The conventional wisdom about this year's presidential election is that it's mostly about domestic issues and barely about foreign policy. That's wrong. What kick[ed] off . . . in Iowa is America's referendum on whether it wants to become an honorary member of the European Union.
GOP-leaning voters generally get this: Warning against the "European social democrat" model is one of Mitt Romney's better talking points. The problem for Mr. Romney is that he represents something of another European specialty: the dispassionate technocrat, data-driven, post-ideological, lacking in soul. GOP-leaning voters get that, too.
Many on the left also understand American politics as a referendum on Europe, and it wasn't all that long ago that they were more-or-less prepared to say it. For example:
These views have now become a bit embarrassing, intellectually speaking. But it hasn't done much to change the basic terms of the debate President Obama will have with whoever emerges as his challenger.
- "Europe is an economic success, and that success shows that social democracy works." -- Paul Krugman, Jan. 10, 2010
- "The European Dream, with its emphasis on collective responsibility and global consciousness. . . . represents humanity's best aspirations for a better tomorrow." -- Jeremy Rifkin, "The European Dream," 2004
- "If we took Europe as a guide, we would do a lot better at capitalism." -- Thomas Geoghegan, "Were You Born on the Wrong Continent?" 2010
The contours of that debate are familiar enough. Should government be an engine of employment growth? Does government investment in favored industries or technologies make economic sense? May government compel individual economic choices in the name of a social good? Should the rich pay an ever-rising share of the total tax burden? Are higher taxes the best way to close a budget deficit? Is financial regulation generally effective? Are labor unions good for overall employment? Is inclusiveness the best test of fairness? Must environmental concerns (or phobias) take precedence over economic interests? Is consensus-seeking the ideal mode for international conduct?
To all these questions, Mr. Obama's record answers yes: the Solyndra and Fisker subsidies; the Keystone XL pipeline postponement/ cancellation; Dodd-Frank; the SEIU's Andy Stern as the top White House visitor; the growing government work force; the individual mandate; the nonstop rhetorical assaults on Wall Street; federal debt moving north of 100% of GDP; the "balanced approach" to deficit reduction; the perpetual deference to the United Nations.
That's the Obama presidency in a nutshell. It's also how Europe, mutatis mutandis, became what it is today.
Thursday, January 19, 2012
Brett Stephens calls the November election a "U.S. Referendum on Europe" in the January 3rd Wall Street Journal: