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Continental Contempt
June 19, 2001

The pronouncement was typically French - simmered in disdain and served with a sneer: "He is stupid to us. That's it. I mean, he doesn't know anything," Parisian radio drone Jerome Godefroy opined of the American president. "We don't trust him because we think he's not a very smart guy." This brought to you by the sophisticated lot who started a war by storming a jail and finished another by bolting the shutters and whimpering for American aid. Their contributions of the past two centuries include quiche and the guillotine.

Across the European continent, contempt is the latest fashion to catwalk the runways. No matter that Italy can't remember which constitution we're reading from today, Britain's just sent Thatcherism to a rest home, and the Netherlands are busy exterminating grandma. They are so much more cosmopolitan, more cultured, more progressive than we.

American bumpkins, preoccupied with building a prosperous and stable democracy - interrupted by intervals to rescue Europe from her wars - apparently neglected some of the finer points of civilization. Thankfully, it's not too late for remedial lessons -- courtesy of the continent that gave us communism and fascism, two world wars, and such colorful characters as Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Tito, Franco and Ceausescu. Extra credit for studying mature nation-building, Yugoslavian-style.

They call it "Euro-envy," that longing gaze American elites cast toward Europe's through the basement birthrates and through the stratosphere taxes. Perhaps we regret not sharing an EU-style police force with Mexico or a joint constitution with Canada. Or maybe we yearn for the sharp political acumen that motivates protests against genetically modified food while the friendly neighborhood dictator stockpiles North Korean missiles.

Truth is, Europe's elder statesman act is wearing thin. A continent of empty cradles and emptier churches knows little of cultural potency. And a confederation that relies on allies an ocean away to handle conflicts in its own backyard is no authority on global affairs.

Writing in USA Today, Richard Benedetto reasoned, "The fact that the bodies of thousands of American soldiers whose young lives were cut short saving Europe from Nazi horror lie in cemeteries in France, Italy, Germany and the Netherlands should be reason enough to receive any U.S. president with respect." Add a measure of Marshall Plan sweat and the maintenance of an ongoing 300,000-troop standing defense and you might expect a welcome mat if not a red carpet. Instead, Mr. Bush was handed a page from Count Cavour's playbook. When asked in 1859 what he planned for the newly unified Italy, the Count responded, "We will astonish the world with our ingratitude."

Indeed. Remind us once more whose manners need refining.

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