The booger man is scaring our European friends and relations again. The Ugly American, blundering about the landscape like Gulliver on the sauce, is back to haunt their timid reveries. They thought they saw Gulliver in Iraq and Afghanistan, and they recognized him in full in Tucson, Ariz.
The banging and clanging of public debate, particularly over President Obama’s attempt to impose a welfare state with the gassy bloat held so dear on the Continent, make Europeans’ teeth itch. And not just Europeans actually in Europe.
It’s the way Americans make free with free speech — rich, robust and occasionally over the top — as if they were armed with a Constitution that guarantees them the right to say whatever pops into their heads, nice or not.
“To many Europeans,” writes Simon Jenkins of the Guardian, the tribune of left-thinking London folk eager to transform Albion into a Little England worthy of Europe, “the echo across the Atlantic came from a people isolated from the outside world and unable to handle today’s social and scientific progress. The debate [over Mr. Obama’s health care scheme] was infused with nastiness and xenophobia, as if the United States was a land of tribes bred only to hate the outside world, and often themselves.”
This is only one man’s cranky exercise of envy and ignorance, but it’s a symptom of fear growing elsewhere in the once-robust West, where noisy debate and ferocious argument gave birth to the civilization that tamed the jungle of terrors and superstition. Voices that once might have thundered against the despotism of malicious ignorance now blame the hard-bought freedoms of democracy itself for the terrors of the night.
James E. Hansen, the NASA “climatologist” who is the source of much of the dubious science on which the global-warming scam is based, thinks the West should abandon its “fossil-money democracy” and copy the Chinese way of regulating debate. But we don’t need no stinking free speech.
Mr. Hansen took a junket to China just before Thanksgiving and returned with gratitude for the Chinese example of regulating “democracy.” He now regards China, with none of the hobbles of plain talk and free elections, as the “best hope” to save the world from global warming. “I have the impression that Chinese leadership takes a long view, perhaps because of the long history of their culture, in contrast with the West with its short election cycle. At the same time, China has the capacity to implement policy decisions rapidly. The leaders seem to seek the best technical information and do not brand as hoax that which is inconvenient.”
Mr. Hansen, who obviously prefers the short view, would dispense with the freedom of speech that makes freedom of scientific inquiry possible. He has not been punished for spreading fear and ignorance as he would be in a culture where being wrong is the way to humiliation and worse. He is free to propose, as he did in Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post, that because Congress won’t enact a law to make coal prohibitively expensive, China should lead a boycott of the U.S. economy. “The United States then would be forced to make a choice. It could either address its fossil-fuel addiction … or accept continual descent into second-rate and third-rate economic well-being.”
Mr. Hansen can expect no knock on his door in the middle of the night to answer for what in China would be regarded as treasonous trash talk, nor should he fear any punishment for predicting two decades ago that in 20 years New York City’s “West Side Highway will be under water.” Neither Mr. Hansen nor anyone else can water-ski down the West Side Highway yet, though Mr. Hansen might urge everyone else to try.
A few swallows hardly make a summer, but such nonsense by a prominent London columnist and a prominent American scientist is exactly the kind of virulent nonsense we heard from certain of our own pols and pundits in the wake of tragedy in Tucson. “Free speech,” Mr. Jenkins writes, “is a Hobbesian jungle. It requires a marketplace of rules, including rules that maintain fair and open competition.” Just so, and here’s a set of rules that have worked wonderfully well for more than two centuries: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
This makes everything else possible. Fearful Europeans should try it. It works.
• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.