Friday, August 6, 2010

Wheels of Liberty

Politics tends to bring out the unusual in people. Whether it's a young, dynamic reformer eager to unlock the halls of power and bring a fresh perspective to leadership or a quixotic campaign based around, say, the hidden health benefits of colloidal silver, you don't have to look very hard to hear politicians, or hopeful politicians, say rather odd things. I've been trying to hold my tongue on that account since January. It'll always happen, though, because one of the greatest things a politician can have is recognition, and for some there's no such thing as bad publicity.

Take, as the latest example, Mr. Dan Maes, who is carrying the Republican banner in the 2010 Colorado gubernatorial (that is, for governor) election, and who seems to be positioning himself as the Tea Party candidate. Yesterday the Denver Post reported on Maes' "warning" that Denver was at risk of being converted "into a United Nations community," whatever that is - and why? Well, because of B-Cycle, Denver's four-month-old, Bixi-like bicycle sharing program.

Wait, what?

Apparently, Maes sees international conspiracies hidden within Denver B-Cycle's magic bikes. It's because Denver is a member of the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, you see - whether it is or not I can't easily tell, but the truth would have little effect here. Apparently, encouraging the people of Denver to ride bicycles more, as current Mayor John Hickenlooper has done, is in Maes' world something that "could threaten our personal freedoms."

Not that he, you know, explains why this is the case. From what I can see, this is a statement that's supposed to stand on its own, and it's supposed to be obvious that biking = less freedom. I may have failed math all through elementary school, but even I know that that equation on its own does not add up.

Pictured: A modern-day instrument of the United Nations' sinister bicycle-based takeover of stuff.

Things like this remind me that, despite the great similarities that come from sharing a continent for centuries, there do remain significant divergences between Canadian and American culture. What I get out of Maes' comments on the bike issue - one which, by the way, he only mentions once on his website, and that in criticizing the spending of stimulus funds on bike lanes - is a reflection to the sense of fear that has been present in the United States, whether hidden or in plain view, for years.

After all, it's been a long time since the US was unquestionably the top dog, standing atop the broken corpse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Its victory in the Cold War has led it to an anemic economy, political polarization, and a time of great worry as to whether it will stay on top. The United States has been compared to the Roman Empire for decades, but the nature of that state's fall seems to reverberate loudly today.

Even beyond that, it could be a simple issue of conservatism. For decades society, particularly American society, has been based around car ownership as one of the great goals for everyone. The Denver Post, in its article on Maes, also reported that Hickenlooper took some flak from automotive dealers for openly speculating about how Denver could "wean ourselves off automobiles." I don't necessarily buy that part of it, though. Conservatives are supposed to be about individual rights and freedoms - at least, that's how I always thought they tried to position themselves. A bicycle-sharing system provides people with more choices as to how to get around. How is a greater freedom of choice injurious to freedom?

None of it makes sense to me. Maybe it's for the best. Maybe I wouldn't want to understand.

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