tv Book TV CSPAN July 4, 2013 4:15pm-4:46pm EDT
tweet on booktv, posted on our facebook page or e-mail us. booktv in london continues with justin webb come the author of three nonfiction books the most recent titled "cheers, america: how an englishman learned to love america" he's also a former television journalist for the bbc where he served several years as the washington bureau chief. his current position is host of bbc today radio program. >> "cheers, america" is the name of the book, "cheers, america: how an englishman learned to love america." justin webb as the author. when were you in the states and why? >> i was sent to the united states in 2002 to lead to be honest, at the time it sort of felt like one. i didn't know anything about the united states. i was based in brussels as a bbc correspondent and i got a call
saying the one to go to america? and i thought well, i don't really know anything about america, don't know anything of its politics for a particular interest in the place. but i do know one thing and i know this from films it's quite sunni and we were sick of living in brussels. i don't know if you remember in the olden days milk came in bottles and they got clouded up in the capitol. so we thought that we would give it a go. on the basis we have frankly no knowledge and not a huge amount of interest. we decided to accept the offer of the job and i say this because my family had very young twins and we'd just been born in brussels. so we went off to the u.s. and others who had a pretty good time just after the attacks of 9/11 the next year. we thought we would give it a go. and this turned into quite liking it and quite liking it turned into liking a lot.
and liking it a lot eventually turned into a loving it and we had another child was born in washington, d.c. so there was another u.s. citizen and we stayed for all of a year's and developed this kind of relationship where our families now intertwined with the united states because we had a u.s. citizen in the next. she said to me once i'm only staying with you and i'm going back to america where i belong. she's 9-years-old shoes to the cushy is developing that kind of passion that you get. and more importantly i think i realize that all of the presuppositions the british people in particular have about americans and actually europeans as well have about americans are true so i thought i would set up in my reporting mind is based in the united states and also in this book to kind of set a few of those right. >> what is one of those
presuppositions? >> here is a big one, that the united states is like britain only a bit bigger. we have bigger cars, a bit more space, but apart from that we are crazy about guns but apart from that we speak roughly come speak what you see as english but apart from that as you know and i think all americans know as british people fail to know, we are utterly separate. culturally we couldn't be more different. the wellsprings of where we come from or so different which is odd when you think of the mayflower and the special relationship recently downgraded to in the central relationship is that a downgrade or upgrade i don't know if you think of the relationship in the two countries you can kid yourself into thinking that there is a kind of cultural closeness, but there isn't. you are so different from us and
i will give you one example in the book which sounds facetious but i think is a deeply important one. british people are often drunk i say and a decent american going about their everyday business are not. i give the example of coming back to britain during the time i was based in the united states sitting on a train. i was actually drawn from oxford to london and a group of young people in their 20s, working people sitting behind me discussing for the whole alphabet it took to get their house drunk they had been the night before and how they had been sick and how this had looked and felt. it was eskimos that had so many words for snow, they have all sorts of words describing being sick and i was thinking be in on that train that goes from d.c.
to new york is a conversation that you couldn't have imagined hearing. there is something about this country and the relaxed attitude it really does sort of pushed us into a place that is not your place. you are so much more straitlaced would be one way of putting it. so much more puritan would be another way of putting it because of the background and the formation of the american character through that initial burst. but also fundamentally it is more serious i think. america is a more serious place. and everything that screams out of you from hollywood and from tv generally and from knowing america, it couldn't be less true. q. are fundamentally in your core ac these people.
we are fundamentally in our core a kind of battered and rather drunken and u.n. serious people. and i think getting that street and exploring why it is and where it comes from certainly for me in the whole eight years i was in the united states it is just an endless fascination. >> in "cheers, america" you mentioned the relationship with of the u.s. and the u.k. and you write that the relationship with china is more important than its relationship with england. >> absolutely. the idea that the united states needs to base its foreign policy in the future, our little country without dwindling military resources, that somehow because of our purpose of democracy, we believe in freedom roughly speaking, but because of that, we are somehow going to be
important here in the future i think it couldn't be more wrong. the united states has to base the analysis of where it stands in the world and in the united states on the more difficult relationships but ultimately much more productive relationships with of the world's coming powers and obviously china is prime among them. it is completely dismissive. that doesn't mean that on occasions we want people to do useful business together kid that doesn't mean that on occasions it will be very useful still for an american president to come to london to see the queen and have pictures across the united states. but when you think of who americans are in future generations, where they come from, what they believe in, the idea that they have the same kind of british people being part of them is mad.
