A Polarized America

VG's Svein Røhne looks at the New York Times bestseller list, and finds that it's not just him - Bush really is a dumb, untrustworthy scoundrel.

Imagine: Halv of the ten most bestselling books in Norway are about how Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik and his political crew lied to and cheated Norwegian voters.

Impossible? Probably. [..] In the US, this is not an imagined situation. Half the books on top of the New York Times' beststeller list, are about American political institutions' purported betrayal of the people - with George W. Bush and his crew as the main culprits.

Behind titles such as "Dude, Where's My Country", "Lies (and the lying liars who tell them)", "Bushwhacked" and "The Great Unraveling" is found harsh criticism and ridicule of the president. President Bush is not just slightly daft and unreliable, he's also a political scoundrel who should be put on trial. [..] One should be careful about using sales figures as a political barometer. Still, books on the bestseller list are sold by the millions and gives an indication of the mood around the country.

Røhne goes on to explain how the war in Iraq has become a "nightmare" for the Republicans, how support for Bush is falling (or growing steadily weaker) as the post-9/11 patriotic surge wanes, and why Donald Rumsfeld may eventually become the fall-guy for Bush's failed policies. To Røhne, that is the story here. Bush-critical books on the NY Times bestseller list indicate a growing resentment and disillusionment among the American people with their leaders, and that resentment is connected to the war in Iraq. Both the conclusion and the observation he bases it on is wrong.

Or rather, it's selective. Anti-Conservative books are popular in the US. I don't know if Paul Krugman's The Great Unraveling belongs with Dude, Lies and Bushwhacked, but they're all high on the NYT hardcover non-fiction list. So are anti-liberal books. Bill O'Reilly's Who's Looking Out For You is number three, David Limbaugh's Persecution is number eleven. The highest ranking political non-fiction paperback is Ann Coulter's Slander, (and am I wrong to guess that paperback bestsellers sell a lot more than hardcover ones?).

There's a story here, but it's not what Røhne thinks. If the popularity of Michael Moore signals the unpopularity of Bush and the war in Iraq, does not the popularity of Ann Coulter signal the opposite? Perhaps Bush is becoming both more popular and less popular at the same time? This is nonsense. Nonfiction bestseller lists do not tell us how the majority of American voters think about politics. They tell us what politically interested Americans think about politics. Even million plus sales figures may tell us nothing more than that an author has been read by almost everyone in one single market segment. It does not not tell us that the segment itself has grown.

Nor is this a new phenomenon. Røhne writes:

The terror on September 11 released a patriotic power surge which was only strengthened by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. But now the reaction has announced itself. A dam has been breached after a long absence of political criticism and critical questions. And today's criticism contains a good portion of frustration and anger.

But Michael Moore's previous book - Stupid White Men - was a bestseller too. It became #1 in March 2002, exactly six months after 9/11, four months after the Taliban fell, and a year before Iraq. It was the best selling non fiction book of 2002, (according to Moore.) Not much of an "absence of political criticism", now is it? At least not as measured by the NYT bestseller list.

So what does it tell us that anti-liberal and anti-conservative books are read by millions of politically interested Americans? It tells us simply that American political culture is polarized. And we along with it. It's easy to compare the political mood in Norway and the US and conclude that Norway is peaceful and rational, and the US high-pitched and irrational. There are no Norwegian equivalents to Moore and Coulter. Our political books are rather dull. But change the perspective a bit and you see why the comparison is false. We haven't copied US polarization, we've become part of it. Norway is one big extension of the American left-wing. We read Michael Moore, we love his movies. We snipe at the American right in the same way - with the same words - as the American far left does. We have adopted their worldview, their rhetoric, their thinkers. Norway's not polarized, the West is, and we're in the San Francisco camp.

And not just on foreign policy issues. We care about internal US politics as well. Norwegians who don't know - don't care - about the financial situation in the EU, democracy in Russia, freedom of speech in China, are surprisingly confident about the state of the US economy (very bad, and it's Bush's fault), US democracy (very bad, in the hands of corporations and Republicans), and US freedom of speech (very bad, due to patriotic hysteria). The US is important to us, but not that important. The interest (and contempt) is hard to explain except as an internal trench war exported to the outside world by the Vietnam-era American left. Modern Anti-Americanism is an American invention, and we just adopted it.

