Ordinarily I avoid non-Americans' comments on America as much as possible, and especially in an election year, but this morning I heard a radio discussion that was absolutely fascinating -- it's related to a series that BBC 4 is doing about American History (called America, Empire of Liberty). I have no idea whether people outside the UK can access Radio 4 programs, since they seem to be linked to BBC iPlayer, but if you can, it's here (or here) and I totally recommend it.
Basically, the reason it was great was the dynamic -- Justin Webb (the BBC's American correspondent) would ask his panel (all historians) some question about American history or culture, and Susan Castillo and David Reynolds would say something fairly neutral in response. Then Shelby Steele would say something really positive about America, and Howard Zinn would say something really negative, and Steele and Zinn would argue about whether America is a force for good or for evil in the world until Reynolds or Webb would cut them short by saying, "you do realize how incredibly American you both are?" And I would not be surprised if Webb cut power to their microphones once or twice.
And what I love about this is hard to put into words, but it encapsulates this weird sort of double-vision and double-blindness that I think you get when you live for a long time outside the US -- the special things about American cultural and political beliefs that Americans don't really notice, and that non-Americans don't always understand. And Webb and Reynolds, who see American from the inside and the outside, do notice those things -- the things that make Steele and Zinn much more like each other than they would happily admit.
(Yes, still pregnant. Getting tired of that, really.)