Albert Scardino, the newly appointed executive editor of The Guardian, gave a speech last night in Twin Falls, Idaho. Scardino also won a Pulitzer Prize in 1984 for editorial writing in The Georgia Gazette, a weekly newspaper he and his wife Marjorie co-founded in the late 1970s. His talk, "If we could only see ourselves," was the keynote speech in the College of Southern Idaho's annual Snake River Symposium. Here are a few of his comments:
*Britons and Europeans may not like the current U.S. president, but they still harbor deep affection for Americans in general.
*Since September 11, they've seen the U.S. as a nation living in the grip of fear ... fear of the future, of people different from ourselves, and even of each other. This was apparent from the day of the terror attacks, when Bush was whisked around the country from one spot to another, finally returning to Washington, D.C. "That image of a president hiding from his people" has stuck with Europeans, Scardino said. The climate of fear also manifested itself abundantly in London's preparations for Bush's visit, and the many measures taken to ensure the tightest security at home and abroad. "Our president now lives like a baby with an immune system disorder," he said.
*The United States' voice still works "but we seem to have gone deaf in listening to the world." From the abandonment of the Kyoto treaty to steel tariffs to the unilateral attack on Iraq, "we just don't seem to want to hear what anyone else has to say." Rather than speaking softly and carrying a big stick, the United States is now the world's schoolyard bully. "It shouts," Scardino said. "And when it pauses for breath, it only wants to hear from people who agree with it."
*The same scenario applies at home. "Disagreement proves we are a democracy," Scardino said, but Americans who disagree with the Bush administration risk being called traitors. This criticism, he added, is "eerily reminiscent of the McCarthy era."
What's the answer? For one thing, Scardino suggested that it’s time to stop using 9/11 as an excuse to retreat and stop mythologizing it as proof of our vulnerabilities. Ten times as many people died in one day during the Civil War at Gettysburg as did on September 11, 2001, with a population far smaller than we have now, yet the nation survived.
We might turn off the TV and read more -- both a wider range of books by a wider range of authors and international news sites like the BBC and The Guardian. It wouldn’t hurt to actually travel more, too, he said, citing the example of Euro and Brit teens who make a practice of backpacking a year before buckling down to college or career. Scardino didn’t dismiss the presence of terrorism in our world, but he suggested we put it in perspective. “The most dangerous part of travel today isn’t hijacking,” he said. “It’s the Krispy Kreme donut stand in the airport food court.”
We can also protest, debate, investigate, question, and raise hell. “We’ve grown afraid to take our freedoms out and exercise them,” Scardino said, echoing words he’d heard from a crusty Republican sheriff he knew in Georgia. The time has come, he suggested, to re-engage with the world, repair our tattered partnerships, and get on with the practice of democracy.
- Julie Fanselow