Sunday, May 6, 2012

Sunday Question for Liberals

That GOP talking point that the Democrats want to make the US just like Europe: false because they really have socialists there and liberals in the US aren't even close to being socialists; false because they misunderstand what Europe is actually like; or: what's wrong with Europe?

23 comments:

  1. I mostly agree with option 1, because current American liberals actually govern like mid-'90s Republicans.

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  2. Kind of the last two. What conservatives don't understand is that aside from universal healthcare and taxes, Europe is not more liberal on many issues than America. They have more abortion restrictions and more xenophobia.

    Also, they have a different government and a different economy. Europe works for Europe.

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  3. I'm not sure I would fully endorse any of the options. My basic view is that while there are some significant differences between Europe and the United States, both Europe and the United States are far better places to live than (a) almost anywhere else in the world and (b) almost any other society in history. So acting as though the US becoming more European is some kind of apocalypse level event (as if France is some kind of socialist dystopia) is a particularly ahistorical and foolish kind of tribal/cultural politics.

    That said, I don't endorse the view (that seems to be prevalent among some liberals) that Europe does everything better, and the more like Europe we become, the better for us. I think there are plenty of things we do better: elite universities, monetary policy, immigration, religious freedom, technological and cultural innovation, to name a few.

    So I guess I think that we do some things better, Europe does some things better, and we should become less like Europe in the former category, and more like Europe in the latter category. And we should always keep in mind, that by any historical or world standards, the stakes are relatively low.

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  4. It's pure tribal. You know, "well, if a Frenchman is a man, how come he don't talk like a man?".

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    1. backyardfoundryMay 6, 2012 at 4:47 PM

      France is the most tribal country in the OECD. There's a cabinet level position dedicated to maintaining French identity. The US has nothing like this.

      http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minister_of_Culture_(France)#section_5

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    2. But in the context of this political attack, "Europe" is just "Other". Never mind that a Kenyan Anti-colonialist (or Indonesian Muslim, or ...) would have zero interest in emulating his oppressors.

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  5. Um.. those are our only options? How about, false because we want to make America like AMERICA! You know, the one we like to pretend we have, with equal opportunity for everyone and liberty and justice for all? The one we tell ourselves we have but only exists in Hallmark cards and patriotic songs?

    Geez.

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  6. backyardfoundryMay 6, 2012 at 5:01 PM

    The US ranks well under several Euro countries in libertarian indices.

    http://www.stateofworldliberty.org/report/rankings.html

    As liberals strive to get goodies, they mostly just make the federal govt. bigger, more authoritarian, unaccountable, and wasteful.

    But I'm not saying that we're a hellhole like Sweden.

    http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Op-EdContributors/Article.aspx?id=265209

    http://m.thelocal.se/39858/20120323/

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  7. It's false in several ways. First there is no real entity called "Europe" that Democrats could emulate. There are just a bunch of different European countries each with different laws. Second "Democrats" had a really hard time mustering the votes for even the ACA. If the party was so gung ho for social democracy, the process of passing ACA would have gone much faster and smoothly and they would be running campaigns boasting about it and promising to expand it with a public option, Medicare buy in after 55, etc. Needless to say that isn't happening. Third the current fad in Europe is austerity budgeting that is killing their economies. But that's exactly the policy that the GOP not the Democrats claims they want here.

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    1. backyardfoundryMay 7, 2012 at 1:11 AM

      "Third the current fad in Europe is austerity budgeting that is killing their economies."

      How (with all of the counter-hypotheses) do you KNOW that this is true?

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  8. I like a blend of #1 and #3.

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  9. It is a lie because it is false and they know it is false. It is an appeal to bigotry and xenophobia. "Europe" is a dogwhistle to core Republican constituencies as a gloss for the degenerate, Godless, socialist chimera that haunts the nightmares of the American right.

    It is a classic "two-fer" lie that reinforces the notion of "Europe" as something that bad because the Democrats deny it. Because the Republicans never define exactly what they mean, the target audience is free to fill in the blanks on the similarity between Democrats and "Europe". Even the weakest parallel becomes "proof" that the Democrats are lying.

