An absolutely fascinating piece appeared yesterday in the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times. This is required reading. (registration required - excerpts below)
It seems that the mainstream press (with a few notable exceptions - the Wall Street Journal's John Fund for example) is only now beginning to understand and describe a phenomenon that we have documented on this site for over three years.
"NEW YORK: Does the United States, the real country, exist in the French mind, or has America become a kind of Gallic fantasy, a dark specter to be deployed for political ends, a sort of ultimate negative against which the qualities of France shine?
That question may seem outlandish. The web of connections between the two countries is intricate. In general it is easier to fantasize about the unknown than the known. But the United States seems curiously impervious to French knowledge because the French prefer to preserve the country in the realm of the imaginary. (...)
Being the anti- France, the United States, it often seems, cannot be seen for what it is. So freighted is America with meaning, it ceases to be visible. It becomes an abstraction shaped by prejudice rather than a country intelligible through experience. It serves a purpose at the price of being severed from itself.
These reflections stirred on reading an eloquent example of Gallic delusion: the statement just published by Ségolène Royal's Socialist Party about Nicolas Sarkozy, her chief opponent in the French presidential election. This 87-page work amounts to a relentless exercise in Sarkozy-bashing through his depiction as that incarnation of menace: a card-carrying crypto-American.
Entitled "The Worrying 'Quiet Rupture' of Mr. Sarkozy," and displayed on Parti-socialiste.fr, the party's home page, the work begins by asking: "Is France ready to vote in 2007 for an American neo-conservative carrying a French passport?"
That gets the ball rolling. The party's core argument runs roughly as follows: America is bad, Sarkozy is its agent, ergo he is dangerous. The publication really has little more to say about Royal's center-right rival.
One chapter is entitled "Nicolas Sarkozy or the Clone of Bush." A memorable sentence, among many such gems, says: "Yesterday Europe was importing jeans, coke, rock 'n' roll and cinema from the United States. Now Nicolas Sarkozy is proposing that we import God!" (...)
The Socialist Party portrait of American society evokes a place rotten to the core, stricken by obesity and a high murder rate, driving exploited workers to the limits of endurance, imprisoning 2 percent of its population, engaged in a failed affirmative action experiment that has only "made a racial issue of all problems," and beset by an ominous religious fervor.
The real U.S. unemployment rate, it is preposterously suggested, is not 5.1 percent, but 9 percent. America under Bush has no interest in international law because its sole international aim is "the promotion of the American empire."
The death penalty, torture, renditions, secret prisons, short or non-existent vacations, absent or expensive health care, a Darwinian labor market and the worship of "the individualist entrepreneur" complete this happy picture of France's ally.
"It is in this," the Socialists conclude triumphantly, "that Nicolas Sarkozy sees the future of French society!"
There are a couple of problems with all this. The first is that although some of the individual claims have some merit — a health care system that leaves more than 40 million people without insurance is a bad system — the composite picture is wildly distorted, a collage of doom and gloom.
The America in which French companies from Accor to Business Objects prosper, which grows and creates jobs in ways France can only dream of, which is restlessly self- transforming rather than irksomely self-obsessed, which has assured the postwar European security from which France and the European Union have benefited — this United States is nowhere to be seen."
Indeed. For many in Europe, America is a dark fantasy constructed of prejudice and political bias with little if any connection to reality. And that leads us to a key insight: It is the media establishment that has played a crucial role in creating and fostering that dark fantasy! A very significant and influential segment of the media, driven by profit, greed and ideology, has consistently sought to stoke and exacerbate the prejudices and biases which Mr. Cohen so aptly describes. This is the fundamental problem and issue with which we have confronted our audience for as long as we have worked on this blog.
The negative connotations and knee-jerk reactions that accompany the German phrase "amerikanische Verhältnisse" are symptomatic of the same problem in Germany. Again, read the entire piece. (Posted by Ray D.)