Re­mind me: What’s so great about Europe?

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - By Sol W. San­ders

Maybe it’s be­cause you can fly faster from Amer­ica to Europe than west­ward to the U.S.? But for what­ever rea­son, a stan­dard po­lit­i­cally cor­rect mantra these days is how if we would just im­i­tate the Euro­peans, ev­ery­thing would be bet­ter. Which of the ac­cepted five cat­e­gories of pro­pa­ganda this ar­gu­ment falls into – prob­a­bly “band­wagon” – isn’t clear. But what’s also ped­dled is a corol­lary: the U.S. can­not be in the right if other ad­vanced coun­tries are do­ing some­thing dif­fer­ent.

The id­iocy these analo­gies ex­press runs apace. Re­cently the usual sus­pects took up a good part of a Newshour on the BBC [re­layed, of course, by NPR] ar­gu­ing just this. It was a ra­tio­nale for re­build­ing Amer­i­can in­fra­struc­ture. There may be ar­gu­ments for Vul­gar Key­ne­sian­ism, the be­lief the U.S. can spend our way out of re­ces­sion and there cer­tainly is strong jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for in­fra­struc­ture re­build­ing.

But these par­tic­i­pants – the usual con­de­scend­ing Brit in­ter­locu­tor and an Amer­i­can Coun­cil on For­eign Re­la­tions stal­wart – were mak­ing a de­fense of Pres­i­dent Obama’s cam­paign slo­gans for un­in­hib­ited in­fra­struc­ture ex­pan­sion with credit and debt.

There also may be jus­ti­fi­ca­tions for this Obama strat­egy. I don’t buy them. But they cer­tainly are not found in im­per­fect analo­gies to other coun­tries. Why? Many give new mean­ing to the ap­ples and or­anges cliché, sim­ply be­cause of the enor­mity of the dis­pro­por­tions of the logic:

Pop­u­la­tion: Only the megapop­u­la­tions of China and In­dia ex­ceed the U.S. as it heads into 350 mil­lion [in­clud­ing some 15 mil­lion un­counted il­le­gals] with most other coun­tries a frac­tion of that fig­ure. And quot­ing that fa­ther of di­alec­ti­cal ma­te­ri­al­ism, Ger­man philoso­pher Ge­org Wil­helm Friedrich Hegel; the quan­ti­ta­tive in­crease in some en­tity, usu­ally pop­u­la­tion, reach­ing a cer­tain thresh­old, gives rise to a qual­i­ta­tive change in the struc­ture of a so­ci­ety. Fur­ther­more, the dif­fer­ences will grow for un­like Europe and most of Asia where the birth rates and pop­u­la­tion in­crease is slow­ing or ac­tu­ally drop­ping, the U.S. is expected to in­crease by 40 per­cent over the next four decades.

Ge­og­ra­phy: Only three coun­tries are larger in land area than the U.S. None have the Amer­i­can ad­van­tages. Four of the world’s most pro­duc­tive agri­cul­tural cli­mates, ma­jor river sys­tems flow­ing south [in­stead of freez­ing in the Arc­tic] pro­vide drink­ing wa­ter, crop ir­ri­ga­tion and in­dus­trial pro­duc­tion, hy­dropower, and shal­low wa­ters sup­port­ing marine life. The U.S. has a wide ar­ray of oil, nat­u­ral gas, iron ore, coal, lead, zinc, phos­phate, sil­ver, and cop­per, ben­e­fit­ing in­dus­try.

In­fra­struc­ture: The U.S. has al­most 50,000 miles of In­ter­state high­way against, for ex­am­ple, 7,982 miles of Ger­many’s vaunted Au­to­bahns. There are more than 600,000 bridges in Amer­ica which dwarfs any other in­di­vid­ual coun­try, per­haps all of Europe. In a typ­i­cal screed last year on the de­fects of Amer­i­can in­fra­struc­ture – com­pared to Europe, of course – The Econ­o­mist ne­glects the value Amer­ica sets on its fed­eral sys­tem for ex­per­i­men­ta­tion in a con­ti­nent en­vi­ron­ment. [What a dif­fer­ence a year makes, given the col­lapse of the Euro. Is there hope our British cousins would re­visit this whole ar­gu­ment?] The essence of U.S. unique­ness does not lie in ei­ther these mis­con­strued analo­gies nor in a sim­ple recita­tion of mag­nif­i­cent Amer­i­can re­sources but in the in­tel­lec­tual ori­gins of The Repub­lic.

Pres­i­dent Barack Hus­sein Obama, dur­ing his 2009 apol­ogy tour of Europe, when asked about “Amer­i­can ex­cep­tion­al­ism” quipped it equaled other coun­tries’ own con­cept of their spe­cial char­ac­ter. He couldn’t have been more wrong. For vir­tu­ally ev­ery coun­try in the Old World is based – if, un­hap­pily, of­ten falsely – on eth­nic­ity, lan­guage or re­li­gion.

Amer­i­can iden­tity has been ide­o­log­i­cal from its be­gin­ning. Re­li­gion, eth­nic­ity and even lan­guage [Ben­jamin Franklin was wor­ried about how much Ger­man was be­ing spo­ken in the streets of Philadel­phia dur­ing the Con­sti­tu­tional Con­ven­tion and toyed with mak­ing English an of­fi­cial lan­guage] have al­ways been di­verse. What has held The Repub­lic to­gether for two cen­turies has been the con­cept of in­di­vid­ual free­dom, free en­ter­prise and equal­ity be­fore the law – even when stan­dards have not met the mark. In a sense, it doesn’t even mat­ter if the con­cept is true. For like so many things in life, the per­cep­tion of this Amer­i­can ex­cep­tion­al­ism may be even more im­por­tant than its re­al­ity. It has fu­eled the na­tional ethos and prob­a­bly will continue to do so as long as The Repub­lic sur­vives. Sol W. San­ders, (sol­sanders@, writes the ‘Fol­low the Money’ col­umn for The Wash­ing­ton Times.

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