On the Edge: The US expert in Norway

“On the Edge” is the new opinion column in the Norwegian American Weekly offers opinions written by invited contributors to make some comments on the current issues that define modern Norway.

By Johannes Beia

Before the Nov. 2 election in the U.S., the Norwegian newspaper Nettavisen gave its readers a chance to learn more about the election by having Professor Emeritus Ole Moen from the University of Oslo answer questions from its readers. Professor Moen is referred to as a “U.S. expert” in the Norwegian media, and is often asked to analyze the political development in the U.S.

It is quite interesting to read his answers to the questions asked by the Nettavisen readers: “[Sarah Palin] is incredibly ignorant, lacks basic knowledge and has nothing to offer.” Whether you agree or disagree with Sarah Palin, this is not a respectful way for a “U.S. expert” to address a U.S. politician. If you are supposed to be neutral, that is!

According to Professor Moen, “The reason the president and the Democratic-led congress has not been successful in selling all their good legislation to the voters is because of disinformation offered by Fox news and conservative radio hosts.”

This is, in best case, a naïve statement given the wide range of news channels in the U.S.  If you are supposed to be neutral, that is!

Professor Ole Moen’s view of the Tea Party movement is that it is “a movement based on patriotic history plus racism, mixed with far right populism.” This is probably not a fair characterization of this movement, defined by the highly respected news magazine The Economist as “(voters) dismayed by what they see as government expansion that is out of control.” If you are supposed to be neutral, that is!

When Professor Moen was asked why President Obama is now struggling so much, and what has happened since the 2008 election, his answer is:

“The Republicans put themselves into a corner under the leadership of extremists with a negative agenda. They have done everything to delay proposed legislation and harassed any Republican that has tried to cooperate with Obama and the Democrats in congress.”

Negative media focus, especially from Fox News and conservative radio hosts, on the economy, unemployment and the difficult economic situation for many families, has made it difficult (for the president) to present the positive effect of his policy.”

This is not a particularly good answer from a U.S. expert, even though he might have touched on some of the real reasons for the big change in the electorate in the second half of his answer. If you are supposed to be neutral, that is!

What stands out in his attempt to educate Norwegians on the U.S. election is the professor’s lack of respect for American society, culture, political climate and the opinions of the voter. What stands out even more is the professor’s lack of neutrality.

It would be good for a U.S. expert from Norway to base his comments and answers on the actual situation in this country rather than on a view that the U.S. should be more like Norway.

Given the recent demonstrations in France and England over their government’s cuts in spending in a desperate attempt to reduce large deficits, it is probably hard for a Norwegian or European to understand a political Tea Party movement that actually demands less of a government rather than more.

One thing that is different in the U.S. is its ideology of small government, free enterprise and self reliance. Like it or not, there are still a large number of Americans that believe in these principles. This is still mostly a conservative country, especially if you see it with European eyes. The professor emeritus in Oslo should give that some thought before he calls himself a “U.S. expert.”

Johannes Beia is a Norwegian subscriber who has spent many years in the U.S. Beia occasionally writes opinion pieces for the Norwegian American Weekly.

This article was originally published in the Nov. 19, 2011 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. For more information about the Norwegian American Weekly or to subscribe, call us toll free (800) 305-0217 or email subscribe@norway.com.

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