HOME OF THE GOOD. Like most Americans, I think this is a great country. As difficult as it is to come up with a composite score of national awesomeness, I don’t even have much of an argument with those who say, as many often do, that America is “the greatest country in the world.” But when we say this, we’re usually talking about things like our freedom of speech and religion, our high standard of living relative to other countries, our superlative achievements in science and the arts, or our absolutely unparalleled selection of televised entertainment options. But that’s not what everyone thinks about. Here’s President Bush, speaking the other day at the site of the Minneapolis bridge collapse:

“I met a man who was on the bridge when it collapsed. His instinct was to run to a school bus of screaming children, and to help bring them to safety. We have an amazing country, where people's instinct, first instinct, is to help save life.”

We heard a lot of this after September 11 -- that in no other country in the world would people come together in a spirit of unity to help and support one another after an event like that. This idea was, and is, utter nonsense.

I’m not saying Americans aren’t virtuous. But why is it that we feel the need to assert that Americans and Americans alone are possessed of the kind of virtue that leads one to help out others in need? Does Bush really believe that when a bridge collapses in Japan or Portugal or Cameroon, people just walk on by, going about their business, trying to ignore the shouts for aid? Does he actually think that a typical Swede or Uzbek or Australian would see a bus full of screaming children sinking in a river and say, “Sorry kids, I’ve got to mow the lawn this afternoon, hope things work out for you”? What kind of a cynical view of humanity is that?

--Paul Waldman

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