Monday, July 31, 2006

The idea of America has been stolen

More often than not I find the New York Times' Thomas Friedman too fond of his own ideas to take seriously. Yesterday on Meet the Press, however, he got my attention. Tim Russert asked for comment on Friedman's column from days before, in which he observed, "The world hates George Bush more than any U.S. president in my lifetime."
MR. FRIEDMAN: It was strong. It’s meant to be strong. Look at the situation we’re now in. You can’t go anywhere in the world right now—and I travel a lot—without getting that feeling from people thrown in your face. Why is that? You know, I’ve been asking myself that a lot. Some of it’s excessive, this dislike, this distaste, this hatred of George Bush. But what’s it about? Whenever you see something that excessive, you know?

And the way I explain it is this way: Foreigners love to make fun of Americans. Our naivete, our crazy thought that every problem has a solution, that silly American notion, that silly American optimism. But you know what, Tim? Deep down, the world really envies that American optimism and naivete. And the world needs that American optimism and naivete.

And so when we go from a country that, historically, has always exported hope to a country that always exports fear, what we do, and what this administration has done, is actually stolen something from people. Whether it’s an African or a European or an Arab or Israeli, it’s that idea of an optimistic America out there. People really need that idea, and the sort of dark nature of the Cheneys and the Bushes and the Rices, this, this sort of relentless pessimism about the world, this exporting of fear, not hope, has really left people feeling that the idea of America has been stolen from them. And I would argue that that is the animating force behind so much of the animus directed at George Bush.
It's a precious hope that America once embodied that has gone missing, that somewhere there is a place where people can speak and act freely. The last few years have taken from them even that. The Bush administration gives lip service to the idea of freedom while cultivating an atmosphere of fear and intimidation to give itself free reign to run amuck abroad and as its principle tool in maintaining control at home.

My wife reports that at the flea market, people now lower their voices and look over their shoulders before speaking critically of their freedom-loving leaders. Last week in front of the house, as a neighbor spoke with her expressing his disdain for Bush and his policies, a workman at a nearby house spoke up, telling them to "watch your mouths."

It is not only foreigners who have had something precious stolen.

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