Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Catch of the Day

Matt Yglesias takes apart the GOP fetish for Europe-bashing, pointing out that among other things, there are plenty of ways in which European policies are far more in line with (American) conservative preferences than US policies are.

He concludes that what Republicans are really talking about is:
The image most people have in their heads of Europe is dominated by non-policy aspects of the landscape—Europe has more old building, older urban forms, and it's more crowded—and the proclivity to praise or criticize Europe seems to me to be explained entirely by the nationalism/cosmpolitanism gap rather than any objective analysis of the European policy environment. 
That could be right; as such, it's rather similar to bashing New York, which I once heard actually is home to one or two of the capitalists that Republicans often like.

Which means it also goes along with the odd Republican habit of place-bashing, whether it's coastal elites, or New York for all sorts of things, or San Francisco liberals, or Chicago-style politicians. Note that Newt Gingrich has been calling Mitt Romney a "Massachusetts moderate." I've always thought this is rather strange, not to mention unpatriotic; I've certainly heard liberals smear places that vote Republican, but it's a whole lot more common (for liberals) in comments sections or at fringe blogs (or, obviously, in conversation) than it is for actual politicians to say things like that. So in that context, saying that Obama wants a "European-style entitlement society" is almost a step up -- he's neither bashing a US city nor actually using the word "socialism."

As symbolism, the Europe-bashing works, I think, about the same way that socialism-bashing does: it's just a content-free slur that leaves Fox News customers free to fill in whatever horrors they want. It makes about as much sense as Michele Bachmann's fear of the socialist conspiracy to replace Medicare with Obamacare. So yes, I think Yglesias is right about the "cosmopolitan" thing for some people, but presumably others see other things in it.

And: nice catch!


  1. I think progressives need to finally kill the Yurup pejorative rich conservative elite like Bush and Romney throw to to appease the rubes by fighting fire with fire. If progressives want to make the US like Europe, then conservatives want to turn it into Latin America. The latter, substantively, is actually on much firmer ground. While only a few elected progressives advocate for welfare-state policies similar to Europes, almost all elected conservatives favor policies of deregulation, privatization, abolishing the minimum wage, limiting the franchise and other policies that in a generation would turn the US into the 2 class social structure that predominates in Latin America.

  2. European countries almost all have more generous welfare states and tax burndens that are higher as a percentage of GDP than that of the USA. Therefore it makes sense to say that Obama wants to make the USA into a European-style entitlement society on this fact alone, even though, as Yglesias notes, many European countries have more restrictive immigration policies than the USA. Even center-right European parties support more generous welfare states and higher taxes than the US has.

  3. Of course, there was Phil Ochs: "Mississippi find yourself another country to be part of . . . ."

  4. In his New Hampsire speech he changed 'European-style entitlement society', which was in the prepared remarks, to 'European-style social welfare state'. That sounded to me like a hint to socialism without actualy using the word.

  5. I'm not all that knowledgeable about the economics, but I'm well-aware that on cultural issues at least, European countries in many ways have an affinity with the American right. There's generally a lot more explicit nationalism, nativism, and religious bigotry. Can you imagine the U.S. issuing a ban on religious head-coverings? It makes the whole "Ground Zero mosque" business seem tepid by comparison. And ethnic nationalism certainly has more grounding in the history of Europe than it does in the U.S. (Nobody in America apart from white nationalists, perhaps, would suggest "American" implies a particular ethnicity--the way terms like Italian, Serbian, English, Polish, and so on have traditionally been used.) And yet American conservatives are a lot less likely to invoke Europe to justify their preferences.

  6. Back in the day, as a college student and later as a professional researcher, one spent some time actually reading the documents and the speeches of the American leaders and diplomats (and the European ones too) of the 1930's, '40's and '50's.

    Republicans and Democrats worked together to build this imperial state on friendship with Europe.

    I think in my next book I will examine the beginnings of this populist hatred of Europe, it really supports the conspiratorial view that certain sections of the imperial rulers, especially within one particular political party and large segments of the news & entertainment industries, really do work at making the majority of the American public more ignorant and less intelligent than in previous decades.

  7. Marza,

    Thanks for that correction. I mostly skipped the post-NH speeches last night, but I did hear that part live, and remembered it and typed it in, then checked to make sure and found the above-cited version and used that here.

    In fact, while I agree with you entirely about what Romney's up to there, I think "European-style welfare state" is probably a much more justifiable claim than either "entitlement society" or, of course, socialism. Yes, I know that Obama isn't actually advocating exactly what Europe (or at least some of Europe) has, but at least to my ears it's a more reasonable exaggeration.

  8. I also think Europe's relative secularism plays a very strong role: Europe for conservatives is a symbol of "godless" politics (just as the Soviet Union used to be). I've blogged about this:


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