Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

April 5, 2009

'WORSE' THAN EUROPE.... For the better part of the last couple of months, Republicans on the Hill have experimented with various economic talking points, but they always seem to come back to an old standby: Democratic plans look European.

I've never fully understood why this became a GOP favorite. Do most Americans recoil at the thought of some European nightmare? As Matt Yglesias noted in February, after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell insisted the stimulus plan would "turn America into Western Europe" if passed, "[I]t strikes me as odd that conservatives seem so convinced that a set of countries whose populations are healthier and longer-lived, and where dramatically fewer children grow up in poverty, is somehow obviously a dystopian nightmare."

Yesterday, Republicans went a little further, arguing that the Obama administration's agenda isn't just reminiscent of Europe, it's "worse" than Europe.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) ... the top Republican on the Budget Committee told The Hill that he owes an apology to Europe for insulting them over the past few weeks. [...]

"We owe them an apology because our budget is worse than theirs," Ryan told The Hill, referring to the Democrats' budget measure. "To suggest that we're turning our budget into a European kind of a budget is unfair ... it's unfair to Europe."

Oh, that House Republican sense of humor. How droll.

It's difficult to offer a substantive critique of Ryan's criticism, since I have no idea what he thinks is so awful about "their" "budget." (Europe is a continent; it doesn't have a "budget.") It's not at all clear what Ryan finds so distasteful about Europe anyway -- and why Americans are necessarily supposed to be repelled by the very idea of better health care and more public investment.

Indeed, it's also difficult to offer a substantive critique of Ryan's criticism since his criticism is missing a substantive critique. It's consistent with the larger trend of intellectual laziness. President Obama and his congressional allies have presented a plan to grow the economy, reform health care, address global warming, improve infrastructure, and make a quality education more accessible to all Americans.

Screaming "Europe!" is a child-like way of expressing disapproval. It's not criticism; it's not even a slogan. It's just silly.

Steve Benen 8:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

Bookmark and Share

The GOP really is devolving. Their operative mode is sneering and they celebrate stupidity. It would be as if the Democratic party reacted to the 2004 election results by having Senators wearing Free Mumia t-shirt and spouting 9-11 truther fantasies on TV.

Posted by: Marc on April 5, 2009 at 8:52 AM | PERMALINK

It would be shocking, if it weren't so commonplace, that politicians rely on teh sneer and teh innuendo more often than rational argument. I suspect part of the disloyal opposition's problem is that their entire perspective is being washed out to sea by the current economic crisis and the current administrations capable (if not perfect) handling of it. Republicanism (not to say conservatism) only looks good when things are going well, and it's very clear that if the Republicans had their way, fewer people, not more, would have opportunities to make a decent living. There is no substantive conservative argument: tax cuts for the rich? Spending freeze? Re-deregulation? When those sacred principles smack up against the current situation, it just makes them look silly.

Posted by: Spanky on April 5, 2009 at 8:57 AM | PERMALINK

They are talking to a base that is not the traveling class. They have never been to Europe and not only will never go to Europe, but mocks people who do travel abroad.

Posted by: Blue Girl on April 5, 2009 at 8:58 AM | PERMALINK

Our conservative republicans, redefining myopia.

Posted by: Cycledoc on April 5, 2009 at 9:01 AM | PERMALINK

They're just solidifying their position with the remaining faithful, which is a rational thing to do when you're in a shrinking minority, at least for the moment.

Unfortunately for them, the central component of the faithful -- the wealthy -- are pulling in the porch furniture and barricading the windows, so that leaves them with the only other large remaining part of their coalition: the Stupids.

Thus the current set of Republican talking points: tax cuts and stupidity.

Posted by: bleh on April 5, 2009 at 9:02 AM | PERMALINK

I think you're missing the emotional substrate here. Europe is feminine, in a state of dependence, compared with America's masculine capacity to take care of business. The main model here is their military dependence on the US: we saved them from the Nazis, and then from the Russians. The Republicans are drawing a parallel between their incapacity or unwillingness to defend themselves lack of martial vigor, speaking in emotional terms (in emotional terms, a lack of martial or manly vigor), and an economic model which (in their view) makes people dependent on the state for their sustenance.

