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USA Oui! Bush Non!
by Eric Alterman - January 23, 2003
You can tell a lot about a continent by the way it reacts to Bruce Springsteen. Tonight, at the Bercy Stadium, the typically multigenerational, sold-out Springsteen audience could be from Anytown, USA. Everybody knows all the lyrics, even to the new songs. Toward the end of the evening, Bruce announces, in French, "I wrote this song about the Vietnam War. I want to do it for you tonight for peace," and 15,000 Parisians, standing in the historic home of cultural anti-Americanism, scream out at the top of their collective lungs, "I was born in the USA," fists in the air. You can't be anti-American if you love Bruce Springsteen. You can criticize America. You can march against America's actions in the world. You can take issue with the policies of its unelected, unusually aggressive and unthinking Administration, and you can even get annoyed with its ubiquitous cultural and commercial presence in your life. But you can't be anti-American. George W. Bush is "like a cartoon stereotype" representing "the worst side of the US culture," Jordi Beleta, 45, told Phil Kuntz of the Wall Street Journal, outside Barcelona's Palau Sant Jordi two nights after Paris. "Bruce is real. He's a street man." A Reuters reporter found a similar story in Berlin: "America can keep Bush but Springsteen can come back here as often as he wants," said Rumen Milkov, 36. To be genuinely anti-American, as the Italian political scientist Robert Toscano points out, is to disapprove of the United States "for what it is, rather than what it does." Bush Administration officials and their supporters in the media would like to confuse this point in order to dismiss or delegitimize widespread concern and anger about the course of US foreign policy. To listen to their words, Europe has become a smoldering caldron of anti-Americanism, in which even our best qualities are held against us by a jealous, frustrated and xenophobic population led by cowardly, pacifistic politicians. The picture painted in the US media is one of almost relentless resentment.
...but even in Britain, whose prime minister, Tony Blair, has proven Bush's most reliable and articulate ally across the pond, mainstream papers like the Mirror announce in large headlines--on July 4, no less--"The USA Is Now the World's Leading Rogue State." (The more liberal Guardian said the United States is an "unrepentant outlaw" nation.) Will Hutton, a former editor of the Observer, wrote a book portraying the United States as in "the extraordinary grip of Christian fundamentalism"; boasting a "democracy" that is "an offense to democratic ideals," where the "dominant conservatism is very ideological, almost Leninist," and is bolstered by "tenacious endemic racism," with an economy that "rests on an enormous confidence trick," and in which, incidentally, "citizens routinely shoot each other."
And there was a general disgust with the Bush Administration's formulation--initially explicated in Bush's 2002 State of the Union speech--of an "Axis of Evil" against which all civilized nations must ally themselves. In England, the Guardian termed the speech "Hate of the Union." As J�rg Lau, a Die Zeit correspondent in Berlin who is quite sympathetic to the United States, ruefully notes, the speech was "unanimously unpopular" in Europe. "I mean it was just so stupid, they are always talking about good and evil, in quasi-religious terms, and it gives us a strange sense of relief. Bush is always showing himself to be utterly stupid.... And we just sit back and wait for him to do it. It's unhealthy."
posted by An Old Curmudgeon 7:13 AM