The right in America are fond of blaming any opposition to the current junta's policies abroad on the assertion that "they hate us because of our way of life". I have started to wonder whether this is not a powerful message to Middle America because of the obvious connections with the "American Dream" and the Mom and Apple Pie view of the USA but because it is exactly the way those Middle Americans feel about Europe in the shape of the EU. Are we seen to be successfully addressing those aspects of life that cause them the greatest concerns day to day. In a country that desperately wants to be liked by the rest of the world, are we seen to be stealing the affection that is properly their's?
(This was originally written for European Tribune, hence the pronouns used.)
I do not pretend that thier atitude is arrived at through a knowledge of the facts on the ground. Quite the contrary, I recognise that the average American has to make an effort to get any information about life abroad. Those who have visited anywhere out of the main metropolises will know the poverty of news coverage on TV. In fact, the lack of coverage of European affairs is one of the very reasons that we are viewed as such an enigma.
So why is Europe considered such a utopia? One only has to look at Daily Kos and the prime concerns of mainstream America which can briefly be headed personal and financial security. Here Europeans as seen as the most differently provided for.
The most glaring concerns in the USA is of course the cost of health care. With our "socialised" medecine, we are seen as not having those concerns as it is free. While this ignores tbose systems that do indeed have patient contributions, I would suggest that in Europe there is not the absolute angst about affordability and the availability of insurance through employment of provision against catastophic illnesses that there is in the USA.
The next is perhaps the area of pensions where again Europe is seen as having adequate state systems rather than the private and company schemes. Again this is both a gross oversimplification and displays ignorance of the realities of company pension schemes going bust and the inadequacy of state pensions by themselves. Nevertheless, the Bush administration's dire warnings about their Social Security system going bankrupt and the very public failure of large company schemes induce a feeling that all is not well.
The associated area is of course job security. Here they have picked up some of the British view of the continental (read French) system. Firing is seen as extremely difficult with an associated assumption that Europeans enjoy the sort of jobs for life that used to go with your's being a company town. Here we may admit that Europe has had similar problems to say the "rustbelt" where single industry or even company towns have been economically devastated when the industry left. On the other hand, we do seem to have greater abiliities to revive those towns and of course the unemployment benefits offered in Europe are seen as (and often are) far more generous than provided in the USA. The"socialist" measures are portrayed by the American right as inhibiting job creation and preventing hiring with a resulting high unemployment rate. Ironically perhaps this false flattery gives a far more rosy picture of personal security for those who jobs they see as threatened by out-sourcing and NAFTA
We now get to perhaps the starkest difference, the perception of personal security. The American Way of Life, for so long endangered by the Communist Threat, is now under direct assault from radical Islam. Every city (Americans tend not to go in much for "villages" or "towns") is a likely target for a hijacker or atomic terrorist whether it houses the largest stock exchange or largest ball of string. Europeans just do not "ge it". When they get bombed, they do not rally round the flag, in Spain they even threw out the Government that was fighting the "wurr on terra". Neither does Europe have the regular terrorising of cities and whole regions by the likes of the two Phoenix serial killers vying to outdo each other, despite the Americans ability to have a personal arsenal sufficient for a coup in a small country.
Then there are those outside relations. Here the British for once perhaps provide the biggest puzzle for them. The hated Redcoats of the War of Independence were after all at the same time building the basis of their Empire. Surely after the experience of that repression, the subject nations would at the least feel resentment at their slave status? What is this Commonwealth thing then? (Some are vaguely aware of the Francophone, Spanish and Portugese overseas associations) Why, for goodness sake is Ireland in the EU with them when they were "suppressing my Celtic ancestors" and do so to this day? Most puzzling of all of course is how ancient and intense ememies like Britain and France can come together.
Here is the crux. Everything about the EU is contrary to how the right define the American dream. The independent individual working hard will in the end have a better life than his parents and his children will have an even better life than him. Only things which constrain free enterprize will stop every American achieving that goal. Europe's socialised medicine, job protection, high taxation and constraints on personal liberties like gun ownership are antithetical to the ideal. Yet they seem to be happier.
Now what I have described is obviously simplistic but those who fequent both ET and say Kos are aware of the differences in discussion that goes on between what we might call progressives on both sides of the pond. On the east side for example discussion about healthcare is not whether the nation state should be the main provider but how it is delivered and paid for. The death penalty is assumed to be a barbaric relic which only the nutters would want re-introduced and even disccussion of which is ignored because the European Charter outlaws it. European discussions have no need to address the anti-scientific fundamentalists on such issues as creationism and global warming. Neither do we have diaries about considering moving to Canada or further in dispair at our politics (although I suppose we do have the luxury of internal movement).
For most Americans, unless they have maintained ancestral ties, European states are far away countries of which they know little. Britain is known a bit through TV shows but is still stereotyped. Yet with the death of the "American Dream" there is a further movement behind the barricades of isolationism. For many of the later entrants the EU is the embodiment of what we might call the European dream. That old American idea of personal and family advancement through work is exactly I would suggest what motivates most of those who vote in favour of membership.
For such countries as Ireland, Portugal and Greece there has been a real move towards a better standard of living for many. The Polish plumber (and even the Russian construction workers in Poland who are providing skills newly in shortage there) are sending back money to their families at home, spreading some of that prosperity wider. If one 230 year experiment in "melting pot" government "for the People" has failed, a 60 year old experiment in government for Peoples in Unity through Diversity is starting to take its final shape.
Could it be that like those who risk life in small boats in the Atlantic to get to the Canaries or clamber over the barbed wire into the Spanish enclaves in North Africa, those Middle Americans see Europe as the place where their hopes for personal progress and happiness can be realised better than their homeland?