Iraq plays a role in this, but only as the latest political battlefield in a long war. Perhaps Bush could have prevented American politics from returning to normal for a while longer, but returned to normal it has. That's no surprise. The surprise is that critical, well-educated Norwegians who are skeptical of American low-brow culture keep falling for sensationalist American pop-thinking.


You already know these arguments, but Bush is no dummy...Masters degree from Yale, trained pilot, speaks Spanish, Texas governor who had an excellent relationship with Republicans and Democrats in the Texas legislature and the Mexican government. And he's married to an educated and talented woman. And Norwegians like a sloppy, college-dropout, fact-challenged idiot like Michael Moore? Pathetic. Laughable.

It's not just Norwegians who seem obsessed with internal US politics, it's most Europeans I've met during my travels to the continent. WHY DO THEY GIVE A RAT'S BUTT? And they have all the answers to our "problems"...and most have never even been to the U.S.

The problem with Norway is that it's too small and it doesn't have enough to do. It sounds like Norwegians need more hobbies...other than anti-Americanism.

In answer to one of your first questions, yes, it's true that the appearance of anti-conservative, and anti-liberal books on the NYT bestseller lists signals both Bush's decreasing popularity...and his increasing popularity.

Or, rather, such a list signals the growing gap between the Left and the Right in this country. Partisanship has been growing for years. Supporters, and detractors, of both sides are becoming more vocal. (Well, honestly, mostly the detractors on both sides, because it's much easier to be negative.)

Jennifer from Florida:

Actually, he received his undergrduate degree from Yale. Masters from Harvard. But, that's not important.

Don't be so harsh because Europeans are intersted in our politics. It comes with the territory of being what we are.

There are two primary reasons for their interest:

1. America is hugely successful in many, many ways (GDP, per capita income, military strength, cultural influence, technological innovation, entertainment, etc) It's only human to watch and comment on such an entity.

2. Europe, on the whole, is much more socialist, welfare oriented, focused on equality of distribution, and keeping a closed system with limited immigration. Meanwhile, America is much more capitalist, personal responsibility oriented, focused on equality of opportunity, and having an open system with high levels of immigration.

If you look at those two points:
(1) American success, and
(2) the differences in systems
from the perspective of someone who believes, "the European way is the right way", it is only natural that they find fault with America because the preponderance of the evidence is contrary to their central belief that socialism is better than capitalism.

It's only going to be amplified when a Republican is in office considering that our most recent President from "the Left" (Clinton) would be considered a hard core conservative in nearly every European country. With that in mind, Bush must appear to be from a place they can't even comprehend considering that even Americans see him as conservative.

Think about it. Clinton's positions and policies would have made him a conservative in most European countries. How must Bush appear to them?

Yes, Houston, I'm with you and I understand the reasons behind the obsession...er, uh... "interest". Europeans are from Mars and Americans are from Venus. Thanks for the Harvard/Yale correction.

Yes, Houston, I'm with you and I understand the reasons behind the obsession...er, uh... "interest". Europeans are from Mars and Americans are from Venus. Thanks for the Harvard/Yale correction.

I agree with Jennifer. This piece by Røhne in VG is not only pathetic journalism, it's laughable.
The European media coverage of the United States is getting more and more ridiculous by the minute.

The allegation that booksales are an indication of Bush loosing popularity is beyond pathetic.

The top selling leftist book mentioned in the article have sold around half a million copies.
Assuming one book per person, that is less than 0.5% of the American electorate in the last election. Much of it is not even real book sales, but rather bulk-buying by the Democratic National Committee, which has bought thousands of copies of Moore, Franken and Clinton's books to distribute at political events.

If this non-event constitute a "major setback for Bush", then what to make from the fact that Rightwing Talk Radio in the US has a combined listening base of nearly 30 million people EVERY week?

I remember reading a piece in the paper version of VG from the summer of 2000 entitled "Why Gore is guaranteed to win the election". Of course, we never saw a retraction.
I bet we'll see a "Why the Democrat is guaranteed to win" piece sometime next year. Which I will frame for comic relief.

Wonder if these clowns will finally wake up to reality when Bush easily wins re-election next year and the Republicans gain many seats in Congress. I am afraid they will not. These people have never understood America, and they never will.

Canadian Mark Steyn's latest piece entitled "Europeans are worse than cockroaches" makes a lot of sense to this Norwegian-in-exile...

