Monday, December 03, 2007

Dennis Loves Talking to Himself

Talk about poisoning the well. In his latest column, Dennis Prager creates a series of strawmen as only he can, saying first that liberals believe "the world" hates America, then turning this argument on its head by saying that it's just liberals who do.

But it is not true that the world hates America. It is the world's left that hates America. However, because the left dominates the world's news media and because most people, understandably, believe what the news media report, many people, including Americans, believe that the world hates America.

That it is the left – and those influenced by the left-leaning news and entertainment media – that hates America can be easily shown.

Take Western Europe, which is widely regarded as holding America in contempt, but upon examination only validates our thesis. The French, for example, are regarded as particularly America-hating, but if this were so, how does one explain the election of Nicolas Sarkozy as president of France? Sarkozy loves America and was known to love America when he ran for president. Evidently, it is the left in France – a left that, like the left in America, dominates the media, arts, universities and unions – that hates the U.S., not the French.

Except that the past President wasn't a very big fan of the US, and he was elected twice (and, had the run-off not been between Chirac and Le Pen, who incidentally wasn't a big fan of the US, the French probably would have voted for Socialist Jospin- incidentally, check out Mark Steyn's thoughts on the French elections, particularly Sarkozy getting support from former Le Pen voters). Unless there was an ethnic cleansing or civil war I didn't hear about, we must assume that the French people's voting habits are more complicated than merely "how much does this candidate hate America?" If the only criteria you use to evaluate world opinion of America is by which government is in power, you're already severely limiting any degree of nuance that might exist. What about moderate leaders? Do they only "kind of" hate America? What about opposition groups that are banned from voting, or boycott the political process, like Hamas has done from time to time?

And, funny enough, Dennis, you seemed more than willing to paint all of France as pretty contemptible just a few short years ago.

Few of us expected anything from the French. From the Jacobins and the guillotine, to the Dreyfus trial, to the Vichy regime, to de Gaulle's withdrawal from anti-Communist NATO, France, with rare exceptions, has done little that is moral and nothing that is courageous. So the disdain that many Americans have long felt for France has merely been reinforced.

Then again, broad oversimplifications tend to be your bread and butter.

There is another obvious argument against the belief that the world hates America: Many millions of people would rather live in America than in any other country. How does the left explain this? Why would people want to come to a country they loathe? Why don't people want to live in Sweden or France as much as they wish to live in America? Those are rich and free countries, too.

The answer is that most people know there is no country in the world more accepting of strangers as is America. After three generations, people who have emigrated to Germany or France or Sweden do not feel – and are not regarded as – fully German, French or Swedish. Yet, anyone of any color from any country is regarded as American the moment he or she identifies as one. The country that the left routinely calls "xenophobic" and "racist" is in fact the least racist and xenophobic country in the world.

Dennis does love his absolutes. Of course, even though there might be problems of xenophobia in Germany (and there are), it's interesting that they also have pretty minimal citizenship requirements and very comprehensive social benefits. In a book about Jewish Diasporas I've been reading, there's a whole chapter on Jews in Germany- mainly Soviet emigres- and over and over, people say that the main reason they came was because of the benefits. Compare this to the US, where politicians regularly rail against giving any benefits or amenities to illegal aliens. There are plenty of reasons people come to America, and plenty of reasons they might want to come to America rather than another country. But saying it's because we're "the least racist" or "most accepting" is not only pretty difficult to demonstrate objectively (not that Dennis tries), but also seems somewhat ridiculous if you consider the fact that the ongoing culture war includes plenty of language that can periodically cross the xenophobia line. (Eh, Dennis?)

Dennis concludes with some commentary and an open question:

It makes perfect sense that the left around the world loathes America. The final question, then, is whether this loathing of America is characteristic of the American left as well. The answer is that the American left hates the America that believes in American exceptionalism, is prepared to use force to fight what it deems as dangerous evil, affirms the Judeo-Christian value system, believes in the death penalty, supports male-female marriage, rejects big government, wants lower taxes, prefers free market to governmental solutions, etc. The American left, like the rest of the world's left, loathes that America.

So what America does the American left love? That is for those on the left to answer. But given their beliefs that America was founded by racists and slaveholders, that it is an imperialist nation, that 35 million Americans go hungry, that it invades countries for corporate profits, and that it is largely racist and xenophobic, it is a fair question.

The answer, of course, is more complicated than Dennis would like to admit. As a liberal, I love American accomplishments and feel proud of American principles of dignity, liberty, equality, and justice, and therefore feel ashamed and disgusted when these principles are abused, ignored, or perverted to serve individual agendas.

I do not believe in most blanket principles, Dennis, though you seem content to imagine all liberals as simple minded atheist pacifists. I believe in complexities. As a Jew and an American, I believe in struggling with my beliefs, and the necessity of sometimes having to leave them unresolved. I am undecided on the death penalty, and I struggle on issues relating to abortion and war. I would be less troubled about American interventionism in the world if there didn't seem to be such a high correlation of us privileging real-politik over human rights, much less democracy. I don't object to the free market, but I do believe that regulation is necessary in order to keep businesses from hosing their consumers. Similarly, I believe that government has an obligation to help support and protect its weakest citizens. Not being a billionaire I can't speak with much authority, but if I was making an obscene amount of money every year, more than I could possibly spend, I don't think I would mind being taxed more on it.

As for the Judeo-Christian thing, my view is that social conservatives could benefit from speaking to the libertarians on this. Do what you please in the privacy of your home, keep from legislating other people's private lives. (For the moment, I remain undecided regarding things like "religion in the public square.") Whether they like it or not, gays are here, atheists are here, and they're going to have to deal with them.

I love America, Dennis, and I hate American selfishness. I hate American power when it is used to hurt rather than help, and I hate the American exceptionalism when it feeds unbridled inteventionism AND isolationism. We can no more declare ourselves the sole power of the world than we can remove ourselves from it. Both constitute moral as well as strategic failures. I am proud when America admits its mistakes, when it acknowledges that our past was not as rosy as we would like, and when it works towards correcting it in the future. I am ashamed when people such as yourself whitewash history.

My bottom line is that I love America because of its principles, and I am embarrassed when it fails to live up to them. Much as it may kill you, I'm sure plenty of liberals feel the same way. You may disagree with us on what those principles are or how they should be interpreted, but you can't poison the well by suggesting we hate everything America stands for. That simply isn't true.

I'm sorry we aren't as easy to rail against as the imaginary liberals in your head, Dennis. Better luck next time.

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