I love my country. I love the fact that we are a nation based on a political ideology of separation of powers and separation of church and state. I love our notions of equal protection and due process, and the uniqueness of our civil rights movement. I love that we are a nation of immigrants and have no official language. You won’t find that anywhere else in the world.
But just as you won’t find a Barack Obama, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, or George Soros flourishing elsewhere in the world, the United States is due for a serious wake up call; it is falling behind. The best example of this are the ridiculous accusations of “socialism” by America’s conservatives as a last ditch effort to dissimulate their own lack of ideas and deflate Obama’s optimistic bubble.
Let’s look at the facts. Republicans have nothing left but fear-mongering, falling back on the 1980s Reagan anti-communism rhetoric to call Obama’s stimulus plan socialism. Ironically, just as the Republicans have deified Reagan as capitalism’s heroic slayer of communism, the majority of the world now views American capitalism as the principle culprit in the global economic crisis. America has become the easy scapegoat. Here’s how the story goes: when we’re not bombing the world to fuel our SUVs at home, we’re bullying countries to open their markets to American goods and services and to liberalize their banking systems. They followed suit, got burned, and now have to pay the price for a failed economic policy.
As I have already mentioned, free market capitalism has never been honestly practiced in the U.S. Rather, our government has consistently intervened, through corporate tax breaks, licenses and permits, deregulation and military action, in favor of large companies at the cost of taxpayers and the free market. So what are the Republicans proposing now? More of the same. As Paul Krugman writes in The New York Times:
But it’s now clear that the [Republican] party’s commitment to deep voodoo — enforced, in part, by pressure groups that stand ready to run primary challengers against heretics — is as strong as ever. In both the House and the Senate, the vast majority of Republicans rallied behind the idea that the appropriate response to the abject failure of the Bush administration’s tax cuts is more Bush-style tax cuts.
It’s time that we had an honest conversation, and by honest I am mean free of the brainwashed anxiety about socialism and bread lines. It’s time to face the fact that we have fallen behind the rest of the world. How much better are we than other developed nations?
- Health care. We are the only developed nation in the world that does not offer universal health care. The quality of universal health care in Europe is not inferior with, but is on par with that of the U.S. Don’t believe the horror stories. They are simply not true. Europeans love to tell horror stories about American emergency rooms. Universal health care will turn into the government making decisions about what medical services you may receive? Isn’t that what HMOs do now? Where has the private sector been proven to be better suited in making important decisions about our money or livelihood? On Wall Street? The U.S. is the only developed country where citizens go bankrupt when they get sick.
- Crime and violence. Are Americans bad people? Why are there more Americans both in per capita and real terms incarcerated than in any other country in the world? Why is the U.S. the only developed nation to still have capital punishment? Why an obsession with guns when we more of our citizens die in gun fatalities than in anywhere else on the planet? The right wing rationale for a right to bear arms is perversely similar to that of Hamas.
- Infrastructure. What happened to American airports? They have become stinking fast food dumps. Take the train from Washington, DC to New York City and then take pubic transportation in any city in Europe. Take a trip and you’ll see what I mean.
- Quality of Life. Depending on where you live in Europe, you get anywhere between five to seven weeks of paid vacation, and between four to eleven months of paid maternity leave. Some countries have significant paternity leave as well.
I don’t mean to say that I prefer Europe. I am not convinced that their system is sustainable over time, and I still am shocked every time I purchase a consumer good and realize that I have just paid close to 20% in sales tax. For example, the other day I bought some sneakers in Paris and 19% of those shoes belong to the government. But we all know that in the U.S. not even Obama could get away with such a significant sales tax rate, so why even pretend that we are bordering on the “socialism” abyss?
Personally, I don’t love Obama’s stimulus plan. He tried to compromise too much, to make too many people happy, and therefore will probably come up short in the long run. But what concerns me is that by falling back on some unrelated 1980s antiquated word games, we are completely blinding ourselves to what the world really looks like.
Sure, in no other country could a minority candidate topple the party hegemony and become the nation’s chief executive, but if becoming president of the United States wasn’t your first priority in life, what other compelling reason would there be to live, work or start a business in the U.S.? Soon we’re all going to becoming the emigrants. We just don’t live that much better than the rest of the world anymore, so why act like we have the answers?
Note: Photo was taken by my brother near Holland Tunnel in Manhattan.