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  10. I agree a lot with GW above, but here are some other thoughts too:

    Many Americans who call themselves liberals within the context of the American political scene seem to me to be quite similar ideologically to "modern," "reformist" social democrats or "socialists" in Europe.

    However it's difficult to get this point across to many conservatives, Republicans, and even many American news organizations, who still carry on as if close to four decades of ideological moderation among European left-of-center parties has not occurred. There are, for example, significant similarities in the relative evolution of Democratic party liberal elites and French socialist party elites since the 1980s. So it's not out of bounds to compare them. (We'd all be better off if we thought more comparatively about domestic politics!) But many conservatives often do this not for the right reasons, but because they have an equally phantasmagoric image of both American Democrats and European socialists. Even sophisticated conservatives (at The Economist, among the stable of respectable conservative pundits, etc.) seem to have missed the dynamics of recent European history, still working off of an image of the continent's politics from the 1940s-70s, the heart of the Cold War.

    Second, and from a slightly different tack, it's key to notice how Republicans often use this sort of "Europe" charge in order to conflate the Democratic Party with liberalism. But this is in some way a projection, taking the tight connection between the GOP and the conservative movement and imagining that an equally tight connection and base of support exists between Democratic politics and American liberalism. On the contrary, the Dems attract a more diverse composition of support including professed centrists/"moderates" and conservatives. As Ron E. said above, how else to understand the contours of the ACA?

    And third, it's worth emphasizing that this doesn't just seem like a GOP talking point to me. Very knowledgable and clearly intelligent conservatives including professional economists, historians, political scientists, and journalists structure arguments around this notion. And that's when it's even more galling: because all these people have likely traveled in Europe and some were even born over there, coming out of ideological waters on the right that still misportray left-of-center parties as equivalent to Marxist-Leninist Communists.

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  11. True or false isn't the right way to appraoch the issue. It's just a dumb bromide that pretends to be an argument on social and economic policy. What is the Republican vision for American society. Maybe social democracy in Europe has its problems, but has there ever been the free market utopia that the Right dreams of? When it's been tried, has it been better than European social democracy?

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    1. I'm with PA. Hasn't Russia been trying the free market utopia? How's that been working out?

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  12. because people would laugh if they accused the Dems of wanting to turn the US into that socialist hell-hole Canada?

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  13. In the US I'm a raging wacko leftist, in Europe (and Canada) I'm center-right. I think US conservatives misunderstand what socialism means.

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  14. Sorry to barge in, but this thread led to an insight (for me, I'm sure many folks here have realized the following): the reasons Marxism fails in the 21st century apply far more to the US than old Europe.

    Marx was pretty smart to note that, in 19th century industrial Europe, where 90% of the populace was situated in similarly mindless labor, it was natural that individuals pressing their interest in a capitalist society would result in communism. Per the (relatively) thoughtful conservative retort, what is the obvious equivalence when a podiatrist in Poughkeepsie and a pharmacist in Phoenix press their interests in 2012?

    The conditions precedent leading to Marxism rather obviously don't apply in the current US, but they are closer to applying in say, Denmark. The podiatrist in Aarhus and pharmacist in Copenhagen are virtually neighbors, and given Denmark's relative lack of diversity, they are likely cousins. While that's not quite the commonality of interests that Marx saw in industrial 19th century Europe, its a heck of a lot closer than what you have in the US today.

    This may explain the comparative success of socialist ideology in Europe vs. the US, particularly against an explanation relying on differences in nature between otherwise-similar peoples.

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  15. CSH, the word "Marxism" means different things to different people, but that analysis doesn't have a whole heckuva lot to do with any very useful definition. In Marx's original works, the proletariat doesn't just "press its interests" and neither the podiatrist nor the pharmacist is a member. Marx himself, when he spoke about America, was something of an exceptionalist in the sense that he didn't believe the struggle would necessarily require organized revolutionary violence, or at any rate take the same course as it would in Europe. I'm also not sure what you mean by "mindless labor."

