Education, my father the grateful immigrant would say, was the glorious prize for growing up in America. He quit school in the eighth grade and always regretted it. He believed education was the passport to understanding the values of this country.
He attended elementary school when patriotism was part of the curriculum. He dropped out, reluctantly, when he was 14, but he got an appreciation for "liberty and justice for all." He thought that the more education people got, the more they appreciated those ideals. Would he be surprised today.
When he retired, he read American history and biographies of the presidents. He was a patriot in the old sense of that word, someone who looked at our past and treasured what the Founding Fathers set out to do. He knew the country wasn't perfect, but he didn't see any other country in the world in our league for trying to live up to our ideals.
Fifty years ago, there was nothing unusual about such perceptions. Immigrants and first-generation Americans were nearly always grateful to the point of tears for their incredible good luck of getting to live in the greatest country in the world. They weren't ostriches, but they could appreciate the good while trying to fix the not so good. This was the sentiment revived by 9/11, when many of the most liberal critics joined in fighting a common enemy. But now some of them are up to their old prejudices.
Gloria Steinem, actors Ossie Davis and Ed Asner, playwrights Eve Ensler ("The Vagina Monologues"), Tony Kushner ("Angels in America") and Noam Chomsky, the MIT professor who is always first in line to find fault with America, have signed a letter in the name of "people of conscience," urging "all Americans to resist the war and repression that has been loosed on the world by the Bush administration. It is unjust, immoral and illegitimate."
One of my correspondents insists these "people of conscience" at "not the bricklayers, roofers, plumbers, firefighters, police officers, carpenters, airline attendants or construction workers ... who are firmly rooted in reality." But they may be speaking for lots of college students.
In a poll of 634 college students, conducted by Frank Luntz for a new organization called Americans for Victory Over Terrorism, only 3 percent "strongly agree" that Western culture is superior to the culture of the Arab world. Fully 43 percent "strongly disagree." They weren't asked to consider specifically why a culture that systematically represses women, executes homosexuals, restricts the press, abrogates freedom of speech and religion and persecutes Christians and Jews is thought to be just as good as a culture that empowers women, works to eliminate prejudice against homosexuals, and guarantees freedom of the press, of speech and of religion.
The Luntz survey found that 55 percent of U.S. college students can identify Yasser Arafat, but few can name the members of President Bush's cabinet who are the major players in the war against terrorism. Arafat scored a full 10 points ahead of Colin Powell.
Americans for Victory Over Terrorism, which commissioned the survey, was founded by William Bennett, the former secretary of Education and onetime drug czar, to confront the increasing numbers of critics of America on college campuses, in newspapers, magazines and the television networks who cavil at the war against terrorism.
When he presented the results of his survey to a small group of Washington journalists at a breakfast in Washington, Frank Luntz surprised the reporters by asking them to raise their hands if they believe Western culture superior to Arab culture. Not one did. Perhaps reporters, accustomed to asking impertinent questions, don't like answering questions.
Eason Jordan, the CNN executive in charge of his network's newsgathering, apologized on Israeli television for a CNN interview that gave considerably more prominence to the family of a Palestinian suicide bomber than to the relatives of his victims, an Israeli grandmother and her year-old granddaughter. "That was a mistake," he told the Israeli audience. "We now have a new system in place where we just refuse to air any videotape of statements of suicide bombers or their families unless there's an extraordinarily compelling reason."
CNN's coverage led one Israeli cable-TV company to substitute rival Fox News Cable. Others may follow. Mr. Jordan insists that CNN's promise of balanced coverage has nothing to do with competition. If you believe that, I've got a choice piece of real estate near the Temple Mount I want to sell to you.