Leaving aside some of the emotional baggage, I'm not sure they're 100% wrong.

However to tie this to the current budget is nuts. Especially since they're responsible for the economic debacle which makes them necessary.

Posted by: larry birnbaum on April 5, 2009 at 9:09 AM | PERMALINK

"never traveled to Europe"

Or, if Uncle Sam provided a visit for them, they took their leaves, via Rhein-Main, and went "Back to the World" - Knew one of those who brought recordings of his hound dog - come to think of it, he was from Kentucky - fellow would sit in the Kaserne barracks, every evening, spit shining his boots, while listening to the baying of his hound and repeating "I hate the Army". So, Mitch would rather turn the US into, what, Kentucky?

Posted by: berttheclock on April 5, 2009 at 9:12 AM | PERMALINK

Larry - I think you may be accurately capturing the mental picture that the Republicans have, but it is an utterly bizarre reading of history. Europeans have a long history of ferocious wars, culminating with the two World Wars which devastated much of the continent. Russia and Germany and England and France as effeminate and weak nations without military traditions?

I can believe that Republicans think this way, but their complete disconnect with what actually happened is revealing.

I also see a lot of truth in the post above which noted that the GOP isn't getting much support from people who actually have passports, so stereotyping foreigners may well be popular among the faithful.

Posted by: Marc on April 5, 2009 at 9:16 AM | PERMALINK

This week I attended a local Chamber of Commerce mixer and was introduced to the new local head of the Republican Party. We discussed business, city planning, the future of the county, border issues (as we live half an hour from Mexico), and more.

The guy appeared to be sensible, well-informed, grounded in reality. His hands indicated decades of physical work. His views were pragmatic rather than ideological.

Why aren't people like this running the party? How does a guy like this end up in a party headed by Michael Steele?

Posted by: Algernon on April 5, 2009 at 9:18 AM | PERMALINK

Republicans never cease to astound. Given the white supremacy celebrated by certain elements of their base, you'd think that Europe - the cradle of white people - would be a good thing.

Then again, maybe they've been listening to their critics who have been telling them to tone it down. This would make Europe the new facsist, I guess.

Posted by: JoeW on April 5, 2009 at 9:19 AM | PERMALINK

Cheaper healthcare, better healthcare, faster trains, better bike paths, and better food. That would SO SUCK.

Also, the TV advertisements over there are so totally better.


Posted by: dr2chase on April 5, 2009 at 9:20 AM | PERMALINK

when conservatives aren't dissing europe...

they are hassling obama because he didn't pay enough deferrence to foreigners or the royals...

how's that cacthing on?

gop 2009: Nuts for freedom..

no really...nuts...

Posted by: mr. irony on April 5, 2009 at 9:22 AM | PERMALINK

Or, if Uncle Sam provided a visit for them, they took their leaves, via Rhein-Main, and went "Back to the World"

I thought about that as I was typing, Bert. I knew a lot of people in my life who never set foot off base, stayong secluded in the mimi-Merica that is most overseas billets on an accompanied tour.

They could have benefited from a couple of years with my mother - "It's Saturday! Get out of my house! Here is your allowance. Get on your bike and get outside the fence, meet some people, eat some food, see some sights. And don't forget your ID, because I am not stopping dinner to pick you up at the gate again! Now go!"

I did that with my own kids, too. But far too few take advantage of that gift they have been paid to receive!

Posted by: Blue Girl on April 5, 2009 at 9:24 AM | PERMALINK

All they're saying is that Democrats are teh gai. I suppose it works with their base. But they're in a death spiral with their shrinking base, and this kind of thing makes it worse.

Posted by: jayackroyd on April 5, 2009 at 9:34 AM | PERMALINK

Looking at Republican demographics, they now tend to skew more and more to the old, religious zealots, and undereducated white males. They are xenophobic and fearful.

