BBC Radio Ulster – Seven Days – America Right Nation

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BBC Radio Ulster programme, Seven Days, reviews and discusses topic about book, The Right Nation: Why America is Different, written by John Micklethwait and Adrian Woolridge. Expert contributions by John Micklethwait and Nick Cohen (The Guardian). Panellists were Fionuala Meredith, Newt Emerson, Brian Ashworth (“an American Christian missionary living in Bangor”) and Allan Leonard (“a Democrat voter”). Following audio recording (with timestamps):

John Micklethwait defined conservatism in America as distinctively different than that in Europe. In the US, belief in values, and measured by the likes of church attendance, matters. He also argued that President George W. Bush was “the most conservative President that the US has produced”. (0:49)

In a specific comparison to the United Kingdom, Micklethwait said that while British conservatism is about protecting the past, American conservatism is about trying to change the future. In this way, for him, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was an American conservative born in England. (5:22)

Newt Emerson argued that the conflict between the religious right and economic liberalism would expose the American Republican party and fracture the existing consensus, leading to a new political system for the next 20 years. (11:32) Micklethwait disagreed, describing American conservatism as a movement, which gives it an advantage to replenish itself. (14:20)

In answering a question about how American government policy may not change much regardless if John Kerry wins the presidency, I explain that the US has always been conservative, from a European perspective. The US has never been socialist, communist, or fascist. (15:40)

Indeed, I argued that President’s Roosevelt’s interventionism during the Great Depression actually saved America from socialism.

Even an American liberal Democrat will seem to Europeans as a conservative.

Fellow American panellist Brian Ashworth agreed with me, going further in describing how Americans hunted down communists within the country, then targeted liberals, who found refuge in academia and the media. (18:00)

Fionuala Meredith disliked the smug certainty of the moral values espoused by the American right. She found American politician’s claims to be “on God’s side” absolutely terrifying. (19:50)

I described the paradox of religion in America, a place with an explicit separation of church and state in a land filled with “religious lunatics” (to borrow Newt’s phrase). America was founded on religious freedoms, by those being persecuted in Europe. One could argue that the American colonies were just as sectarian as any other sectarian part of the world — whatever religion you were led you to a particular colony, because that’s where you’d find your religious freedom and cohorts. (22:14)

Newt said that one benefit of the book will be to expose people to the fact that America is the foreign country and culture that it really is. For example, do we scorn the religious beliefs of the Nepalese president? The fact is that the US is not “our country cousins”. (27:45)

Fionuala made an apt reference to President Bush’s brand of Christian fundamentalism with that found in Northern Ireland, “which still informs our political thinking”. (29:50)

Brian went further, drawing a specific reference to a religious revival movement that took place in Northern Ireland in 1859, and how America is still feeling the effects of that revival today. He then argued for the need for a Christian movement in Europe on the whole, “because they don’t realise how liberal they are”. (30:30)

I was asked if I still recognise this America (having lived abroad for 10 years). (35:00)

I answered by describing how I grew up in the Midwest and went to university in Boston.

In the Midwest I was derided as a Communist because I didn’t vote Republican, and then I lived in Cambridge — called the “People’s Republic of Cambridge” because it had outrageous things like proportional representation.

I explained that a significant difference between the US and the rest of the world is its separation of powers (executive, legislative, judicial), how long it takes to pass laws, and the danger when laws are passed too quickly, like the Patriot Act, which does concern me.

It’s an America I recognise, but it doesn’t mean I’m complacent about it.

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