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Thursday, August 18, 2005


Rita J. King

I am an award-winning journalist with a project, Ruminations on America, for which I have called for essays from coast to coast on the current state of the union and true core American values. The response so far has been overwhelming...I would like to invite you and your readers to participate in the project (essays of up to 1000 words must be accompanied by a photograph that conveys a sense of who you are and a brief introduction to your life) or to check it out at Some of the entries so far include the actor John Ventimiglia (of the HBO show the Sopranos), a member of the Veterans for Peace who rode the bus to Crawford with protesting Gold Star Mother Cindy Sheehan and a Catholic nun who wrote a letter from prison on July 4. She is currently serving a term for civil disobedience.


As someone who has lived on both sides of the Atlantic, I'd give a slightly different answer to the first question.

To the question "Do Americans - opinion-makers and "ordinary" people alike - realize how poor America's international image actually is?" I'd answer that most Americans I have talked to are increasingly aware of the difference between how they see themselves and their own country, and how Europeans see them and the US. But I think that they also understand that the European opinion of the US is unreasonable.

I'm afaid I think the roots of this difference lies in Europe, not the US. The disparity of interest in the affairs of the other between Europeans and Americans isn't a sign of American ignorance, and European sophistication. Rather, it is a sign of European cultural insecurity. The roots of Anti-Americanism is an unhealthy obsession with America as the preeminent economic and cultural power. Europeans don't seem to have fully reconciled themselves to the change in their position on the world stage since the collapse of empire after World War II. It's not that Europeans want to run empires any more, but it does seem to be that they still think the rest of the world should follow their opinions -- and that goes most particularly for America. Harold MacMillan talked of Britain's Greece to America's Rome. It neatly sums up an attitude that many Europeans seem to share. They see Americans are uppity, even when all we are doing is living our own lives within our own borders. They get upset when Americans aren't sufficiently deferential or interested in learning about or following their opinions.

There is a tendency to think that this is all a matter of foreign policy, but it goes far deeper than that. As the interviewee mentions in her discussion about European opinions about religion in the US, many European attitudes about the US stem from matters that are wholly domestic. I have had roaring arguments with Europeans where they complain about such issues as religious separation, gun control, the death penalty, health policy, working hours and vacations. None of those issues affect Europeans, but all play into common European attitudes about the US. How can such attitudes be appeased without giving up something that most Americans consider absolutely fundamental -- our self-government? Where did this idea start that European attitudes are the barometer with which to measure how Americans govern themselves? It surely didn't start with anything Americans did.

The interview mentions the tendency of the European media to criticize not just the US government, but also the American people, as if the two should be separated. Our government is the one we elect. The reason that European criticism extends beyond our government is because what they really can't seem to abide is the idea that Americans chose the society we live in, and for the most part are quite happy with it -- notwithstanding the fact that it doesn't always reflect the consensus in Europe. Whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, our government is our government. No American should pretend that anyone else is responsible for it, nor should we feel the need to stroke anyone else's insecurities by apologizing for our democracy. That just fuels and validates the obsession. A better response is to politely remind Europeans to please mind their own business.

narayanan subramanian

Why should we continue to pander to irrational attitudes and sectarian divisions if the goal is to eliminate and overcome them to create civilized ideas in these societies about peaceful living?

"Q - If you were given Karen Hughes' job as head of public diplomacy, what would be your first steps?

... 4) Hire an assistant who in addition to being Egyptian and speaking Arabic (like Dina Powell) is a Muslim, not a Coptic Christian."


I agree wholeheartedly with Simon. Europe is eveidently in a serious descending spiral. Tensions are already setting in as they see how far they keep falling behind the U.S.,both militarily and economically. European cultures like their governments,
are sputtering badly. Without spending much money on guns, the butter they're able to indulge in is getting more expensive and more rancid daily. What we see is a reflection of their inability to even defend themselves against the corosive elements that have overtaken their societies. This is quite a contrast to the situation in America. Our strength lies in our unique ability to take negatives and twist them into positives. We have an optimistic view of the future. The Europeans (primarily Western Europe)hope for little because, in their circumscribed lives, there is little to look for.


While I appreciate a project where numerous experts and critics are interviewed, there aren't too many figures on the cultural scene who misunderstand things and, in general, get it all wrong more regularly than Martha Bayles. Her Olympian condescension cannot cover her smallness of thinking. By all means interview her, but agree with her at your peril. Having anyone think she can explain America makes me shiver.

Tom Villars

Martha Bayles says, "American misconceptions about Europeans could fill a library." But then fails to give any examples. If Americans truly do have "misconceptions" how is an American reader, such as myself, suppose to figure out what she is talking about?

Of course another explanation is these so called American misconceptions are simply a litmus test cultural elitist us to identify each other when discussing the America-Europe divide.

M. Simon

The hip hop pop culture that Bayles hates so much is a direct result of drug prohibition. Our equivalent of the Mexican corida. There is zero chance that our government will do anything about it any time soon. I call it Republican Socialism: price supports for criminals.

Second off the culture America exports is not a function of government. It is a function of what people buy. In that sense it is desired by the consumers.

The tension between high culture and gutter culture is very old. I'm surprised Bayles falls for that one.

As to sending Franklin to France: his efforts at America promotion didn't last long. We almost went to war with France in 1793. France was pro-American as long as we were fighting the Brits. When the war was over the French lost interest.

As to box office. People do not go to theaters to watch movies. They buy DVDs and watch them at home. Indoor theaters are going the way of the drive in. As Bayles points out. That is not going to change. The only thing Americans gather in large groups to watch are music concerts.

As to why American movies no longer promote American culture: the demise of the studio system controlled by American immigrants. It is not coming back.

As to crude culture of sex and drugs destroying American appeal. Has she forgotten Democracy, Whiskey, Sexy? Perhaps the elites of the world don't care for the message. Ordinary folks can't get enough of it.

Parents have always worried about the influence of pop culture. This goes back to the Greeks. You have to wonder what DVDs they were watching.

I have to second a number of posted opinions. Bayles is ignorant of the nature of American culture, both overall, and in detail.

Her attitude is elitist and old fogey. BTW I'm not too fond of rap either. However, at least I undersand its relation to the American scene and its correspondences to similar genres in other cultures. For a cultural critic Bayles is supremely ignorant of her subject except for the nostalgia bits. I say this despite my fondness for Duke Ellington, the Beach Boys, 40s movies, and Elvis.


Americans share a country from sea to shinning sea across which only one language is required, e.g., English. This simple fact, unlike Europe which shares forty plus languages across a similar landmass of 480 million folks makes the EU integreted. Europeans long ago chased God away in favor of Socialist Governments whose incompatibablity with any relgions other than socialism is the second great divid. The final divid is the that this socialism has no chance of creating a Consumer Society nor a society with a balance in politics besides a leftist viewpoint - this very lack of consumerism is the bait and hook that leaves governments, increasingly unable to provide for thier dewilding native populations, taxing them into poverty from which there (their) is no escape.


I have to laugh.

People like Bayles have no clue as to who and what Americans are. They may know their elitist circles in Boston, New York, Washington and L.A. and that is about it. And I hate to break it to you but that ain't America.

The real America is more foreign to them then Europe is.

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