What's particularly sad is how badly attacks like this play with the young and educated, where study abroad, particularly in Europe, now has around 250,000 students a year. The attacks on Europe are just puzzling to this group, as are most of the talking points of the culture wars.

Posted by: OC Progressive on April 5, 2009 at 9:38 AM | PERMALINK

Republicanism has become a sub-culture. They've been speaking in code so long they forgot how not to.

Bluegirl, they resent people who travel abroad because severe income inequality in this country is likely to mean that the overwhelming majority of people in this country can't even afford to vacation on the other side of their own country, let along on the other side of an ocean. It might even work, if they did it in a way that may invoke those emotions. Instead they are just slandering europeans, who most Americans don't really resent that much.

Posted by: soullite on April 5, 2009 at 9:40 AM | PERMALINK

"...conservatives seem so convinced that a set of countries whose populations are healthier and longer-lived, and where dramatically fewer children grow up in poverty, is somehow obviously a dystopian nightmare."
Matt Yglesias

For Republicans, this is a dystopian nightmare; it threatens their self-serving sense of superiority, and denies them their regal coronation as the permanent majority.

It leaves them bitter, with a profound taste of political irrelevance in their mouths as they now begin the long, slow process of choking on the toxic stew of their own making---and I've suddenly (!) forgotten how the Heimlich Maneuver works. How sad.................(not)............

Posted by: S. Waybright on April 5, 2009 at 9:42 AM | PERMALINK

"(Europe is a continent; it doesn't have a "budget.")"
..and Africa is a continent, not a country, despite someone's assertions. WTF. After the "Budget" that Ryan, et al, presented, he should hardly be calling the kettle black.

Posted by: Ken on April 5, 2009 at 9:53 AM | PERMALINK

Republicans never cease to astound. Given the white supremacy celebrated by certain elements of their base, you'd think that Europe - the cradle of white people - would be a good thing.

This is overlooking something. The white part of the US is of European descent. Even if it might go back a few centuries, somebody among the ancestry of white America therefore has to have made the conscious decision that America was better than what the Europe of that time had to offer (and in many cases that was indeed so).

For some people, continuing to pledge to the New appears to require continuing to disavowing the Old, anything else would question the original decision for the New. And for some people this requirement seems to persist way beyond the generation that did the actual immigrating.

Besides being conservative, i.e. rigid about what they see as proper allegiance to the US of A, Republicans are also overwhelmingly white. If the above psychological mechanism is true, the group most likely afflicted by it is Republicans.

Posted by: SRW1 on April 5, 2009 at 10:27 AM | PERMALINK

The reason the right hates Europe is very simple - these countries provide living proof that many of the right's political shibboleths are dead wrong. A few examples:

--Universal health care works! It creates better health outcomes at lower cost. People like it, and wouldn't give it up for anything.

--Most countries in Europe have murder rates one-fourth to one-third that of the U.S. This is with sensible gun laws, no death penalty, and shorter prison sentences.

--Some countries have decriminalized soft drugs without horrific consequences.

--Northern European countries tend to be highly secular, even atheistic, and God has not seen fit to punish them. In fact, they continue to lead very good lives.

--U.S. conservatives have been predicting the total collapse of Western Europe because of bloated welfare states for several decades now. Darn! They somehow seem to keep going and the people who live there seem to like their lives just fine.

Posted by: Virginia on April 5, 2009 at 10:51 AM | PERMALINK

No, but he's right. The budget in "Europe" IS better. Just not for the reasons he thinks. And if Bayh and the other Bushocrats have their way, we'll never have a budget as good as "Europe's". We'll keep promoting the accumulation and concentration of wealth in fewer hands; keep our children fat and ignorant; keep our parents tied to two or more fulltime jobs; keep our military expenditures ruinously high. Etc.