    The differences to which Marx pointed are in some ways the same ones that the Republicans seek to invoke. Though, as a talking point, the statement is as empty and inane as every other talking point, "Democrats (social liberals) want to make us like Europe" speaks to a real ideological argument at least as old as the American republic, and to the very bases of American political identity.

    "Europe" stands today, in American political discussion, as to some extent and in different ways it's always stood, for the greater relative preference for the state or collective interest over the individual or private interest. "America" stands for the individual (private interests, private sector, individual initiative, etc.) over the state. It's the eventual difference between the French and American revolutions, for example, but also the general recognition of a host of parallel differences, including the opposition between "socialism" and "capitalism" broadly defined, that have survived the Europeanization of America and Americanization of Europe, not to mention the socialization of liberalism and the liberalization of socialism.

    Under stress (such as the stresses produced by our ongoing crisis of global capitalism), the remnant differences may appear much starker, as fundamental choices bearing upon way of life and national destiny or identity, not just course adjustments within a general ideological consensus. At such times it's disadvantageous for American liberals to put the differences in national-historical terms because of the defensive reflexes of any in-group in the presence of any perceived threat.

    As for Dr. Plain's questions: "Just like" is silly, and any Republican who uses the phrase, if any actually does, is obviously engaging in hyperbole. The response the President has adopted, and that most mainstream Democrats will and probably ought to take, is to stress the American-ness of "social" values - "we're all in this together"-ness of the sort that in some abstract sense really does imply a kind of "socialism," just as all major religions and moral systems do. It has been the natural, historical, and sooner or later consensual response to the disruptive and destructive effects of insufficiently checked (anti-social, un-socialized) free market capitalism in every epoch and setting. (If and when the final crisis of capitalism can no longer be deferred, it could be all that will be left other than chaos.) So the contemporary social liberal argues for a balanced, cooperative, generous, expansive, and most of all pragmatic view of Americanism that maintains a positive distinction with Europeanism, but isn't afraid to adapt whatever can be profitably imported, since America is itself in large part just such a successful adaptation and import.

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  16. CK, thanks for the detailed reply; I'm confident you know quite a bit more about Marx than I. The "mindless labor" quip on my part is a regrettable casualty of stream of consciousness writing; I intended to note that the mid-19th century proletariat was almost entirely an unskilled industrial workforce. Not many pharmacists, podiatrists, or much else other than unskilled labor (and a few) management-types in those societies.

    Seen only from the perspective of those laborers, the pareto efficient allocation of resources is communism. Not for the managers, obviously, but since there were so many more laborers, communism should have been the natural result of such a demographic mix (not quoting Marx, just my own non-expert interpretation).

    Is the pareto efficient allocation of resources between 2012's Phoenix pharmacist and Poughkeepsie podiatrist exactly equal distribution? 'Tis possible, but if it happened that would be the result of chance, and not anything intrinsic about their relative roles.

    Which is equally true in either the US or the small, (mostly) non-diverse socialistish countries in northern Europe. In northern Europe, other factors, such as tribal identity or community, overcome the lack of pareto efficiency and result in a more communal society. For example, I was visiting my wife's relatives recently, who were describing a trip back to Lithuania, from which they had emigrated many years ago. They laughed that in one respect the trip was cheap; in two weeks they never bought a meal since there were so many relatives interested in showing gracious hospitality. In such an environment, the differing opportunities of the podiatrist and the pharmacist are somewhat sublimated to the community considerations.

    That's less true in the US, it seems to me. To their credit, the liberals of the past 20 years of so seem to have figured this out and adjusted their actions accordingly, creating a different, more muted, more America-suited expectation for communal action. But back to the topic at hand: why do Republicans tag them as Euro-style liberals?

    Probably because that's good for business for the Republicans?

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  17. I always thought it was watered down way of shouting "Communist!" I hadn't really considered it seriously, or thought the Republican's themselves took it seriously.

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  18. Republicans -- horrified by oppressive Europe, but yeah sure, they'll choose to become citizens of it:
    http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/05/08/bachmann-switzerland.html

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