that just isn't going to be the future america. and the classic example of that. i went to see a very senior person in the obama white house when i was going to say goodbye leaving in 2009 and we had a little discussion and i said to this person why was it that one of the first things the obama white house did that cause a lot of up set was get the best of winston churchill that had been in the oval office and threw it out and just get rid of it? why did you do that, i said to your best this ally in the whole world to read and he looked at me -- i can't see to it was that he looked at me and he said few people are mad. we thought it was eisenhower. he said one elderly white guy looks a lot like another. he was only half joking actually because that is modern america. it is people who have the view of the world that is not the kind of mayflower view of the
world. it's not the view of the world that you get in kansas city, missouri. it's not the world along the kind of star led older generation of white americans who do regard britain as being something special. and i spent a lot of my time particularly in the flyover states when i was based in the united states pretending to be hugh grant, that kind of english thing. but i am very aware that the future of america isn't bad america. future america comes from china, has ties with mexico and croatia, with russia, with all of these nations of around the world and doesn't have that kind of sense of itself as being based in britain and british fought and i think, both sides of the atlantic the british and american side as well. >> justin webb come in "cheers, america" you talk about visiting
kansas and the fly over countries. what did you experience and what were the questions that were asked of you? >> the first thing and i say this to british people, america was a nicer and a gentler place than we give it credit for. we are too often obsessed in britain with guns and with a gun crime. we have an easy sense that america is a violent place where does of course i give an example in the book with one of my favorite places in the whole united states is des moines. or you go to the little towns outside of the -- des moines much of reporters to and the whole presidential thing -- and end up going quite a few times and getting a real sense of what it is like to live in that kind
of state the lead it's a friendly gentle place. actually it wasn't in des moines and it was a small town and pulling out to let our tv crew go and get some coffee and i parked where you are not meant to park and a cop car came up behind me with the lights on and i thought he was going to move me on. but he walked up and motioned to put the window down and i did and i said sorry, i'm from the bbc. we are getting some coffee. he said you go out and get warm and i will look after the car while you are in there. there is no other country in the world where that kind of friendliness, openness of devotee to just take stock of the situation and be easy about it. no other country in the world that what happened to the extent that it happens in middle america. so i actually came away from middle america really rather loving it. it's not the future, but it's a terribly important part of america's past to be the and i
hope that some of the things that inform middle america, some of the ways of life that have been spawned do actually last the test of time and influence the way that the immigrants had come to the u.s. in the future and the people that already there that are going to be driving the future because they think that middle america is again, it is one of those things that is underestimated by europeans as being an important part of america more generally and it is an important part. so i loved it. >> justin webb, how would you explain to the british people about that u.s. congress, the u.s. president, how they act, capri, don't cooperate, etc.? >> i think that american politics is broken to an extent that a lot of americans do not fully grasp. and i know that among those that can about these things there is a discussion in the united states about the failure of cooperation on capitol hill and
the way that there is a level of hatred. that isn't too strong of a word in modern american politics. but there wasn't even a relatively recently. but i actually think that you've got to go further than that. and i do wonder whether there is an extent to which the u.s. constitution, this wonderful document that is in so many ways so great for you. it isn't fit for a purpose and the modern age. the house of representatives is a really failed body. i think you have to get to grips with the gerrymandering that is taking place on both sides. but you have ended up now with a ludicrous house that doesn't do what it was originally meant to do and what the members of the house, those members of the house that have to worry about
the real election and there are not many of them but we have to worry about the election raising money and the rest just sit there and they are very much beholden to the extremes of their party because that is what i originally got them in and that is what can possibly get them out in terms of being booted out by the parties themselves. so i think there is a real -- there are kind of structural issues that have affected your politics very badly. i think as well it is a failure on both sides of the of the decline of people to speak plainly to their supporters about the choices facing the modern united states. so that is more structural, that is a kind of trace thing to it i don't know if it is partly because of the internet age or if it is because of the level of the basis that has fallen away. but there is something that has -- that prevents american
