Hutton and Kagan

I usually whinge a lot about the mediocrity and tameness and blandness of the US public television network, but it does have one excellent show (no, two, Nova is a frequently-good science show): Frontline. It outdid itself last night with its account of Tony Blair’s struggle to keep George Bush and his neoconservative advisers from attacking Iraq without UN sanction. And today it offers an array of fascinating interviews, debates, email arguments on its website.

This one for instance between Will Hutton and Robert Kagan, in which Hutton reminds Kagan that the US is an Enlightenment product too, not a strange Martian novelty.

For what needs to be said as loudly and clearly as possible is that the U.S.A. is a quintessential expression of the European Enlightenment — hardly surprising in that the country for the first three centuries of its life was peopled largely by European immigrants. Yours is a republic of laws. The majority of Americans are as law-abiding, peaceable, and as horrified by violence as any European.

Speaking as a Yank, it’s a relief to be reminded of that. Sometimes I think I’m living on a strange new planet invented by mutants from Texas and various Texases of the mind, with ideas like these:

American neoconservatism is a very idiosyncratic creed. Its pitiless view of human nature, its refusal to countenance a social contract, its belief in the raw exercise of power — “full spectrum dominance” — its attachment to Christian fundamentalism, its attitudes towards abortion and capital punishment, and its deification of liberty of the individual are a mishmash of ideas that have no parallel anywhere.

But then Kagan reminds us of the depressing realities.

Polls conducted by Gallup and other polling organizations since the war began all show more than 70 percent of Americans favoring the military action in Iraq. These percentages have not budged, moreover, even though the perception of the war’s progress has moved from optimism in the early days to pessimism in the past week.

Yes, so we keep hearing. I have a hard time believing it though, Gallup notwithstanding. The most conservative, tax-phobic, Clinton-hating, Bush-voting Republican I know is passionately against the war, and I must say, if she is, then anyone might be. I keep saying ‘70%? But there are all those anti-war signs everywhere!’ And then remembering, Oh but this is Seattle. But then I hear from a rock-ribbed Republican, and I have to wonder.

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