Thursday, October 21, 2004

Poisoning the well

(Apologies to my imaginary readers for ranting without linking. I will have to add hyperlinks to this later, but right now I just need to write this out. UPDATE 10/22 9:17 AM: Links added. If you can think of more I should add, put them in the comments.)

Good post from Powerline today about the international effects of this presidential campaign. Long story short, the viciousness of this campaign is hurting us abroad. I've noticed this, too, and I wanted to comment on it.

One of the things that many Democrats mention when they talk about Kerry is the terrible reputation that America has acquired during the Bush administration. Everybody hates us, nobody takes us seriously. (Remember Nikki's question, to which Kerry returned on several occasions, in the town hall debate?)

One factor that contributes to this deterioration is the way Democrats have talked about Bush, and about life in America under Bush. Europeans and others believe ridiculous things about Bush and about America because that's what they hear.

How ridiculous? In the Arab world, it is widely believed that thousands of Jews did not report to work in the World Trade Center before the September 11th attacks. Many Iraqis believe that soldiers' mirrored sunglasses allow them to see through clothing. A book claiming that the Pentagon was attacked not by hijackers but by the US government was a runaway bestseller in France in 2001 and 2002. And on the evening news in Germany it was recently reported as fact, not as paranoid internet rumor, that President Bush was being fed his answers in the debates via a device worn on his back under his jacket. Ridiculous.

One more example. I read a few months ago-- don't remember where-- about a Democrat in Scotland commenting to a bookstore clerk that everyone ought to see F9/11. The clerk replied bitterly that it was too bad Americans wouldn't be able to see it because of censorship.

Where do people like this Scottish clerk get ideas like this? Well, because a few loudmouths (mostly) in the US have complained about the "chill wind" of censorship. What they are usually talking about when they say censorship is this: private citizens choosing not to give money to the anti-Bush entertainers. I also hear talking heads on TV talk about the stifling of debate or dissent. By debate, the critics mean everyone agreeing with them. Since there are people in the US who do not agree that "BUSH LIED! PEOPLE DIED!" debate has been stifled.

Foreigners who hear this talk, though, do not know that Ashcroft has not censored Tim Robbins. They do not know that there is plenty of debate here about Bush's policies. Not seeing through the hyperbole, they believe that the Bush administration is practicing censorship for real.

(It would, of course, be nice if Bush-haters everywhere would be able to see the terrible, crushing irony in claiming to know that dissent has been stifled because that's what the dissenters are always saying on CNN, etc. But perhaps this is too much to expect.)

I've seen a similar phenomenon in religious families. Sometimes parents criticize church leaders or fellow congregants. The parents have faith that is deep-rooted enough that they remain religious despite their complaints. But the children hear the criticisms, and lacking the foundation that their parents have, become disillusioned and drop out.

Michael Moore, likewise, claims to love his country. But when he talks about it, he mostly says bad things. His foreign audiences start without Moore's alleged patriotism and admiration of America, etc.-- should we not expect that they will be even more critical of this country than he is? Further, many governments in this world are very, very nasty. Consider what a Russian or an Egyptian accepts as standard state behavior and then ask yourself what this person will think when they hear hyperbolic claims about the Bush administration's 'assault on civil rights.'

Even European governments, which are very nice by international standard, have nothing like the first amendment. A German colleague of mine today was complaining about negative campaign ads, and remarked that such advertising was illegal back home. In the US, such government limitation of private speech would not be countenanced, but it raises no eyebrows in Europe. If such censorship is normal in Europe, what must Europeans be thinking when they hear Americans complain about censorship? Should we not expect that they will imagine something quite dreadful?

One other thing to consider. We have heard of Kerry's substantial advantage among Americans who hold passports. I think it is reasonable to suppose that Kerry's lead is even larger among the expatriate community (as well as the ever-growing community of aspiring expatriates). Democrats Abroad have big parties, fundraisers, etc.-- not so for Republicans. From this, I infer that ordinary Americans abroad are spreading the same type of misinformation as more prominent critics. And judging from the number of Americans I know who claim to be Canadian when abroad in order to avoid confrontation, I would guess that there are not many Americans out there who are working against the propaganda.

Not all of this is new, of course. Noam Chomsky has been a vocal critic of American society and American politics for decades, and for decades he has been popular throughout the world, and especially in Europe. (Thanks Noam!)

But a lot of this I think can be chalked up to the effects of Bush Derangement Syndrome. Sensible, patriotic Americans are saying stupid things, and foreigners are listening and learning. And the legacy of this poisonous speech will be felt for years to come. If Kerry is elected, he will have to deal with it. If not him, perhaps Hillary in 2008. Sooner or later, some Democratic president is going to have to drink from this poisoned well.


[UPDATE, 10/21 5:31 PM: Thanks to Deacon and the rest of the guys at Powerline for the link! And as I said at the top of this post, I'm going to be putting more hyperlinks in, now that I've got all my thoughts down on paper, so to speak.]

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