Thursday, December 9, 2010

European Dismay

In my last post I referred to Tom Friedman's article on how badly the US is polarized and how deeply it has affected our ability to function on even a basic level. Thanks in no small measure to Republican obfuscation, we have become a bizarre parody of ourselves. It is almost like a skit on Saturday Night Live, to which Republicans would whine about how they are being unfairly stereotyped as being in the pockets of the rich. "We will not try to balance the budget on the backs of the poor," I can hear them say.  Except that they are. Slash social security and threaten to shut down the government if Dems don't give tax breaks to the rich? They want that too. How painfully obvious does it have to get before we realize today's Republicans are no longer the party of Eisenhower?

Unfortunately, there are too many Democratics who seem either resigned to events, and are not fighting back, or are actively assisting our transition to oligarchy.

Americans don't take foreign opinion into proper account account very well. As a result, too many Americans have increasingly indefensible views on our international role and rank. And thanks to our deeply compromised media, few Americans are hearing what others think about us and our government, and why it should matter.  

Our recent elections, a giveaway to corporate America disguised as economic populism, has dismayed many in Europe just as it did many progressives here.  How can it be, they ask, that Americans can be so narrow and forgetful as to vote back into power the same corrupt party that helped put the economy in the ditch just before Obama's term began in January 2009?

Europeans, the same people who have national health care of one sort or another, and pay less for it, have no desire to adopt America's for-profit, pay-through-the-nose model designed to enrich the insurance industry. Europeans get more for less, and they know it. They see our recent protracted effort to adopt universal health coverage as symptomatic of American ineptitude. They could see, just we could, at least those of us who didn't watch Fox News, that very high majorities of us wanted a public option.

Yet we couldn't get it done, despite public opinion and Democratic control of the House, the Senate, and the Presidency. Support declined only when it became clear that we would end up with an unworkable compromise that enabled insurance companies to continue dominating the process.

Steven Hill has written more on the European reaction. In a recent post at Alternet, Hill relates his own experience:

"While participating in a conference in Budapest in September, where prominent conservative leaders and thinkers were in attendance, including the president of the European Parliament and two prime ministers, some of the most eye-opening comments had to do with new perceptions about America. One speaker, Christian Stoffaes, who is chairman of the Center for International Prospective Studies based in Paris, stated the “United States is in disarray, extremely polarized. It is practically a civil war there, and you can’t count on it.” This theme was echoed by others speakers, who went even further. One said “We need to shift our emphasis eastward (towards Asia) and not wait for the Obama administration.” I found these statements to be surprising, and even vaguely alarming, given the importance of the transatlantic relationship in the post-World War II era. But there was a widespread view that the US is being consumed by the severity of the Great Recession, brought on by a broken Wall Street capitalism, as well as by the quagmires of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, and an inability to change course."
 Regarding the failed Copenhagen Summit on climate change, Europeans saw that the US was not serious about climate change. Calling it a real wakeup call for the Europeans, Hill notes a sudden European epiphany: wasn’t George W. Bush who was the problem, but something more profound about America’s broken political system that prevents any leader, even one as talented as Obama, from delivering.  That political system is marinated in money, is paralyzed by a “filibuster-gone-wild” Senate that has allowed a minority of Senators to obstruct all legislation, and is hamstrung by a sclerotic, winner-take-all, two-party electoral system that has left voters poorly represented and deeply frustrated." 
Ain't it just swell? Hill captures one more quotation that I must share here because it is a sentiment that many progressives share, including myself. German Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schauble, says "...The USA lived off credit for too long, inflated its financial sector massively and neglected its industrial base."


Bear in mind this is the same Germany that has higher taxes and more regulations, higher wages and higher unionization, and health care for everyone. It has paid vacations for all, generous maternity leave, more generous pensions, and much greater job security. And wealth is much more evenly distributed because of taxes. All socialist programs.

Just what Republicans insist would destroy the US. Yet Germany has generally better demographics, such as lower homelessness, lower crime, higher literacy, and longer life expectancy.  

Germany also has a massive trade surplus. And It does not owe $ trillions to China.

Republicans have their arguments completely backwards. But at least we have more billionnaires.

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