So let me get this straight. Dissent in America has been crushed by the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld-Ashcroft Junta, and yet, there are, what, 3 or 4 anti-Bush books on the best-seller list. I'm pissed now. When my tax-dollars are to be used for the crushing of dissent, I kinda expect it to be crushed.

Bjorn, if the economy keeps going, and according to the fairmodel at Yale it should, plus more success in Iraq, we could possibly see a W vote of not RR proportions (49 out of 50 states), but at least 35-40.

Western Europe will go absolutely bonkers. It's going to be very, very entertaining to watch.

Of course they'll put it down to the sheep factor, since they know the truth and we don't.

Johan: "Much of it is not even real book sales, but rather bulk-buying by the Democratic National Committee, which has bought thousands of copies of Moore, Franken and Clinton's books to distribute at political events."

Saw no mention of Moore in the post you linked to, and no confirmation that bulk buying is the _reason_ why these authors are on the top of the NYT list. According to the lists I linked to, books bought in bulk are marked with a +, and the only book to have that mark is Persecution.

Btw, here's an interesting (ie. agrees with me) article on both bulk sales and the significance of bestseller lists:


Norwegians and other Europeans should visit the U.S. Travel by car across the Midwest via highways and secondary roads. (Avoid interstates--it's like flying, you won't see anything.) Aim toward the West Coast via Colorado, Arizona, or Utah. This would be a good education for Europeans. They are rather provincial, despite their many languages. Time to get over here and see what we actually look like in our home territory. Watching American movies or television is not really a good education.

Analyzing the New York Times bestseller list to determine the political mood or to discover political trends. Hmm, very interesting. I always look at election outcomes to do those things. I guess Svein Røhne doesn't like that method, because it doesn't give the desired results:

November 2002: Democrats get slaughtered by the GOP in the mid-term elections.
October 2003: Democrats lose the recall in California (of all places).
November 2003: Democrats lose the Mississippi and Kentucky gubernatorial races.

Strange that Hillary Clinton doesn't run, now that the presidency is up for grabs, isn't it?

There's nothing more American about Bush than there is about Clinton, Gore, Dean, Clark, or for that matter Nadler or Buchanan. And just as most of my Republican friends find Coulter to be distasteful (to put it mildly) most of my Democratic friends have a hard time taking Michael Moore seriously.

But it is interesting how many Norwegian commentators one moment are broadly dismissive of "American" politics and the next use dissenting American views as evidence that Bush is all wrong. They obviously don't believe that Americans are capable of serious political thought unless they completely agree with left-wing Europeans.

Bjørn is right - Norwegians (and probably Europeans as a whole) make very little effort to actually read the American political discourse but have no problems stating very categorical opinion.

Bush was admitted to Yale as a legacy that goes back to (at least) his grandfather. He was admitted to Harvard Business School after having been turned down at the U. of Texas business school at Austin. His career in the Air National Guard included one year being AWOL for no apparant reason. He is certainly a smart man, but not the way Clinton or Carter or for that matter Bush senior were. I think he is the worst president in living memory - possibly in history. But that doesn't mean that a) everything he does is wrong (he has done some things right); or b) he should lose his bid for actually being elected president for the wrong reasons. All the reasons I typically read in the Norwegian media are wrong, and I am so disgusted by it that I find myself overcome with the irony of often having to defend the guy.

There are a lot of things Bush has done that any responsible president - Republican or Democrat - would have done. Destroying Taliban is one; establishing the Department of Homeland Security is another (Clinton was the first one to propose it, but neither went far enough); aggressively pursuing Al Qaeda across the world is yet another (Clinton had this well underway until Condi Rice shut it down between the election and September 11th in spite of - or maybe because of - Clinton officials' insistence that Al Qaeda was a serious threat).

Maybe Bush isn't doing enough to understand the European point of view. But neither are Europeans trying to understand the American perspective.

My immediate reaction to most of the postings above: is there anything here to suggest that Americans have a greater knowledge of European culture and politics, than vice versa? I'm all for the "getting to know a country by meeting ordinary folks" kind of thing, but surely that goes for Americans too?

Leif said:

"There are a lot of things Bush has done that any responsible president - Republican or Democrat - would have done."

So why didn't Clinton *do* any of it, besides proposing it or 'being under way' with it? Surely he had enough reasons (USS Cole, WTC, Kenya, Tanzania, etc.).

