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Well-informed anger

ONE New Year's resolution that media pundits seem reluctant to make is to forbear from making predictions about the coming year. Over the weekend everyone was at it, with agreement only on the prophecy that China will take over the world. It can be the laziest form of discourse.

Correspondents Look Ahead (Radio 4, Friday) only once sparkled into life, when Justin Webb, the BBC's North America correspondent, laid into his fellow commentators for their tacit approval of anti-Americanism.

It all kicked off when Mary Robinson's name came up: she who recently made derogatory comments about human rights in the US. Mr Webb abandoned the balance and decorum of the traditional BBC correspondent to "speak his mind". How absurd, he declared, that the US - a genuinely freedom-loving people - should be compared with China, Iran, and others by Europeans with a soft, anti-American distaste for McDonald's and people who talk loudly. As an example, he said the controversial Patriot Act is likely to be dropped, against the Bush administration's wishes, because of popular opposition.

Against this onslaught of righteous, well-informed anger, Mr Webb's colleagues retreated behind the disingenuous argument that what is important is not the facts, but what people perceive to be facts. He retorted that someone like Mary Robinson should know the facts and not rely on idle "perceptions".

Short of participating in one of those madcap New Year's Day swims in some half-frozen lake, I can think of nothing more invigorating than hearing a BBC correspondent lay into the comfortable prejudices of his colleagues.

No such charge could be brought against Andrew Brown, whose admirable Analysis feature "Is God on their side?" (Radio 4, Thursday of last week) considered the United States' special relationship with the Almighty. Since the days of the Pilgrim Fathers, one can detect in American culture an air of quiet confidence, resonating in the rhetoric of documents such as the Declaration of Independence.

However, it was only with Jimmy Carter in the 1970s that the Christian Evangelical vote was courted in any concerted way. Mr Carter himself, interviewed for this programme, claimed to have been hesitant about exploiting the religious vote, and of course it soon turned against him with the appearance of Ronald Reagan, a man with no such qualms.

Nowadays the Evangelical vote is a hugely influential factor in US politics: individual churches such as Willow Creek near Chicago can influence the opinions of 20,000 members.

In order to understand George Bush's rhetoric of good versus evil, one must, Mr Brown argues, understand this culture and the way it complements, and is complemented by, American patriotism. Nor will it do us any good to re-gard so-called "American cultural theism" with the disengaged contempt of the sophisticated European. What is required is the objective respect demonstrated by Mr Brown's analysis.

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