides of the American political scene are calling each other Nazis [note that this is not mainstream, but that the select few individuals that do these garner the most news attention in our modern media] or how Obama is 'socialist' for proposing this health care plan... as if being social is a bad thing... German health care is much more liberal than the plan being proposed in America... and socialism is not loaded with negative meaning here either.

Now, after this "research," [ because a lot of "he said"/ "she said" information over this topic came from youtube, twitter, facebook ect. - modern "media" sources ... I even ended up on Sarah Palin's facebook to confirm a quote by her promoting Americans "to stand up for their rights"] my personal dilemma was how to portray this media onslaught taking place in America and how to fairly address all groups involved - from the religious right, to the 'socialist' left... regardless of where in the spectrum, all political views had some controversial propaganda or media coverage. My personal approach to the project was to be as sympathetic as possible to the fears taking place and address the situation as it was - a small media battle that exploded into sharply dividing political views in America.

When I met the Göttingen Democrats Abroad things were different - such a group exists?... yes, they are a group of generally older Americans living abroad in Germany - many for several years or decades, that get together and discuss current events in American Politics. This group of Americans - many as I have mentioned have been far removed from American society for years or decades - were definitely Democrats, but also very anti-Republican and were eating up this sensationalized news that came overseas much like the Germans have been. I was open to their viewpoints and ideas, and even their jokes poking fun at rightwing media, which ultimately wouldn't have been too big of an issue, however, this group was leading this seminar, and this slant was going to be the representative view of these situations of America to the German audience.

Now - maybe it is because I am young, or maybe I take the 'representing a fair and balanced view of America' too seriously, but I was bothered by the fact that this seminar was turning out to be a Republican-slam and a discussion about the naive groups that protest in America. There was definite bias in the seminar - and being a 'Democrats Abroad' sponsored event for students and citizens in Göttingen, why shouldn't it have been - but my concern was less about the bias of political parties, but more about the bias portrayed about 'just how stupid we are' as Americans and 'what on earth is going on in the country we came from?'

Of course there are sympathetic answers to all of the fear - naïve or not - but the approach at this seminar was to just use these naïve, emotionally driven protest commentaries to the advantage of the leftist agenda proclaiming that there is just a circus erupting overseas with the citizens, the media, and a mix of the two together fueling the fire even more.

I kept my report as it was. I covered the topics that my professor and the 'Democrats Abroad' requested of me, but I was not afraid to address the confusion that I felt everyday living in Germany discussing these topics and how to be fair and as descriptive as possible. The images I used were filled with controversial comparisons to Nazi propaganda, but I used this as the platform to explain there are things even I won't understand, nor be able to associate with, yet it is this sensationalized representation that is the first to make it oversees in the news and media, and not always the actual situation taking place.

The seminar continued with other speeches by German students - stumbling with their accents, but very impressively presenting their topics including republican loss in local elections, the electoral vote system, as well as further media research - however, I felt more of a bias in these speeches too since it was this media that also persuaded how they presented their findings.

The rest of the seminar continued how I figured it would - video clips of obnoxious Americans riled up by journalists at rally events to the point of only speaking from emotion and not rationality ultimately creating a ridiculous, but also humorous caricature, of this new 'typical' American protestor. It might be funny at first - and I will post some of the YouTube clips that were used for discussion - but sitting in the audience at this point, I felt more upset at the fact that there were many times I wish I could have interjected with a ' yes, but... ' or ' the reason they see it this way is...' but the presentation was already slanted one way.

[ Congressman Barney Frank from Massachusetts confronting a woman comparing Obama to Hitler.

A humorous clip, but very frustrating at the same time. ]

[ Leftist media portraying the Tea Party protests in Washington D.C.

- This clip was shown at the seminar.

Now in America there are people that would watch this

and nod their head in agreement,

some that would laugh in shock or horror, and some

that would just bash the 'idiocracy'

some believe we have become.

Either way, there is an explanation

for all of this, but often

hard to clarify amongst so much bias in

the media's portrayal in the news. ]

Fortunately some of the Political Science staff that was invited to the seminar did a very good job creating a more balanced understanding from the seminar's blatant theme. As one professor put it - the right cannot be completely blamed for seeming fact-less or naïve. They are protesting for what they believe is right. Much of America was based on Religion and faith, and these don't have rational facts all the time, much is just emotion and believing what is right. This has been part of the American political debate since it began, however, now, with modern media, this is being used as a weapon and subsequently diving the parties even further to not have any ability to discuss anything. Whether I agree or not is not the issue, but the bottom line is that there is a lot of background information needed to even begin to understand any group of people and it is no exception with these protests taking place in


[ Another clip shown and "discussed" at the seminar - Humorous

- especially with the woman with the American flag

obnoxiously flying behind her

[ seen in Germany where a flying flag of patriotism is still hard to come by!]

until you realize that some think this is how "everything" is...

and just how many misconceptions there still are ]

I cannot deny that the experience was not a learning one for me, but it was for other reasons. At times I was embarrassed and upset, but I think that goes along with serving as a “representative” from any nation abroad. The ‘Democrats Abroad’ did nothing wrong and only created a seminar and discussion platform based off of their concerns with the Democrat vs. Republican arguments in America – bias was probably inevitable. I volunteered for the project since I thought I would fit in well into the discussion as an American student, but the situation evolved into something more polarizing. What was a challenge for me, however, was once again facing how difficult it is to clarify misunderstandings and speak not only for myself, but also explain the thoughts of others just to enhance more well rounded perceptions. Hopefully for my group’s sake we will receive a good grade, but for me, well, some nights you have to go home feeling that you may have failed to get your point across amongst the louder voices of others – especially a room of ex-pat democratic Americans, and many highly critical German university students and audience members.

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