politics being the open and honest endeavor that it should be. now, you can say hold on the second. and never has been. and policy is a rough business. if you look back at the american history or the british history coming you can see all sorts of poor practices just as much as there are today. but i think that we have reached the stage where people are disgusted. that isn't too strong a word to use and i don't think it is, disgusted with what they see among the political class and the failure of the class to be straight with people and say look, these are the choices and facing the republican party it seems to me it is a question of the extent to which america is a welfare state. the extent to which america is as year up is a place everyone to an extent is looked after. i think it is a legitimate debate and it isn't something
that i in him john to be perfectly honest i am sympathetic to an american way of doing things that is different because it seems to me that i have done rather well over 200 or so more years but not in any way shape or form suggesting that americans should become more european. in fact the opposite. but i think you have to be honest with yourself about the extent to which you are still that sort of frontier people. you don't need to depend on any government to the federal government, state government paid you can do everything yourself to be or whether in the modern age it is unrealistic whether it is setting up businesses, whether it is providing the infrastructure that the modern society's dependence on. whether it is getting the citizens relatively healthy and able to purchase of bate fully to the extent of their capabilities to let all those things you've got to decide the extent to which you want america
to be a place that is genuinely inclusive. it seems to me that is a good debate to have but not openly in a moment in u.s. politics. >> page 93-inch years america. there may be some viewers that the issue with the things that you say in this paragraph. this is justin webb riding. we write about the u.s. being a religious place and it is. the south is where the spooky action is committed itself is rare church attendance is above 50% in the states like alabama and louisiana. drive about the assault on a sunday morning and the chapel car parks are filled to overflowing with the dukes of hazzard pickup trucks. there is a many mashaal were when the all drive home spitting chewing tobacco out of their broken side windows into the ditches bordering the and less space of the field.
>> you can't argue with that. it seems to me that is a very honest betrayal. i think there are other issues where as we would say one at the start, britain and america are so different. one of the great cultural cousins is religion. and there are people in britain in the united states that is in the case. it's extremely public and it's out there. and you have an extent to which religion is salient in society and in politics and culture, but it just marks you out suddenly in terms of post industrial societies. it's not just a different from britain, it is for everyone in the whole world. and i think it is fascinating. number one, why that is. but number two, where it is. and i think that geographical divisions in the modern united states, and again, one of these things that the outsiders do not
grasp but it's a geographical division and politics increasingly aware that republicans see particularly the hard-line republicans as they were, the extremes of the party being based much more now in the south than in the rest of the country can get you look at the debate about guns and what is going on at the moment. the importance of this health and that sense of the south in that d date as opposed to here in britain an awful lot of people regard things. the concealed weapon you go there and go to the big city and you go to the will south carolina and you can see there is a huge difference because in south carolina you are liable to have a lot of guns. not only one but ten. if you are living in manhattan, it is very unlikely that you have any. so that kind of sense of the division between the south and the rest of the country i think it's a really important one.
the real emergence of the division. and i am not suggesting there is going to be another civil war but i'm suggesting it's a really important aspect of the modern america. and i think that the religious religionocity as opposed to religion, the religionocity, that sense of the religious believe big is something that you want to and ran down people's throats that you want to say it informs me and it should inform you as well. and i want to live in a country where we believe these things and act on them. that is very much i think in modern america of where i wrote facetiously but the pickup trucks and all the rest of it i do think that the religious impotence in modern america shows that it doesn't come from los angeles or connecticut but it comes from the south for better or for worse. >> you seem particularly taken
with america's suburban culture. why is that? >> because we don't really have it in britain naturally. there is something about. when you manage to do is live in conflict and modernity. but at its best to care about that wellspring of the fall/winter some, the sense of the pioneer spirit. it's almost as if he managed to meld the two in a way that is clever and you also got the freedom that we associate with america. i will give you one. the neighbors cannot and welcome us as you would expect. but they also said you have to move your car. it was in brussels nobody cares
and actually in britain as well they face the direction as a whole the american role. it doesn't impinge on our freedom as you what character to part. but you would know that that in benjamin our freedom is a good thing to read because it allows a gentle server been american life to carry on as they should do and it strikes me, still strikes me that what you have managed to do in your suburbs, that curtailing of people's freedom but also allowing them and encouraging them to do their own thing with their volunteer fire service and the aspect of american suburbia that you can see being part of the american experience. the molding of the two together i think it's enormously important and i think actually in the suburbs of the united states but in a way you have the biggest lessons for the rest of us on how to live. >> what about efficiency?