Clinton is the one deserving "worst president in history" mantle in my opinion. Not only creating a bubble economy all Americans had to pay a dear price for, but also managing to dismantle the CIA and intelligence services at a critical time in US history.

There is no doubt that Bush have done things (very good and critically important things) that other presidents would never have done. Especially Al Gore. I shudder to think the consequences if Al Gore (or Clinton) was president at 9/11.

Like many of my democratic friends have conceded: George W. Bush was the right man at the right time in hisotry. Which is why he will be handidly re-elected in 2004. For that we can be eternally grateful.

It can certainly be argued (in hindsight) that Clinton could have done more to destroy Al Qaeda, but he did a lot more than Bush was willing to do as president prior to 9/11. Clinton launched several attacks against Al Qaeda with cruise missiles, used Predator drones, ordered better protection for U.S. missions overseas, ordered serious upgrades in antiterrorist capabilities both within the CIA and FBI, dedicated most of the NSA's staff to counterterrorism, etc. And while he did this the Republicans were ridiculing him for "waggint the dog" over the Lewinsky thing. He and his outgoing administration warned the incoming administration repeatedly that Al Qaeda was a serious and credible threat and got yawns in return. Condi Rice was preoccupied with China and Russia, Rumsfeld with a missile defense system, and everyone else with distancing themselves from anything Clinton ever did. When the U.S. military won great victories in Afghanistan and maybe even in Iraq, this was Clinton's military and not Bush's.

It's impossible to know what Gore would have done if there had been a Democratic majority in the Supreme Court. Keep in mind that Bush's foreign policy posture prior to 9/11 bordered on isolationist rather than activist. Read his inauguration speech and you'll see what tone he wanted to set. Prior to 9/11 the most notable foreign policy issue was the debacle over the midair collision close to Chinese territorial waters. If Bush rose to the occasion, we shouldn't immediately discount the possibility that Gore would have, too. There were some advantages to having a president who saw the world in black and white immediately after 9/11, but it may be that more nuance is needed now.

If Clinton had been responsible for a "bubble economy" the rollback would have been much more severe. As it was, his administration saw an era of strong and robust economic growth without deficit spending and national debt. It was precisely that so many of his fiscal policies followed traditionally "Republican" precepts that irritated so many Republicans. To blame him for a recession that a) was long coming, because business cycles tend to do that sort of thing; and b) was made worse by situations outside of our control, is just plain petty. Especially when Bush spent so much time reassuring us that the economy is fundamentally strong. I never blamed Bush, Sr. for the last recession and am not inclined to blame Bush, Jr. for this one. But it is an interesting fact that Republicans now have become the borrow and spend presidents.

I would hardly call firing a few cruise missiles into an aspirin factory in Sudan or severely reducing US military capability and intelligence services good politics.
The were numerous terrorist attacks in the nineties (African embassies, USS Cole, WTC 1, etc) and Clinton did virtually nothing.

And you might want to ask some current high ranking military officers in the US Armed Forces what they think of Bill Clinton. The answer would
not be flattering. And they would certainly not identify themselves as "Bill Clinton's military".

Regarding the economy, I just note that the markets were in a free fall in weaning months of Clinton's presidency, after a growth that can clearly not be construed as "sustained".

Now, however, the US is experiencing the highest GDP growth since Reagan days in '84, and market evaluations are not excessively inflated as they were under the Clinton-era.

Geez, Leif, where do I begin??

AWOL story busted around the 2000 election time.

Did Bubba start protecting all those places before or after we were hit???

What did he do after WTC #1????

--Especially when Bush spent so much time reassuring us that the economy is fundamentally strong.-

Start reading econopundit and hobbs online and check out the fairmodel site at Yale.

Eight quarters of growth AND 1 mill more people working now than when W took office. Qs2-3-4 at this point in time look to be booming.

The pubbies actually got 7 out of 10 w/the Contract w/America and had to hold his feet to the fire to get welfare reform.

And as another blogger said, "The last time an incoming administration followed the outgoing administration's plans, it was The Bay of Pigs." (quote is pretty close.)

Maybe he should have spent more time doing than encouraging the next administration?? After all, his administration was working on it for what, at least 6 years?????

And I don't want to hear about mfg. job loss under W, peaked 3/98. China's lost more mfg jobs than we have.

