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Jewish World Review April 5, 2002 / 24 Nisan, 5762

Bill Steigerwald

Bill Steigerwald
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Looking into the state of American greatness | Let's hope Osama bin Laden doesn't subscribe to The American Enterprise.

He already despises America. If he chances to read American Enterprise's April/May issue, he's just going to hate us even more.

He would never make it past the first article, an excerpt of Dinesh D'Souza's upbeat new book, "What's So Great About America?"

D'Souza - who grew up in India, went to Dartmouth and first became loathed by non-conservatives with his book "Illiberal Education: The Politics of Race & Sex on Campus" - understands America's simple but rare blessings better than most of his fellow citizens.

To a newcomer from another land, he says, America's a unique marvel. It's a country "where everything works." Where "you can buy something and take it back if you change your mind." Where you can actually earn your livelihood as a comedian.

It's where "birth is not destiny" and "pursuit of happiness" has become a political, social and cultural imperative. Where a capitalist economic system based on competition, free enterprise and sound laws creates the incredible wealth that lets millions live long, healthy and full lives.

And listen up, Osama. America ain't perfect. But it is a place where everyone is free to believe and practice his or her own wacky religion, not be forced to follow yours.

As D'Souza concludes, "America's founders solved two great problems which are a source of perennial misery and conflict in many other societies - the problem of scarcity, and the problem of religious and tribal conflict.

"They invented a new regime in which citizens would enjoy a wide range of freedoms - in order to shape their own lives and pursue happiness. By protecting religion and government from each other, and by directing the energies of the citizens toward trade and commerce, the American founders created a rich, dynamic and peaceful society."

American Enterprise's cover package, "The State of Our Nation," is a less sanguine look at where our society is headed by nine smart folks such as Charles Murray who study the entrails of the 2000 census and other data.

Some pieces shed new light on the obvious: Public schools are horrible and getting worse because they have no competition; American families are in deep trouble because they are too quick to break up and too rarely run by two parents.

But there's interesting new stuff too. Joel Kotkin says that for the first time in generations, Americans are moving back to small towns such as Fargo, N.D., where we hope to return to the more pastoral, community-based lifestyles associated with the 19th century.

Admittedly, none of these fine articles is as tantalizing as Insight magazine's report that Iraq might have had a connection to the 1995 bombing of the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City.

It is a very complicated tangle of mostly unsubstantiated stuff: It links Iraq, Timothy McVeigh, his partner Terry Nichols and an alleged FBI cover-up to hide the identities of others who supposedly helped them in Oklahoma City with Iraq's suspected support of the al-Qaida terror network.

It's all pretty crazy and unbelievable. But who knows? Some of it may turn out to be accurate. After Sept. 11, not too much is automatically unbelievable anymore.

JWR contributor Bill Steigerwald is an associate editor and columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Comment by clicking here.

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03/20/02: 10 minutes with ... Bill Bennett
03/18/02: Suddenly, it's cool again to be a man
03/12/02: 10 minutes with Ken Adelman
03/08/02: TIME asks the nation a scary question
03/05/02: 10 minutes with ... Rich Lowry
02/26/02: 10 minutes with ... Tony Snow
02/12/02: Has Soldier of Fortune gone soft?

© 2002, Bill Steigerwald