The dirtiest word on the campaign trail: Europe

By Bernd Debusmann
January 20, 2012

Here we go again.

It’s an American election year which means a season to bash France, Europe and China as well as drawing attention to un-American skills by presidential hopefuls. Such as speaking in foreign tongues.

Mastering foreign languages is considered an asset in most parts of the world but clearly not in the United States, a fact highlighted by attack ads in the race for the nomination of a Republican candidate to run against President Barack Obama next November.

One television clip mocked Mitt Romney, the present frontrunner, for speaking French. Another featured Jon Huntsman, who dropped out of the contest this week, and suggested that his fluency in Mandarin meant that he subscribed to Chinese rather than American values.

Attempts to exploit ignorance, prejudice and xenophobia are nothing new in American election campaigns, but even by their standards, the Huntsman ad stood out. Created by supporters of rival candidate Ron Paul, the 72-second ad is entitled The Manchurian Candidate, after a novel (and movie) about the son of a prominent political family who is brainwashed by Communists.

The attack on Romney harked back to the presidential elections of 2004, when Republicans portrayed Democratic contender John Kerry as an out-of-touch elitist who not only spoke French fluently but also looked French. In an oft-repeated description, coined by a Wall Street Journal commentator, Kerry was called “a haughty, French-looking Massachusetts Democrat.”

Romney is a former Massachusetts governor. So far, no-one has accused him of looking French but the ad notes that “just like John Kerry, he speaks French.”

Both in the 2004 campaign and now, Republicans stirred anti-French resentment, though for different reasons. Eight years ago, it was about the French government’s refusal to back the U.S. war on Iraq. Now, both France and Europe have become dirty words in the Republican dictionary because they are portrayed as a socialist threat to the global economy.

Europe-bashing is part of the stump speech of every candidate for the Republican nomination. Romney is the most consistent basher, perhaps to make up for the perceived stain of speaking French and having lived in France as an unsuccessful missionary for the Mormon church. He misses few opportunities for warning that President Obama wants to turn the United States into a “European-style welfare state.” That would, in his words, “poison the very spirit of America.”

Obama, according to Romney, “takes his inspiration from the capitals of Europe and has a European social Democratic vision.” Ron Paul takes the idea a step further: he wants to pull out U.S. troops stationed in Germany in order to stop “subsidizing” a “socialist” country. Republican stump speeches combine to a portrait of Europe as a collection of enterprise-stifling losers.

EUROPE SEEN THROUGH A DISTORTED LENS

This is seeing Europe through a severely distorted lens, notwithstanding the European Union’s current sovereign debt crisis and prolonged political problems to solve it.

Europe-bashers fail to mention that Europe is home to more of the world’s largest companies than the United States (179 to 140) and ranks higher on important quality-of-life indexes than the United States, from income inequality and access to health care to life expectancy, infant mortality and poverty levels.

(Last October, the Bertelsmann Foundation, a German think tank, published a study that examined such indicators in 31 of the 34 countries of the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). It ranked the United States 23rd in providing health care and 20th on access to education.)

Pointing out such data is not fashionable at a time when America’s persistent high unemployment makes it tempting to look for scapegoats, foreign and domestic. But there are exceptions.

Nicholas Kristof, the liberal New York Times columnist, wrote from Paris this week that “the basic notion of Europe as a failure is a dangerous misconception.” And in Washington, Elisabeth Jacobs, a scholar at the Brookings Institution, a respected think tank, even held out Germany as an example Americans might do well to study and follow.

The global recession, she wrote in a paper on Maintaining Employment in a Difficult Economy, had much less drastic effects on Germany workers than on American workers. A key reason: labor market policies that encourage business to pursue long-term objectives in contrast to the traditional U.S. focus on short-term gains. That may not be a model that best serves the U.S. economy and American workers in competitive global markets, according to Jacobs.

Can such arguments dent the rigid views of Republican standard bearers? Unlikely. The talking points seem fixed. Romney: “I don’t think Europe is working in Europe. I know it won’t work here.”

