The Ugly American Award

Years ago I read a book titled The Ugly American. The title’s reference was to the U.S. government and its unwillingness to understand another culture — in this case Viet Nam. Also, it referred to the central character, Homer Atkins, who was the “typical” American abroad: brash, loud, rude, and always calling attention to himself. As I say, the recollection is fuzzy.  But this stereotype may well fit a great many Americans abroad, though not all certainly. However, the characterization of this country as smug and ignorant of other cultures is spot on.

In any event, I think we should have a contest with an award for the ugliest American each year. My nomination for this year’s award is Rick Santorum. You remember Rick? He ran for President recently and his name is in the news again because he led the battle in the Senate against ratification of a United Nations treaty called “The Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities.”A well-written op-ed piece by Gail Collins in the New York Times tells us about the recent vote in the Senate on that item:

Santorum is still in there swinging. Lately, he’s been on a crusade against a dangerous attempt by the United Nations to help disabled people around the world. This week, he won! The Senate refused to ratify a U.N. treaty on the subject. The vote, which fell five short of the necessary two-thirds majority, came right after 89-year-old Bob Dole, the former Republican leader and disabled war veteran, was wheeled into the chamber to urge passage.

“We did it,” Santorum tweeted in triumph.

One does wonder where Santorum is coming from. He railed against the bill because he regarded it as “an assault on the family.” Apparently he is convinced that since the bill notes that “the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration” this translates into an assault on the (American) family. I must confess I fail to connect the dots. He is worried about home schooling and the right of parents to keep their kids out of schools where they might be taught sex education (horrors!) and what science really is. Santorum is famous for his support of the “intelligent design” theory of creationism which he has said is “a legitimate scientific theory” and ought to be taught in the schools. But none of this explains his actions on the U.N. treaty. I simply wonder: it is hard to get inside a deranged head. But it is no surprise to discover that the billions of dollars that support the Tea Party are pushing this agenda. As Collins notes at the close of her piece:

The big worry was, of course, offending the Tea Party. The same Tea Party that pounded Mitt Romney into the presidential candidate we came to know and reject over the past election season. The same Tea Party that keeps threatening to wage primaries against incumbents who don’t do what they’re told. The Tea Party who made those threats work so well in the last election that Indiana now has a totally unforeseen Democratic senator.

In any event, the treaty was not ratified, sending a message to the rest of the world that this country doesn’t care about persons with disabilities. This message coupled with our armed presence around the world, coupled (again) with those vacationing Americans who do behave like Homer Atkins — all of these things combine, I say, to further the image of Americans as unfeeling, militant, small-minded, self-absorbed idiots.

However, I want to post a disclaimer: while the majority of the Senate apparently fits that mold and a growing number of Americans do so as well (as mounting evidence seems to suggest), none of my blog readers are in that mold. I sincerely hope I am not, and most of my friends are not — to my knowledge. Indeed, I would hope that most Americans don’t fit such an ugly mold. But there it is thanks to people like Rick Santorum, my nominee for Ugly American of the Year.


11 thoughts on “The Ugly American Award

  1. I second the nomination. Mark Shields and David Brooks called this a “travesty” and embarassed the United States. And, in front of Bob Dole no less. I said earlier in the year when it was apparent Santorum was not going to be the GOP nominee that our country dodged a huge bullet. Romney with all his foibles was still better than this “William Jennings Bryan” clone. For those who don’t follow history, I encourage you to watch the great movie “Inherit the Wind” about the Scopes Monkey Trials. The prosecutor’s star witness is character whose name was changed for the movie, but represents William Jennings Bryan’s role (he noted then that the earth was only 6,000 years old – sound familiar?). I was hoping Santorum was old news, but he is like a persistent cough you cannot shake. Hugh, well done. Thanks, BTG

  2. I’m with you. I’ve never understood the homeschooling movement and their great fear of the UN and black helicopters. It is just completely bizarre to me. Glad you are bringing attention to this. What a sad day in the Senate.

  3. Great post, Hugh. Santorum is so far out there, he makes Neutron Newt appear sane and rational. I Agree with BTG about the Scopes Trial, and would also recommend the biography of Clarence Darrow for his views of William Jennings Bryan and how Darrow just decimated his beliefs in trial. (We don’t hear much of that viewpoint). According to the biographer, Bryan left the trail crawling away with his “tail between his legs” having his pompous pronouncements and falsehoods so effectively deflated.

    Santorum needs someone along these lines to deflate his falsehoods and pronouncements. I think there is a similiarity also with Joseph McCarthy, and his blind attacks, all for his own gratification and advancement.

    Luckily, I do believe someone will come along to cut the legs out from the Santorums of the country. But don’t forget, the others that voted right along with him.

  4. Words fail me.
    Instead of addressing many of your (fine) points, I will share what a friend/attorney/publisher advised me long ago when I stumbled upon a protest that paralyzed a Latin American country, and I could find nothing about it in the news. “Lisa. Be smart. Remember the world’s hatred of our country is greater than your kind heart.”
    i realized he was right, and it’s because of those ugly americans that the world views us often with disgust.
    some of us have to stay behind to put out fires.

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