Wednesday, October 11, 2006

When the US has the flu, the West is constipated and the world sneezes

From Watching America, this is what happens when Europe (in this case, Portugal) gets its information about the US from a book written by Bill O'Reilly. Lord help us.

The his latest book, Bill O'Reilly, the cable TV commentator with the largest audience in America, focuses on the current fight between secularists and traditionalists in the United States.

The feirce conflict is more cultural than partisan, since both parties (the Democrats more, the Republicans less) are divided within. The struggle has penetrated the press and has been taken up by the courts. And ultimately, this is an important battle for all of us, since no one in this world can escape what happens in the United States: when the U.S. has the flu, at the very least the West is constipated and the world sneezes.

What distinguishes secularists from the progressives are essentially two things: the role of God in life and intransigence when it comes to values.

Most secularists are atheists or agnostics, whereas the traditionalists are believers: usually Catholics, Protestants, Jews, etc. There are a number of practical implications to this, one of which is the most recent controversy. In the fall of 2005, the ACLU along with various foundations led a campaign to substitute the words Happy Holidays for the word Christmas in publicity campaigns for Sears, K-Mart, Walmart, etc. They also sought changes in the way the customers were greeted in the stores and to prohibit Nativity scenes and Christmas trees in public places; etc.

The fight ended in total victory for the traditionalists. In December 2005, the American Congress introduced bill number 579 that "defends the symbols and traditions of Christmas and supports their public use."

The second front of the battle is in regard to values: Intolerance from the traditionalist side and relativism from the secular camp.

This comes down to a few areas. Abortion: no versus yes, (with and without limitations); terrorism: combat or dialogue; fiscal organization: limited (to not discourage individual responsibility) versus progressive (to redistribute income); criminal sentences: severity versus leniency with medical treatment. For some, the party guilty of a crime is responsible for all the consequences; for others, society too carries some responsibility.

A good recent example is the proliferation of Jessica's Law amongst a number of states. The law forces judges to sentence anyone found guilty of a sex crime with a minor to a minimum of fifteen years in prison. On the other side are supporters of treatment for perpetrators. One such person is Judge Cashman of Vermont. In 2006 he sentenced a child rapist who confessed to repeatedly raping a girl over the course of four years, to a 10-year term with all but 60 days suspended, so that the rapist could get treatment outside of prison.

The American people see themselves more as more traditional (2/3) than secular (1/3), according to a Pew Research poll. In Europe? The country most similar to the U.S. is Great Britain, which explains the reason that the two understand each other so well in political terms, especially foreign policy

As for the majority of Europe, the differences reinforce the idea of American exceptionalism first recognized by Alexandre de Tocqueville in the 19th century. That is, there is an acute difference in values and mindset between the U.S. and Europe, and from there all else follows.

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