Sandy - the AWOL study isn't busted at all. It's been documented that he simply didn't show up for a base assignment. And repeated attempts to clarify have failed - Republicans love to criticize Clinton for "draft evasion" when he got a Rhodes scholarship, but at least he didn't use family connections to stay out of combat duty and then not even show up.

WTC#1 led to the breakup of a major terrorist cell in NY and the arrest and conviction of several terrorist leaders. It was, after all, thanks to the Clinton administration's investigation that Bush so quickly was able to ascertain that Al Qaeda was behind. A number of terrorist attempts were foiled during the Clinton administration, including the millenium plot, attacks on naval vessels, and probably others we haven't heard about.

Lost manufacturing jobs are related to structural changes in the economy and aren't anyone's "fault." You'll also note that productivity has grown under both administrations, and there is no better long-term driver of economic growth than productivity. This is not a "bubble." The bubble effects are related to stock market excesses and corporate management greed, hardly anything that's unique to Democratic administrations.

Johan: To what extent can we blame Clinton personally for not taking the bin Laden threat seriously? Who did? To what extent should he be blamed relative to for instance the CIA, Pentagon or State Department? And what knowledge was it he had that he should have acted on, that was not available to Bush in early 2001?


I think it was highly irresponsible for Clinton to act the way he did during the nineties regarding terrorism, _especially_ his actions in Sudan in 1996, when the Clinton administration refused to take Bin Laden when he was bascially offered up for extradition to the US by the Sudanese government.


By 2001 when GWB took office, Bin Laden's activities and whereabouts was unknown. This was due to insufficient intelligence, which again can be contributed to Clinton's massive cuts in intelligence services, something Republicans in Congress had strongly warned about to all along.


Johan: I did not say that Clinton did a good job against terrorism. But did he underestimate the threat from al-Qaeda more than other politicians, for instance more than Bob Dole would have done? Were Republicans aware of the threat from bin Laden, or were they against cuts in intelligence for other reasons?


In response to:

"...is there anything here to suggest that Americans have a greater knowledge of European culture and politics, than vice versa? I'm all for the "getting to know a country by meeting ordinary folks" kind of thing, but surely that goes for Americans too?"

I absolutely agree with you that Americans have a poor understanding of Europeans. That is an accurate assessment.

Here's the difference:
__ Number of news stories regarding any European country from the national broadcast media in the U.S. on a regular basis = 0

__ Number of opinion and editorial commentaries in national newspapers (NYT, WSJ, etc)regarding European politics on a regular basis = 0

__ Books in America with any relevant circulation about the vast problems facing Europe within the last two years = 0

__ and so forth...

The difference is that Americans are not offering up their lack of knowledge about Europe for consumption. Meanwhile, European writers, editorialists, newscasts, etc continue to display their own lack of knowlwdge regarding the U.S. (see the article we're talking about.)

Example: I would be willing to bet that most Europeans who follow the news are aware of the Enron scandal. However, I'm also absolutely sure that if I polled 1000 Americans I might - might - find one person that has any awareness of the numerous corporate scandals that have happened in Europe since the Enron scandal.

In the end, Americans may not undertsand europeans, but niether do they assume that they do and then display their ignorance on the same scope and scale as is done in the European press.

Lief - "the AWOL study isn't busted at all"

Yes it is, you just haven't looked for it because you don't really want to. (I'm writing this from memory because it's not worth it to me to look up the original source to please someone who is not really interested in the truth but only in attacking Bush anyway so, I may have some details slightly askew.) Bush has been characterized by his Air National Guard commanders as unusually energetic and a dedicated flyer, spending far more time in the cockpit than most of his cohort. In the middle of his tour, he moved to Alabama to pursue career opportunities. There, he was required to serve out his time but, the Alabama National Guard did not have the resources of the Texas National Guard, particularly the high performance jets he had been trained in. As a result, Bush was allowed to serve out his time with minimum requirements and honorably discharged. Just one other note: as an Air National Guardsman, Bush was subject to being called up for combat service in Vietnam. That's a lot more risk of combat than Al Gore was ever exposed to as a journalist in Vietnam. Flying those jets was a lot more risk and a lot more of an intellectual challenge than most people could handle.

"He and his outgoing administration warned the incoming administration repeatedly that Al Qaeda was a serious and credible threat"

Ah, yes, Clinton's post-9-11 rationalization of his failure to do anything about Al Qaeda. File this in the "I did not have sex with that woman" bin.

