Post Date: 09/30/2010

Senator McConnell and Europe

Recently Mitch McConnell, R. Kentucky, and minority leader of the Senate, was discussing Republican obstructionism of essentially everything that President Obama and the Democrats have proposed. After making several statements about differences of philosophy and defending the Republican Party from the charge that it was the “party of no,” he ended the interview by saying that he might be able to compromise on some proposals but that one thing he would never support would be turning the USA into a European style democracy. Since no one has proposed that the United States should be changed into a democracy with a parliament and prime minister as we find in France, Germany, or Italy or a king or queen with a prime minister and parliament such as we find in England, Sweden, and Spain, I presume that he was referring to taking the United States further to the left and transforming it into a more socialist state.

There are other possibilities of course. He might object to having a large percentage of the population fluent in two or more languages. In the Scandinavian countries one can walk out on the street of many, if not most cities and have a conversation in English with most of the people on the street. This is much less true in France but the French are still irritated that England, a country founded by the French Duke of Normandy, William, in 1066 somehow managed to spread its language all around the world more than the French were able to do. The child outshined the father. Perhaps Senator McConnell doesn’t like Italian coffee, French, Italian, or German wine, German beer, French or Italian cooking, the Scandinavian use of wind power, the German use of solar power, or the French use of nuclear power instead of our reliance on coal and oil. Perhaps he’s never been to any of these countries. An astonishing number of members of congress have never been to Europe. Look it up.

No, I think that it’s socialism. Webster’s Dictionary defines socialism as, “a theory or system of social organization which advocates the vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production, capital, land, etc. in the community as a whole.” Actually there aren’t any western European countries that have such a system. Russia used to. Private property and capitalism are alive and well throughout Europe. What Senator McConnell probably objects to is a governmental system that provides a lot of social services such as education and health care for all its citizens paid for by taxation. Republicans are particularly opposed to taxation even when they get something for it such as roads, dams, the Armed Forces, the VA, the Fire and Police Departments, the National Institutes of Health, public schools, and so forth. In the last congressional session Senator McConnell’s party opposed, to the last man and woman, the recent health care bill whose purpose was to extend health care coverage in a very capitalistic way to all Americans. Everyone will have to buy some form of health insurance. Of course, the bill also forbids insurance companies from cancelling insurance policies when someone gets sick, from denying children coverage because of pre-existing conditions, and from placing lifetime caps on benefits. The Democrats didn’t even push the idea of having a public option for citizens who found private insurance premiums extortionate although there will be some assistance to those who really can’t afford coverage. Scandinavian countries have cradle to grave health insurance paid for by taxes. The Germans have private insurance but the insurance companies are regulated like public utilities to prevent gouging their clients. The results? The United States spends 17% of GDP on health care compared to a maximum of about 10% in all the European countries. Our neonatal death rates are higher and our average lifespan is shorter than any of these countries with “socialized” health care. Why would anyone who is interested in improving the health of the country automatically reject such “socialized” systems of delivering care? Profit. If you want to deliver the best possible health care to the greatest number of people, the European way works better than ours. If you want some people to make the most possible money from the health care system, do it our way. It is true that our most comfortable citizens have access to some of the best health care in the world, but everyone doesn’t, so our average result is not on the leader board. Republicans have vowed to repeal the health care bill if they take over Congress in the fall elections.

How about education? All you have to do is read the newspaper (those that are left) to find that lots of our students can’t read at grade level and are way behind the rest of the world in math skills. Many people think that the universe is less than 10,000 years old and that evolution is a myth. Just ask some Tea Party candidates for state and federal offices, the former Governor of Alaska, and the current senatorial candidate from Delaware. Lots of American citizens vote for such candidates. How can our country compete in the global economy with such poorly educated people in position to make decisions about national policy on health care, energy, education, banking regulations, and so forth? We tried leadership by poorly educated and incurious ideologues during the last administration and look what happened. Most European countries have state policies about educational standards and education up to and through doctoral degrees is free. The various European systems are not perfect and there are still stupid (God’s fault,) ignorant, and uneducated people (our fault) the world over, but the United States can do a lot better than it currently is doing. What Senator McConnell probably objects to, as do many Republicans and Tea Partiers, is having central governmental control over educational standards and curriculum. This might prevent local school boards from teaching Creationism in science classes. Most Republicans advocate eliminating the Department of Education.

How about national energy policy? European countries are moving ahead with wind, solar, and water power much more rapidly than we are. Some American solar power companies find a larger market for their products in Germany than in America. European countries understand the data showing that global warming is real and that human activity is a significant cause. American oil and coal producers, among others, spread disinformation denying this increasingly obvious fact. Our “addiction to oil” as President Bush put it, enslaves us to the Arab world and is partly, if not mostly responsible for our several trillion dollar misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan (not to mention the 3,000 lives we lost on 9-11 and the 5,000 lives we have lost since then by sending our young men and women over there so Jihadists could kill them locally.) This cost in dollars and lives must be added to the true cost of oil. Global warming must be added to the true cost of using coal and oil as much as we do. Free market economics will not solve these problems without catastrophe. Government action is needed, but that’s “socialism.”

Then there’s the banking crisis, an obvious result of lack of proper regulation. In Switzerland the boards of directors of Lehman Brothers and Goldman Sachs would be in jail. We clearly needed a government bailout of the banks to prevent a world-wide collapse, but the bankers who precipitated the disaster got bonuses, not jail time. Those who say that we should not have bailed out the banks don’t seem to have read about the Great Depression of the 1930s and the war that developed partly because of the depression. Republicans are divided on this issue. The bankers were for the bailout, the folks on main street have largely been suckered into opposing it even though it is they who have suffered the most from the bankers’ gambling with the common folks’ money.

The science of governing is not perfect. Capitalism and Socialism are two theories of social governance made up by human beings. Neither was handed to Moses by God on Mount Sinai. Isn’t the most reasonable approach to governance to read history, look at current problems and different world-wide approaches to them, and then to implement that which works best for the welfare of the most? “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” can and should be facilitated by thoughtful government programs and regulations.


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