As the presidential election counts down to (despite recent tightening in the polls) a likely
The fears of the right and hopes of the left reflect popular misconceptions about European realities. The first author of this article has spent decades studying U.S. government, while the second spent his formative years in
To us, both liberals and conservatives miss at least three key things about Europe that make it far less "liberal" than Americans think.
•The welfare state. Americans from both right and left caricature the European welfare states as offering a Big Rock Candy Mountain of goodies. For liberals, everyone is protected. For conservatives, that very protection saps initiative and encourages sloth. Yet that welfare state is not as generous as Americans think — and is becoming increasingly less so. Take health care and elder care. Basic health benefits are provided to virtually all but are skimpier than in America, excluding or rationing procedures Americans take for granted. Public elder care entitles you to a bed and a chair in a shared room. Anything beyond that requires significant out-of-pocket expense. Many European governments think welfare starts with families, to the point that German authorities pressure even Germans who have emigrated to contribute to their aged parents' upkeep. In Europe, if the doctor fails to provide decent care, good luck on that lawsuit. In the generous European welfare state, you get what you get, and you don't get upset.
•The schools. European schools don't offer breakfast, dinner, or, in many nations, even lunch. Like that noted socialist
•Social Issues. Unlike Americans of the right and the left, Western Europeans have moved toward compromise on complex values issues like abortion and same-sex marriage. In eight countries, same-sex marriage is now firmly in place and, in 13 more, registered domestic partnerships are beyond challenge. The prime minister of Belgium can go to a gay club without fuss. Still, private religious schools can teach their values and retain state support. Those nations that have tried to restrict public cigarette smoking, such as The Netherlands,
Yet in one very negative way, America is becoming more European. Back in the 1980s, when the second author of this piece arrived here, Americans were an optimistic lot who believed their nation to be special. A secure pride made America a hospitable place for a young man who wanted to build a future. That optimistic America was open to immigrants, so long as they learned the English language and American customs. As a result of negative navel-gazing from both leftist intelligentsia and the tea party right, we no longer see that level of optimism, acceptance and focus on building a better future.