David - "When my tax-dollars are to be used for the crushing of dissent, I kinda expect it to be crushed"

LOL, dude.


I'm curious from the Norwegians or other Europeans reading this, how does the European left rationalize the stupidity and backwardness of America with its overwhelming predominance on the world stage? Is our success totally ascribed to devious manipulation or cynical exploitation, or is any consideration given to the idea that we may have gotten some things right?

Just one more thing, judging by the majority of posts here from Americans (as good a standard as the best seller lists), it looks like Bush is enjoying a resurgence.

Houston, I was just about to reply to Eirik, but you summed up everything I was about to point out, so I'll just second your motion.

The difference between Europe and the US is that indeed the Europeans presume to know what is good for America, while that is less the case with Americans.

Sandy -

Unlike say McCain, Bush has refused to release his military records. There's a whole website dedicated to showing that Bush never has provided proof that he served, to the point that Air Force veterans have offered a reward for anyone who can prove that Bush actually served in Alabama. It's here:

I don't doubt that Bush was honorably discharged, but neither do I doubt that he got away with far less than a person from a less privileged family would have gotten away with. For heaven's sake, his commanding officer in Alabama has testified that Bush did not show up for service as ordered.

I am not using Clinton himself as my source for his administration's efforts to go after Al Qaeda. A good and thoroughly documented overview is found in Al Franken's book and eyewitness accounts are given in "The Age of Sacred Terror" by Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon. I am sure there are others, but it pretty much seems like a pissing match now. To their credit, former Clinton administrations did not publish a "I told you so" after 9/11 - this is coming to light because the Bush administration has the unmitigated gall to blame Clinton for 9/11.

If we are going to blame anyone within the U.S. political landscape for 9/11, we should blame the Washington Times and their source within the NSA who published the knowledge that Bin Laden used satellite phones, thereby making it impossible for intelligence services to pinpoint him electronically, as they had been able to do before.


You cannot use partisan sources such as the leftwing hack site http://www.awolbush.com/
or Bush-Hater Al Franken to back up claims regarding Bush alleged leave of abscence or Clintons handling of terrorism.

There are plenty of independent foreign policy commentaries very critical of Clinton's handling of terrorism in the 90s.

I don't think http://www.awolbush.com/ was a particularly well organized website, but I did wade through it to evaluate its sources and arguments - and basically it's sound. Bush was too busy with his campaign to show up for weekend drills at the air force base in Alabama. If the officers there had dealt with him the way the usually did, he'd be assigned to active service. He got off easy.

Hey, it's understandable. And Bush has pretty much come clean that he did not always walk the straight and narrow in his young days. I don't hold it against him that he did something irresponsible in his young days. This is only an issue because so many (though not all) Republicans seem to think that they have exclusive moral rights to patriotic sacrifice. Neither Bush nor Clinton measure up to McCain, Kerry, Dole, Bush Sr., John F. Kennedy, Gore, etc. in terms of dedicated military service, but let's be real about it.

I've found that the Standard, FoxNews, and one of my favorites, Commentary Magazine all are capable of presenting the truth, even if some people would characterize them as "rightwing hack sites" or whatever. Same thing with Al Franken - I checked his footnotes, and they came through.

Disputing an argument because of its source is called an ad hominem attack and is a basic rhetorical fallacy.

In hindsight, it is easy to criticize Clinton's antiterrorist policy - for one thing, he should have ignored those who accused him of "wagging the dog" and just gone after Bin Laden. He also should have hired FBI director Freed even if it would have added grist to the mill that he was obstructing the investigation of Whitewater, Paula Jones, Travelgate, and who knows what else that never came to anything.

I also think he was naive to think that Arafat wanted peace, or that Pakistan was a reliable ally. He shouldn't have pulled troops out of Somalia, but he should have pushed harder on the Joint Chiefs to come up with a solution for killing Bin Laden in Afghanistan.

But those who say he simply didn't try, or that our current problems are his fault, are simply being opportunistic partisans. They are no better than those who say that 9/11 was a great opportunity for Bush to extend his just-ended honeymoon with the press.

Leif, in that case, you need to read Rich Lowry's meticulously researched "Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years."


