The Europe of the conservative imagination

This article by Jeffrey Kuhner in the Washington Times is a great example of conservative commentary in response to Health Care Reform. It's the Washington Times, so not completely mainstream (being owned by a Korean cult leader and all) but it's only a small jump beyond what you can read in the Washington Post. Certainly it gets a lot more crazy in the right-wing blogosphere. I particularly wanted to share it with my Australian readers (hi Mum!) as it seems unique to American political culture.

Kuhner writes:

Mr. Obama has achieved what his liberal predecessors - Franklin D. Roosevelt, Lyndon B. Johnson, Bill Clinton - could only dream of: nationalized health care. Obamacare signifies the government take-over of one-sixth of the U.S. economy. It has dealt a mortal blow to traditional America. We are now a European-style socialist welfare state. The inevitable permanent tax hikes, massive public bureaucracy and liberal ruling elites will stifle competition and initiative.

Socialism is the road to economic ruin and fiscal bankruptcy. It subverts democracy, threatening the very future of our constitutional republic. Socialist states degenerate into some form of autocracy or technocratic neo-feudalism....

The Obama revolution threatens to tear America apart. This has happened before. Slavery eventually triggered the Civil War between the industrial North and the agrarian South. Abortion is the slavery of our time - the denying of basic human rights to an entire category of people.

Conservatives will not be passive in this onslaught on all our core values. Mr. Obama's true legacy may be that he divides us deeper than ever before - unless he abandons his revolutionary project.

These are selective excerpts. You can read the whole thing here.

There are two things I consistently find amazing about conservative commentary here. The absurd over-reaction and the lack of context.

The "revolutionary" health care bill he's referring to is less progressive than that proposed by Republican Richard Nixon when he was President. It is very similar to the policy implemented in Massachusetts by Republican Presidential aspirant Mitt Romney and elements of it began life as a proposal by right-wing think tank the Heritage Foundation. Far from nationalizing health care it contains no public option to compete with the very-much alive private sector. It's a modest reform which moves the health care system in a progressive direction, largely by guaranteeing their access to insurance.

This is what people are losing their minds and threatening "civil war" over. This intensity of reaction has become standard to anything Obama tries to do.

Even more standard is the conservative dismissal of Europe: "It has dealt a mortal blow to traditional America. We are now a European-style socialist welfare state." The "Europe" being referred to here is not, as you might expect, a continent on the other side of the Atlantic ocean from America. The "Europe" Kuhner is referring to exists in the conservative imagination. The idea of it has been established over decades to become a code word for government excess and economic malaise.

But Europe isn't just an allegory! It's a real place! And as such it collects all sorts of statistics that chart its economic progress, not to mention such curiosities as educational achievement, environmental impact and overall happiness. And while Europe has lots of problems they're not doing too bad on many of those statistics. Indeed, even the much-derided French actually create more GDP per worker hour than the US. But they trade much of their potential GDP for several times more leave than US workers get.

You actually can learn a lot from looking at other countries, but to do so you have to treat them like real places and study what they're actually doing rather than just use them as straw man stereotypes and symbolic code words.