TERENCE SMITH: The book is "Where We Stand: 30 Reasons for Loving our Country." The author of this collection of love letters to America is a NewsHour regular, essayist Roger Rosenblatt. Roger, welcome.
ROGER ROSENBLATT: Thank you, Terry.
TERENCE SMITH: In this collection, you start out with a very admiring look at where we began as a nation: The Constitution. You admire that document.
ROGER ROSENBLATT: I admire the Constitution as the class document of its kind. All constitutions set up laws and political systems and various mechanisms for running a country, that is, written constitutions. Ours does more than that. It .. the guys who put this thing together were able to foresee an entirely different world than you and me and whoever lived in the country, and they did it by creating a document that was partly a stable, 18th century moderate house-- symmetrical house, balanced house-- and then they realized that that house would be fairly dull, so they put a wing on it, literally a wing, in the sense of flying, and put on the Bill of Rights, and said here's a people who can be stolid and stand still as a dime, and also want to fly.
TERENCE SMITH: And it guarantees our right, as you write in one of the essays, to be free and to be stupid if we choose.
ROGER ROSENBLATT: Yes, and we've exercised the right to be stupid quite frequently. The idea of freedom is so special in this country, and all of this, as you know, came out of 9/11, so that one starts to appreciate, really, what freedom means and the whole panoply of definitions, and one of them is the freedom to mess up and to be foolish and to act foolish, and to delimit ourselves and to say things that we're not supposed to say.
So few people understand-- or sometimes they understand it but they have to be reminded-- that the whole idea of free expression is that's when you tolerate people who say things you don't like, you do not want to hear.
TERENCE SMITH: You say it grows out of 9/11, out of September 11. Would you have written this book, these essays, had it not been for September 11?
ROGER ROSENBLATT: I doubt it. I doubt it. Certainly if I had, they would have required some other impetus, one would hope not as tragic, but the... it was interesting to me how an emotion becomes a thought. Patriotism is often put down as an idea or a premise for a book, or it's simple-mindedly defined as, "well, conservatives can be patriotic, but liberals cannot," and so forth and so on. I wasn't interested in any of that.
I was really interested in how patriotism defines and justifies itself. This is a complex, very interesting, quite wonderful country, and the more you thought about it-- or the more I thought about it, the more one thinks about it-- when you start to pile up the reasons for loving it, for admiring it, they become substantive, interesting-- at least I tried to make them that.
TERENCE SMITH: You argue in one piece that everyone is a liberal in this country. Defend that proposition.
ROGER ROSENBLATT: Well, but give the whole title: "Everyone's a Liberal," and then, in parentheses, "oh, go ahead and read it anyway."
TERENCE SMITH: (Laughs)
ROGER ROSENBLATT: And this is partly because I grew up in a conservative household and fought with my father all the time about these things and explained that while I was always in the right, he would win every fight. But the seriousness of that contention is that when I say "everyone's a liberal," we have all-- Republicans, Democrats, conservatives, liberals, so- labeled-- bought into certain things that have to be defined in a liberal context. We are for the underdog. We are for pulling the poor up. We are for equality. We are for individual rights.
Some combination of New Deal proposals and 1960s individual rights efforts have affected everyone. There are excesses, to be sure, and liberals have shot themselves in the foot as a result of those excesses, but I always ask, you know, when somebody challenges me on this thing, "What do you think was attacked on 9/11?" What was attacked? It was our freewheeling, sauntering, unbridled, unfettered, unregulated, unorthodox liberal life.
TERENCE SMITH: And you argue also that the nation has made enormous strides in what has to be defined as a liberal direction, if you look back over thirty or fifty or more years.
ROGER ROSENBLATT: Also, as people say when they look at the similarity of platforms, for example, the national political platforms of the Republicans and Democrats, that the Democrats have abandoned the liberal agenda, but it really isn't so. It's the Republicans who have absorbed it.
TERENCE SMITH: Made it theirs. In a chapter on the media, you argue, I think it's fair to say, that the good sense of the American people has sort of saved the media from themselves.
ROGER ROSENBLATT: Yeah, it's embarrassing how intelligent... (laughs) ...the good public can be when it comes to our trade and our line of work. I offer, for example, the Monica/Clinton story, where the press was way out ahead in wanting to hang the guy and to say that this is a major story and this is something that is going to lead impeachment-- in fact, it came close. And the people said, "no, wait a minute," you know, "we don't quite take it that seriously and we see some balances and we see some other qualities in the President and level it off." And then the press caught up with the people. Those are very nice moments in our trade.
TERENCE SMITH: And the news organizations respond.
ROGER ROSENBLATT: Indeed.
TERENCE SMITH: They come back into what is closer to the center...
ROGER ROSENBLATT: Exactly.
TERENCE SMITH: ...In your view. You take a look at the environment and you argue that the greatest argument for the environment is the environment.
ROGER ROSENBLATT: I... you and I know all the things to say about protecting this and not putting this chemical in and so forth and so on, all of which I agree with. But the beauty of the environment-- in fact, one of the things that was fun writing this book-- is to find 30 different doors into one's affection for the country, and one is I just went trout fishing with a fellow in Wyoming, and just the appreciation of the sky, the mountains, the fish, the stream and all those things that we take for granted, and frankly, they are granted.
TERENCE SMITH: You raise a question that I want to put to you, finally, which is, are you guilty here of a kind of exaggerated or sunny optimism that fails to take into account the problems?
ROGER ROSENBLATT: Well, I do take into account the problems, and one of the things that I say is... or I remark on, is our remarkable ability to deal with irreconcilable issues in this country, which I also think is part of -- one of the nicer consequences of freedom. But, in direct answer to your question, yes, I am guilty of all that optimism and exuberance. And out of a tragic, sad, tear-inspiring event comes a reminder of how lucky we are.
TERENCE SMITH: Roger Rosenblatt, thanks so much.
ROGER ROSENBLATT: Thank you.