Houston and Markku,

You expressed my ideas perfectly. Americans do not generally presume to know much about Europe (unless they live there for a while), but Europeans and others think they know all about the U.S. because they see American movies and TV programs.

A history book that I recommend to those who are genuinely interested in American foreign policy is "Special Providence" by Walter Russell Mead (c 2000). Although written before 9-11, it gives a great background that will help explain the American response. It also does a lot to explain why Americans and EU people are so different. It also gave me insights into various modes of thinking in American foreign policy.

Mead explains why American foreign policy has been generally successful over the years, despite the never-ending view that Americans are stupid.

Finally, Mead coins terms to explain various trends: Hamiltonian, Jeffersonian, Wilsonian, and Jacksonian. Thus I discovered that before 9-11 I was a Wilsonian, and now I am a Jacksonian. Me and millions of others . . .

Re learning about Europe: I discovered the blogosphere around February 2003 and watched the run-up to the Iraq invasion by checking various sites, including this one. I also regularly check Libertarian Samizdata, which has a very negative view of the EU. I've also become an afficianado (sp?) of Little Green Footballs, which has posters from all over the world.

I must in all honesty tell Europeans--I do not like what I see. This blog is excellent because Bjoern Staerk seems to have his head on his shoulders. Much of Europe, especially the French and Germans, seem to be living in a dream world.

The objections I've read to the EU from Samizdata boil down to the following--it is run by elitists. The secret of American power, as described by Walter Russell Mead in my previous post, is that its foreign policy is subject to constant pressure by the voters. While American politics is just as corrupt as any other democratic countries, it is constantly fine-tuned because the cast of characters is always changing. No President can ignore the will of the voters. This is a lot to claim in a tiny post, but I just thought I'd throw it out for discussion.

Reid - I read the NY Post review of the book but not the book itself.

If you read my posts, you'll see that I don't consider Clinton above criticism, but I think we need to be fair here: foreign policy is messy, unpredictable business. If you're driven by ideology you get accused of being too rigid; if you're driven by Realpolitik, you're accused of being too cynical. And everything you do is judged after the fact - if it's successful, you're considered a genius, if it fails, you're considered an idiot. If the Carter administration's attempt to save the Iran hostages had succeeded, he would have been a hero. And Delta force retirees still believe it could have succeeded if the administration hadn't given in to pressure from the Navy to use their helicopters.

I think that every administration is subject to after-the-fact criticism for both its foreign and domestic policy. W is suffering now because there are U.S. casualties in Iraq, as if anyone expected anything else (I didn't).

In some ways, this is a good thing - each president should learn from the successes and failures of his predecessors. But it's impossible to learn unless the record is viewed candidly. I think Clinton did his best, given many constraints, including the world around him, the inertia of government agencies, incomplete information, the distractions of the witch hunt against him, etc. He succeeded in some areas and failed in others, just like most presidents do.

This is all motherhood and apple pie until certain right wing nuts (Ann Coulter) try to make it seem like anything left of center is "treasonous," and that non-Republicans don't love their country, or that Clinton was some evil person. I think Bush is the worst president in living memory, but I do think he is truly patriotic, I think he loves his country, and I don't think he's evil. I object to his policies but not his personal life, past or present.

You guys rightly complain that Europeans are prone to demonizing the U.S. in spite of its successes. Did it ever occur to you that you're doing the same with "liberals?"


I have never said that I thought Clinton was "evil".

I do think Clinton was extremely incompetent, and easily the worse US president in modern history.
That is a conclusion I draw based on actual disastrous policy decisions the Clinton administration made during its tenure.

Let me clear that I did not accuse you, Johan, of making that characteristic. We can always disagree about who was the worse president, but I find the character assasination tendencies distasteful. I did when they concerned Gingrich as well as Clinton.

Having said this, I think you will find that history will treat Clinton much kinder than Reagan or either of the Bushes. Just my $0.02 worth.

Normally I would probably side against Leif, but I think he has a point. The right loved to rag on Clinton for his early life and non-military record, and so there is a rough justice in how the left has gone after Bush over his record, though I am probably certain that Bush was as good a pilot as his supporters claim. How many blogger commenters can fly a jet plane, I wonder?

But a lot of all this parsing over the past of these men is a bore. What matters to me is whether Bush is doing an effective job in a, crushing terror groups, b, pressing rogue states to stop backing such groups, c, ensuring our liberites are not trashed in the process, and d, keeping the economy on track.

