The vitriol and inaccuracy of the campaign against Obama’s public health reforms last year were like those against abortion and homosexuality. To many Europeans, 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 was infused with nastiness and xenophobia, as if the US was a land composed of tribes bred only to hate the outside world, and often themselves.
I was asked some time ago by a university-educated Texan, in the nicest possible way, what it was like to live in a country of “baby-killers” about to be “overrun by Muslim bad guys”. I inquired where he had gained this bizarre impression of Europe, which he had never visited. It turned out his sole information about the world beyond America’s shore came from Fox News. He was not stupid. But he and millions of people like him considered this source of news a sufficient window on the world. He genuinely thought American troops would soon have to save Europe from “the Arabs”.
Freedom of speech, like freedom of traffic, can only be defined by the curbs and regulations that make it real. The right wing seeks to curb WikiLeaks, and the left seeks to curb “hate speech”. The right wants the freedom to finance unlimited political propaganda, and the left wants the freedom of unlimited access to state secrets.