Posted by: Greg Worley on April 5, 2009 at 11:05 AM | PERMALINK

What Marc, Spanky, Blue Girl and Bleh wrote above seems quite on target to me. The Conservative Republicans (who have exiled the moderate Republicans who used to be the representatives of the Republican base) are celebrating sneering and stupidity as common aspects of their non-travelling base of support.

Except for no taxes and no government regulation, along with a lot of contracted government spending through a very few large contracts which are easily politically manipulated and siphoned off by the wealthy, the moneyed-Republicans have no real ideology. They just want control of their markets and of the government. The core of this group was still bitching about the FDR reforms at the turn of the century. (Now they have Obama, who has the advantage of being a Black man by American traditional definitions) But they need warm bodies motivated to vote and easily influenced by propaganda that is easily produced by captive media like Fox News. The social conservative foot soldiers who are slipping out the back door have to be replaced.

The problem they are facing is the dwindling power of unified anti-government social conservatives. Those foot soldiers need to be replaced. The tools are Money, propaganda, and fear. They need a credible enemy to replace Communists, and Islamic fascism just isn't big enough to do that. China isn't spreading out from Asia, and besides, they are financing the debt for the right-wing wars. The third world isn't unified or credible as an existential threat to America. What's left? Europe.

Europe has been the cockpit of American foreign involvement for a century and has housed our greatest enemies. Conservatives and rightists build on a myth extracted from the past whenever they can. Europe is growing, ostensibly unifying, even perhaps surpassing America economically, and Western Europe (all that the Yahoos recognize) can be characterized as rather anti-American. That works if you conflate America with Bush-as-President. That makes them credible as an enemy, and even perhaps credible as a threat to those who know little about what really goes on politically in Europe.

For rightist politicians looking for a credible threat, is there any alternative to Europe?

As of right now, that's my best guess as to "Why Europe."

Posted by: Rick B on April 5, 2009 at 11:22 AM | PERMALINK

S. Waybright,

I think you have it right. And the Republicans are really disturbed by Europe because it is comparatively quite egalitarian. They want a sharp vertical social hierarchy with a very few anointed at the top and a mass of struggling, desperate people at the bottom. That's the Latin American model towards which they have been rather successfully pushing America for thirty years, not post-War Europe.

In the 60's when I was stationed in Germany every major corporation was required to have labor representatives sitting on the Board of Directors. I'm sure they still do. That's the kind of horror story American conservatives tell their children at night when the children have grown up enough to no longer fear goblins under the bed and closet monsters.

Posted by: Rick B on April 5, 2009 at 11:33 AM | PERMALINK

That's the Latin American model towards which they have been rather successfully pushing America for thirty years

Bingo... the obvious, simple rejoinder to Ryan's nattering is that the GOP budget looks like a banana republic's, except saying that is unfair to banana republics. It'd be nice if some Democrats were out there saying it.

Posted by: latts on April 5, 2009 at 11:56 AM | PERMALINK

What scares repuglicans about Europe is their social network based on taxes that provide services to their citizens from cradle to grave. This goes against repuglican philosophy of cutting taxes to a point were the government isn't capable of providing social services the people need. Its a sink or swim mentality that puts America in last place. So what good is it if we have the strongest economy and most productive workers if they can't get affordable family health care, pre-school child care and education facilities for children up to college or technical training for job skills required by industry, continuing adult education and training to perform tasks at the level employers demand, more vacation time, medical leave without time limits, and so forth that other developed countries in Europe are guaranteed? If American workers were given the same social services enjoyed by Europeans this recession/depression would never have happened. What the repuglicans have been doing since Reagan is turning the Constitution upside-down. They need to be reminded that the Constitution is for the people, not the corporation or business interests. They need to apply more effort to support the people and less for business. If you doubt me, then go read the Constitution and see for yourself.

Posted by: Major Domo on April 5, 2009 at 1:00 PM | PERMALINK

As someone who was born in the UK, have lived most of my life in England, Luxembourg and the US, have travelled to around 26 countries. I can tell anyone, they would love the way of life in most European countries. It is the most wonderful experience for anyone to live there for awhile, most people know how to live, most governments take care of the people. The military budget is not the most important thing, they do not crave world dominance at the point of a gun, they actually serve the people.

