Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Has the U.S. gone mad?

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The American people are among the most generous and idealistic the world has ever seen, genuine democrats all. But there are times when they seem to slide off the road, their ideas careening wildly and their idealism running dangerously amok.

Think of the many Americans who dismiss evolution as a cockeyed theory because of its conflict with Biblical tales. Consider the Creation Museum in Kentucky which argues that world was created in six days. Or the efforts underway to build a Noah's Ark, following the exact dimensions as given in scripture. This lunacy is bad enough, but anti-evolutionists control school boards in some states and determine how and what children can be taught.

Vast majorities of Americans claim to attend church regularly -- they don't -- and equal majorities believe in the devil.

Then there are guns. The U.S. obsession with weaponry in public hands goes back a long way, but until recently no one considered that instead of a six-shooter on the hip, Americans could now carry a machine pistol or an assault rifle with an easy-to-reload 30-round magazine.

The carnage in Newtown somehow seemed inevitable, so easy is access to guns with 300 million weapons in the hands of ordinary (and some regrettably certifiable) men and women.

And the reaction to Newtown -- buy more guns, quick! -- only compounds the misery. Police SWAT teams really do need armoured cars and heavy weaponry to stand a chance.

We Canadians have our own gun nuts, of course, but the prevalence of weapons per capita is far less, and there are controls on the types available for purchase. The push to end the gun registry was not led by a Canadian National Rifle Association but by farmers and sport hunters.

Canadians have also negotiated the economic rapids of the last five years with some success. For the first time in eons, unemployment is lower here than in the U.S., and the housing price collapse has not (yet) occurred, certainly nothing like the mass foreclosures in the U.S. south.

But the U.S. economy, after narrowly avoiding one fiscal cliff, is now poised to fall off another -- the debt ceiling. Congress remains trapped in an extraordinary political deadlock. The Republicans lost the election. Republican post-election behaviour, however, suggested Tea Party extremists, weakened though they were, nonetheless continued to set the agenda. Tax increases and a higher national debt ceiling remained anathema to legislative followers of Grover Norquist, the head of Americans for Tax Reform, and Norquist seemed to control much of the House of Representatives.

Over the next fiscal cliff we may go, a victim of Congressional ineptitude and a failure of leadership. Unfortunately, much of the world -- including Canada -- might fall over as well, thanks to a dysfunctional and irresponsible U.S. Congress.

This is all madness, the legislative and fiscal equivalent of the "birthers" (people like Donald Trump) who deny President Barack Obama's U.S. birth, and those others who are convinced that the president is a Muslim or a Communist or both. Lunacy sometimes seems to rule over the land of the free.

Even the most pro-American observers these days are genuinely concerned about the tidal rush of know-nothing opinion in America. Good sense might return -- it always has in the past -- and this is important because the United States matters to the world, and not least to Canadians. Our economy still depends on the U.S. market, and even at their looniest, the Americans are more dependable than the Chinese, Ottawa's new best friends. Come home, America, come home. Please.

Jack L. Granatstein is a distinguished research fellow of the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 12, 2013 J11

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