Contrasting attitudes toward the United States of America characterize the great divide in this country between right and left, but the similarly crucial distinction between mainstream conservatives and right wing hysterics reflects their radically different assessments of… Canada, of all places. For the first time since the War of 1812, in fact, debate about the true nature of our terminally bland neighbor to the north plays a significant role in American politics.
Fortunately, that unexpected argument seldom displays the bitter intensity of long-running conservative/liberal quarrels about America itself. In his brilliant 2009 book, “Why are Jews Liberals?,” Norman Podhoretz trenchantly observes: “Of course, when we speak of the conflict between Left and Right, or between liberals and conservatives, we are talking about a divide wider and deeper than electoral politics. The great issue between the two communities turns on how they feel about the nature of American society. Again with all exceptions duly noted, I think it fair to say that what the Left mainly sees when it looks at America is injustice and oppression of every kind – economic, social, and political. By sharp contrast, the Right sees a complex of traditions, principles, and institutions that have made it possible for more freedom – and even factoring in periodic economic downturns – more prosperity to be enjoyed by more of its citizens than in any other society known to human history. It follows that what liberals believe needs to be changed or discarded is precisely what conservatives are dedicated to preserving, reinvigorating, and defending against attack.”
As if to illustrate his point, one of the leaders of Democratic efforts to overhaul health care recently expressed her jubilation that her nation might finally shed its distinctive but benighted individualistic traditions and embrace the enlightened approaches of the rest of the civilized world. Congresswoman Louise Slaughter, the upstate New York Democrat who chairs the House Rules Committee, exulted to the Wall Street Journal after Obama’s triumph on insurance reform: “It makes me so happy that, after 100 years, we can finally catch up with the rest of the world!”
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