are americans efficient people? >> there are things about the united states that i don't understand fully outside is the spec. you are able to live in a way spec. you are able to live in a way that the rest are not. you have the space to build. more importantly than that you have the space to move and the ability to reinvent yourself and go across the country where you attach it to the back of your car and start again. that i think makes you less efficient as people. it makes you less concerned about green issues and it makes you less concerned about all the issues that come with people being pressed against each other and needing to find ways of outside of the business side of it, plainly america has been an incredibly efficient and
productive and is still a much more productive country than most european countries and more productive than britain. but that kind of sense of using every moment of the day. i don't think that you have it in the united states to be a i think you have a much more casual approach. a much more wide-ranging approach. and i think it comes actually from your geography. i think there are people you know in the united states there is always room to expand. there is always room to change yourself as a person. and more than anything else, there is room to move and that is something that we don't have. so, we associate in our mind, americans, we are kind of todd efficiency -- tot efficiency and politics and owls we call the most powerful man in the world. i didn't think that you could argue that franklin he is. but in fact in the united states, we have the freedom to
be more relaxed i think than we do in europe. >> justin webb as the guest, "cheers, america: how an englishman learned to love america" is the name of the book. you write that to live in america was the greatest privilege of my life. you are now back in the u.k.. what are you doing? >> i'm the anchor of a morning radio show. >> dtc? >> in america i do radio and television. i was the bbc correspondent. when i told people i was going to come back because i had a great job to do in the u.k., they would say what's that? i'm going to anchor a radio show. they would say okay. it was almost as if i had been fined ka because reagan didn't have that force in the united states but the bbc radio is still a force in the land. so, in the morning we have 7 million or so listeners in the
radio program. absolutely knocks the ball park out when it comes to numbers and also when it comes to the kind of quality of people, the people that are really concerned about what is going on in the world. and still come turned to radio. so when i got the opportunity to come back was to be on something that i couldn't say no to it i also had a strange sense that to grow old in a country that is not you're own, i was entering my 50s. it is probably my last couple of jobs. i thought we would have a very kind of long-term decision as a family to take. they would be unfair to bring them back as teenagers from the american suburbs come to bring them back to live in south london wouldn't be great. so we had to make a decision as
a family about where we would be and that ultimately is why we decided to come back. >> you can always live with your american daughter. "cheers, america: how an englishman learned to love america" this is book tv on c-span2 in london. >> the first is by the winning author and investigative journalist entitled who stole american. it is a real eye opener. anyone that i think wants to
understand america, how we got to where we are today, why the average american is struggling with the way they are. i think this is none of the most thoughtful and i opening reads at least for me in a long time. and frederick smith is someone that i have looked and read before. and i would highly recommend the book. and as a policymaker, obviously what can we learn through the policies in the last 30 to 40 years that they have contributed to this? it is highly relevant to me and it may be to many others as well. my second book that i've read is a rather small one in terms of
pages but i think it really wonderful instructive, and it is called ever ancient and ever knew and it's written by the archbishop john quinn, one of the great american bishops. he studies the structure is of the catholic church and how best to reform them and oversee some very large bureaucracies and very often ask why is this the way it is, how can we do this better. i think that the institutions can and should go through reform. this is a very thoughtful book and in addition to those that are published he is someone that i admire a great deal.
now on book tv deepak and sanjiv discuss the differences between eastern and western medicine. this is about one hour and 15 minutes. [applause] >> thank you very much. before we get started i just want to tell everyone a quick story. as many of you know in the society, you could only come to the society as a guest. we have a golden rule of one time. today speed is going to break his record and we make an exception the amount of people that come out and
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