8 comments

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As I mentioned, as a comment in an other op-ed:

Embrace of ignorance is the republican montra. Worse yet, this embrace of American exceptional-ism has hampered progress.

Posted by Econstudent | Report as abusive

Having lived briefly in Europe, I found that Europeans are more like Americans than different. Although they differ in language they are surprisingly similar in politics, economics, morality, and even general attitude. Current efforts to resolve their version of the world-wide recession are very similar to ours, they have followed us in the “war on terrorism”, they wrestle with issues such as abortion, medical care, religion, etc., and self-motivated entrepreneurs abound.

Republicans are short-sided to cherry-pick minor differences to further their narrow political goals. They may even pay at the polls.

Posted by WYSIWYG | Report as abusive

How can our country ever graduate from even high school if we can’t pass elementary school thinking? As long as there remains a major political force in power demanding that ignorant is bliss, the demise of the US will continue unabated. Can you say “freedom fries”?

I learned something very interesting just last night about Mississippi, the state I currently reside in. In 1999, Mississippi passed a law removing the teaching of fractions and decimals from the secondary school curriculum. The reasons I found made no sense to me. Something about being too confusing for the kids, that it’s better for them to build a command of whole numbers, and something that had to do with the Bible, which was even more esoteric to me. What is going on?
http://www.snopes.com/lost/fraction.asp

Posted by doggydaddy | Report as abusive

“…Europe is home to more of the world’s largest companies than the United States (179 to 140) and ranks higher on important quality-of-life indexes than the United States, from income inequality and access to health care to life expectancy, infant mortality and poverty levels.”

You speak of the past as if it were the present. It is not. It seems that America’s global economic leadership during and since WW II has allowed the world to forget historical business cycles typically summarized as “good times” and “bad times”.

Current European social costs and benefits appear increasingly unsustainable as the Euro staggers back and forth in increasing danger of complete collapse as recent “good times” wind down. The financial options available to an individual (or a nation) in “good times” are obviously more lavish than the privations “bad times” may impose. Both Europe AND America have been living beyond our means even in “good times”.

So long as the dollar remains the international medium of exchange, America has the opportunity to get our spending priorities and revenue priorities in better balance; and we are very, very lucky for that. Our current level of economic spending is utterly unsustainable, and priorities for limited tax revenue are going to be unavoidable.

ALL nations today struggle to manage the transition from an industrial society to an information society where more and more computers and programmable production robots assume work once done by humans. The displacement and dissatisfaction of this transition will clearly be of the same magnitude as was that of the industrial revolution, which also adversely affected many, many people, but there’s a BIG difference.

The displacement and dissatisfaction of the industrial revolution took place during the nineteenth century with a world population of less than ONE BILLION of which less than half lived in developed countries. The SEVEN BILLION people present today (and increasing) will have an effect much like replacing the ox pulling a biblical cart on a dirt road of that time with a 100 hp engine. Impossible to productively employ, steer or stop, about the only certainty is of unknown and extreme danger. Hang onto your hat (if you have one).

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive

Wow, anyone saw yet another attack by the Ron Paul (RP) machine against Huntsman?

Just wait to see that people would say that the message was not sent by RP. Just like the racist RP newsletters or the RP attack on Huntsman daughters or the thuggish actions against Dana Bash by RP machine in front of RP; just hear the deluded cult members absolve all blame from RP. They would say it was just done in RP’s name.

The message was low and terrible! Despicable! Then again, that is what RP is.

Posted by PreetSG | Report as abusive

To doggydaddy
Looks like you were scammed by Snopes: http://www.snopes.com/lost/false.asp

Posted by anonmess | Report as abusive

anonmess: You are so right. Thanks. It’s just that it was so believable. I know because I live in Mississippi. But in this case I’d rather be wrong and a bit embarrassed than right and the children of Mississippi not be properly taught. Thanks again.

Posted by doggydaddy | Report as abusive

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