I'd give him good marks on a, moderate marks on b, particularly because of the weak treatment of Saudi Arabia, give him low marks on c, since the Patriot Act violates the Constitution, and on d, give him reasonable marks, and a big wet kiss to Alan Greenspan.

Separately, I'd say the amount of Bush-hatred and anti-americanism out there in Europe is at the highest I can recall, probably even worse than under the Reagan years. I think it is fuelled largely by growing awareness among the socialist intellectuals who still dominate debate that their model of the good society is busted, while the American model is working, but they lack the honesty to deal with it.

I find it curious that the U.N. backed, more than one-hundred countries coaltion, put together by the first President Bush was not good enough to convince Senator Kerry to vote for Gulf War One. Almost all of Europe backed it. Even Egypt and Syria participated. According to Kerry's track record in the Senate, it would be doubtful if the United States, under his Presidency, would want to use military force for any reason anywhere in the world, even if almost the entire rest of the world begged him to get the U.S. involved. Now he is putting on a big show for swing voters that he's going to be some sort of super-intelligent commander-in-chief that will bamboozle America's enemies around the world.

Many of the people who write and read the books that are Anti-Bush and Anti-Conservative belong to what we in the U.S. call the chattering class. The opinions of the chattering class take up a lot of space in shelves at bookstores, in newspapers, get a great deal of play on mainstream media television, but really don't represent the values of the majority of Americans. Many Mainstream Media outlets are losing market share to others who more accurately reflect the views of average Americans. The gains made by Fox News and Conservative talk-radio are a perfect example of how the chattering classes and the left-leaning university proffessors are slowly losing persuasion over the hearts and minds of many Americans. Any European who wants to get an accurate ideological perspective of the American People needs to spend a lot of time in Fly-Over Country, not just major metropolitan areas near the Atlantic & Pacific Coasts. Almost all Americans who vote Republican are well read enough to get on about the business of their lives, but they spend a lot more time doing things than they do reading. Readers of chattering class books are more likely to be single. Conservatives are more likely to be married with children and owning or managing a business. Conservatives are too busy in their lives to go out on the streets and demonstrate, or to read things that they consider impractical left-wing nonsense.

I just think it is amazing that the Norweigan intelligence is as strong as it is. I always like the way the Norweigan military has applications and resumes to NATO combat zones, I find that democracy to be a true Republic....As the people decide which mission they want to participate in...maybe that is one reason WHY their country is not so polarized as ours. I have found the Norweigan people to be far more advanced and diplomatic than us, in every way...having been part of NATO (US Army) and working with the Norweigan Medical Battalion in Bosnia.

I cannot believe some people even think of electing President Bush...when President Bush lied to the American/WORLD Public about WMD and fixed the last election in Florida with his brother who is the Governor of Florida...The American Public (Majority) wanted Al Gore...You talk about SWIFT BOAT ACT OF TRUTH...what about lying to the American's VETERANS,etc...about WMD...causing in unnecessary war...The people of IRAQ were not responsible for 9/11 and they do not want to be like the USA...they dress different, etc...there culture is different we need to learn to RESPECT differences...cultural sensitivity...I say go after terrorist with CIA NATO Special Forces Units....and have NATO Special Forces Unit go and get the bad guys....

Bush doesn't even know how to handle Health Care in the USA and Education...If President Bush believed in CIA -- Intelligent government then you think he would have INVESTED more in education than OIL...

President Bush DOES NOT KNOW HOW TO RUN a COUNTRY...This NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND ACT...sounds like NO MAN LEFT BEHIND is the US now the military...Why didn't he create Educational Act that was more realistic like putting more educational resources in the classroom...teach children in the USA to speak several languages like the people of NORWAY...teach children to think PEACE and WRITE PEACE TREATIES...Bascially, think yourself out of war like Norway and Sweden and Switzerland...Think more for Global Peace...He should have focus more on Family Values...like NO WAR and instead teach families to turn off the TV and go hiking, beach,etc...go fishing,etc...


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Centerfield: San Francisco By The Fjord, November 13, 2003 11:41 PM

After the rush of posts yesterday, it's been a quiet day here in Centerfield. I'm forced to travel overseas and visit Norweigian blogger Bjørn Stærk who makes a number of interesting observations about America's political divide. So what does it...

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