Soap operas in the public square
America is a soap opera.
It is ugly but it is true. We are in constant need of entertainment. So if we can find nothing that catches our fancy (War with some third-world country, sending an old astronaut into space, a big movie release, etc.) we over-dramatize anything that we can in order to keep the pretty color pictures flying across our television screens. Because gas prices go up a little bit, suddenly trucks caravan to the Capitol and everyone is worried about the reserves of oil in the U.S: "Careful, we might run out." "We only have enough for a few years if we get cut off by OPEC." "We should research more oil fields in Alaska." What people didn't notice is that OPEC, stating that each member had been losing money because of devaluation, had cut production in order to survive. Asking less than a dollar for a gallon of gas is just unreasonable in the modern market. Then, when asked by the United States to increase production to subsistence levels without inundating the market, they quickly agreed. Look for your gas prices to drop back to $1.20/gallon within the nest few months, the way that they should be.
A Cuban boy, who is too young to understand the difference between Miami and Havana has been in the headlines in every major newspaper for months now. Not that there has been much anything else in the newspaper. Excitement with the two duds of presidential candidates has died down and the summer murder season doesn't heat up for another two months. (I have lived in and around Washington D.C. my entire life, trust me, there is such a thing as a "murder season".)
So, we have to watch the disgusting spectacle of people who are only concerned with political repercussions of reuniting this boy with his father, parade around claiming that the government of the United States has a duty to make sure that he lives in this country raised in Miami with distant relatives whom he has never met before. Now there are questions of where the relatives will hand the boy over to his father or even if they will. (The girl who has been caring for him is constantly being hospitalized for fatigue and strain.)
Add to that the absurdity of "The Grandmothers" who made their trip up a few months ago to dance for the American media outlets and the massive diplomatic headache of the boy's father visiting accompanied by two of Castro's "psychologists." With all of these you have as compelling story as the American public wants to stomach.
The bottom line is that, oppressive regime or not, the United States has neither the duty nor the right to get involved in a child custody case between the natural father and distant relatives. We will ship hundreds of now homeless Haitians back home in an overcrowded ship to a government waiting to imprison them, but we have ethical qualms about sending one boy back with his father in a private jet to an assuredly normal life as Castro's trophy citizen.
But, if that wasn't enough, building on the beautiful show of love, harmony and trust that accompanied the meetings of the World Trade Organization in Seattle, people have begun springing up on street corners in Washington D.C. protesting the International Monetary Fund.
This organization, responsible for bailing out and restructuring the failing economies in the third world is being blasted because they will not forgive all debts. How long do you think an organization could last that gives away free money? In the United States we have seen a welfare state fail miserably. The system is rife with abuses and people who, once given the opportunity to earn a paycheck without work, continue that process as long as they can.
It is the easiest thing in the world for a government to get itself into debt with other countries. The United States has been that way for years. Very few of those governments, however, have the resources that we do to get them back on track. That is why organizations like the IMF exist. Richer countries pay money into the fund and poorer countries are eligible to receive it if they meet restructuring requirements. It is not easy, but it is a way for the third world to get some help from the industrialized nations without having to grovel and beg with ambassadors.
If every one of those people who were protesting down there this week even knew what the IMF was about and the specifics of its relief programs, they wouldn't waste their time protesting.
But, people need something to do. They need something to keep them entertained.
I find the entire circle, the event and the people watching it, at the same time both repulsive and oddly appealing.
Matt Loughran graduated from Notre Dame in 1998 and is currently working for a publishing company.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.
All Viewpoint Stories for Friday, April 14, 2000