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Honey, the Demonstrations Are on

Monday, June 22, 2009 at 10:48 PM EDT

While perusing a message board today, I came across a post that called the U.S. to task with respect to election fraud and disgust with the Bush administration’s policies thereafter. The writer asked why Americans didn’t demonstrate the same outrage that is being expressed in Tehran now.

Good question, and to me, there is no answer but to say that Americans failed to protect their own democracy. Americans are, by and large, a soft sort. We have never fought a land war against a foreign invader within our borders. Civil war is nearly 150 years behind us. Before 2001, we had never been confronted with terrorism on a grand scale, nor did we live with the threat of it in our daily lives. We don’t know about famine. We don’t know about decimation. And aside from those who were alive during the Great Depression, we don’t know anything about rationing, sacrifice, and disregarding our individual desires for the sake of the greater good.

We have it pretty good here, and that made it easy for us to be complacent when the details of an election were a bit sketchy. Those who did express outrage at the results in Florida were called sore losers. If they continued to express outrage when the Bush administration later played fast and loose with the Constitution in the name of “homeland security,” they were called unpatriotic and accused of being traitors.

Why? Because when rights are taken away in the U.S., they are taken away insidiously and most Americans don’t notice it. We are so busy with video games and celebrities and the pursuit of wealth that we barely feel it when the government chips away at our freedoms. What’s more, supporting our troops requires no real effort, so we don’t dare question why they are in a situation where they need our support in the first place. With the exception of those who signed up to go and actually fight, most Americans have not made any major sacrifices in support of the war effort, and to my dying day, I will be convinced that is why so many found it so easy to support the war unquestioningly for so long. Wave a flag, sing a song, write to Operation Dear Abby, and you can be a patriot, too.

Even now, unless you are in the military or love someone who is, chances are that the greatest direct and noticeable impact the “war on terror” has had on your lifestyle is a longer line at the airport. Well, it may be a hassle to take off your shoes, but that’s not going to lead to massive demonstrations in the streets of Washington. Really, the only way Americans will ever revolt is if they are forbidden to spend their money on their stuff. Tell Americans it is no longer permissible to buy a McMansion, a flat-screen HD TV, and the biggest, fattest, gas-guzzling SUV ever to trample a daisy, then you’ll get your revolution, boy howdy.

And so we sit and watch. We sit and watch Tehran the way we sat and watched South Africa, the way we sat and watched Rwanda, and the way we sat and watched Tiananmen Square. We have no trouble “intervening” where there is no revolution and the oppressed aren’t doing anything about their living conditions. If there’s something in it for us, like money for our government contractors or our president’s friends and family, we’ll trot out the human rights thing and barge on in, and if that doesn’t work, we’ll just suspect some weapons of mass destruction. But when oppressed people 10,000 miles away do rise up, well, ain’t that good YouTube?

Indeed, it’s something to see. But it’s also something we can learn from, for U.S. citizens could have used a little bit of Tehran-style outrage back in 2000. Maybe if we had put down our games, taken out our earbuds, and read the news, we might have had some.