Thursday, August 25, 2005

# Posted 1:54 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

GOOD OLD-FASHIONED ANTI-AMERICANISM: From pages 134-135 of First in His Class: A Biography of Bill Clinton:
The most ferocious Oxford Union debate of the [fall] term [in 1968] addressed the question of whether American democracy had failed.

Arguing the negative, Clive Stitt declared that "had it not been for one major boob in Vietnam, the Johnson-Humphrey administration would've gone down as one of America's greatest."

Arguing the affirmative, a purple-shirted young aristocrat named Viscount Lewisham "poured scorn" on the American presidential candidates, Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey and Republican Richard M. Nixon. The motion that American democracy had failed carried 266 to 233. [Much closer than I would've expected! -ed.]

All this denunciation of America unsettled the Rhodes Scholars during their first term at Oxford. Many of them were harshly critical of American foreign policy and disappointed in the 1968 presidential election, but they were not ready to give up on American democracy, and certainly not to hear it blasted by class-conscious Englishmen.

"They assumed that because we were Rhodes Scholars we were prowar and rich. They were so critical of America, I often found myself defending my country."
It's really quite amazing how little has changed in almost forty years. For many of the Americans I knew at Oxford, nothing made them more certain of their country's basic virtue than the vitriolic denunciations of the United States considered socially acceptable at Oxford.

Now it seems to me that there are three possible lessons to be taken away from the surprisng similarity of Oxford c.1968 and Oxford c. 2000-2005:
1. Anti-Americanism is a constant because America today is just as bad America once was, and vice versa.

2. America today is morally superior to the America of yesteryear, since it managed to produce a presidential contender (John Kerry, that is) whose victory would have been welcomed by progressive Europe.

3. As Edward Said observed in his landmark work, Orientalism, the imperial powers of Europe have made a long-standing habit of reducing the inhabitants of their (erstwhile) colonial possessions to a set of condescending, reductionist, and simply insulting caricatures.

In spite of all of its wealth and power (or perhaps because of it), the United States seems to have fallen prey to the same sort of steoreotypes. It seems that we are a nation of ignorant cowboys, Christian fanatics and jingoistic plutocrats (plus a permanent minority of educated, Euro-friendly Democrats).
It's hard to say which one of these three lessons is the best to draw from the facts at hand, but I am fairly certain that no more than one of them could possibly be correct.
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