Posted by: JS on April 5, 2009 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

Marc, historically, yes, Europe has been ferocious both within its boundaries and without.

Since the War, not so much though. Nationalism and certainly anything smacking of militarism was entirely discredited in Germany. Britain and France fought losing battles to hold on to their colonial empires.

From an Amerian perspective the problem with where this leads was perfectly encapsulated in the Balkans crises of the 1990s. War, ethnic cleansing and near-genocide within Europe itself -- right on the EU's borders -- and they couldn't get their act together to do anything about it. We had to step in and supply both the will and the muscle to put an end to it.

So, yeah, they look weak because they act weak. They have the money; they lack the will. And of course they believe that we'll fix it for them (which we do).

I really don't think it's as much of a stretch as Steve seems to think to connect this kind of failure to take responsibility to a paternalistic (or maybe maternalistic) state entitlement system.

This doesn't mean that they're entirely wrong in the choices they've made by the way. I'd really prefer us to be more like Europe in any number of ways. That doesn't mean I don't think they'd be better off if they were more like us, too.

Posted by: larry birnbaum on April 5, 2009 at 3:13 PM | PERMALINK

By the way everyone (are you reading this Michelle?) have you heard about the Democratic plan to get rid of American football and replace it with soccer? Yup, it's true! Cross my heart!!!

Posted by: -jlinge- on April 5, 2009 at 3:51 PM | PERMALINK

I think Virginia had a piece of it. Europe is (omg) secular.

While the American Right cites "Christianity" as the basis for all morality without taking to heart any single thing Jesus ever told his followers to do.

What do they call it? Divine prosperity or something like that?

Posted by: Jesus is rolling over in his grave on April 5, 2009 at 5:07 PM | PERMALINK

"...I knew a lot of people in my life that never set foot off base..." bluegirl @ 9:24 AM.
I have to agree with bluegirl on this. I was stationed in Turkey, Italy, Spain, England and Scotland. In EVERY one except England, there were people who either wouldn't go off base (Turkey) or did little but complain if they did (no malls in Scotland - they have malls, they're called High Streets, open air too!).
My biggest regret is not spending MORE time further away from the bases where I was stationed. Live and learn...

Posted by: Doug on April 5, 2009 at 5:13 PM | PERMALINK

Good health care, social networks and education scare the $hit out the Republican party masters, the ultra rich. I'm not sure why.

Do you realize that more Europeans now live the American dream of going from poverty to wealth that Americans per capita? Seems like the Europeans are willing to take the best we have and incorporate it into their society, why are we unable to do the same? Why are Republicans lacking that can-do American spirit?

Posted by: Glen on April 5, 2009 at 8:00 PM | PERMALINK

I agree with Doug & Blue Girl. When I was on the USS LaSalle that was stationed at Gaeta, Italy (On the Western coast halfway between Rome & Naples), a buddy of mine relayed how he lost it when talking with a shipmate who complained about being bored. The two of them were sitting at a bar/restaurant that was within sight of the ship and the guy told my buddy how bored he was and how "Italy" was so dull. My buddy started off quietly, asking him if he had been to this beach or that market, this town or that city. When it was clear that the fellow hadn't really gone out of sight of the ship, my buddy told me how he got all red in the face and jumped up and screamed at this guy. I would have loved to have been there!
At a shore command years later (Pensacola, FL), I spoke with a shipmate who relayed how she had been in Sardinia for about a year (She was assigned there for a two year tour) and then said "Y'know what? I'm only gonna be here for a short time. Might as well take advantage of it!" She had a great time in her remaining year.

Posted by: Rich2506 on April 5, 2009 at 10:08 PM | PERMALINK



Read Jonathan Rowe remembrance and articles
Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

Advertise in WM

buy from Amazon and
support the Monthly