Mitt Romney has been bashing the supposed "European-style socialism" that he claims--lying through his shiny white teeth--Obama wants to establish in this country. In so doing, Romney is cynically taking advantage of the ignorance of the many Americans who have never been to Europe. Romney spent a year in France as a Mormon missionary, so he knows perfectly well that he's wildly misrepresenting European life.
My ancestors came here from Scotland, England, northern Ireland, Austria, and Holland. They arrived in the 1600 and 1700s. Their descendants fought on the American side during the Revolution and on the Union side during the Civil War. Only a lunatic would question my pedigree as an American, so I hereby take the liberty of mounting a defense of Europe.
Although life in Europe was so difficult for my ancestors that they chose to leave, European civilization was a beneficial influence on the nascent United States. It provided the American Founders and Framers with the ideas, energy, and outrage to set up a republican government without a hereditary monarchy or aristocracy. Jefferson, Hamilton, Adams, Franklin, and Madison read the Greeks and Romans, Voltaire, Montesquieu, Adam Smith, and John Locke. Indeed, Jefferson got almost all his ideas from Locke, including (as I have demonstrated in an hnn.us essay) the phrase "the pursuit of happiness."
I have been visiting Europe since I was 15, spent my junior year abroad there, and, one winter, swapped my California apartment for one in Paris. I also went all over the USSR, visiting Moscow, Petersburg (then Leningrad), Kiev, Sochi, and Tbilisi. I even ventured into East Berlin, where I ate at restaurants and went to the theater.
Europe is not the USSR. Not even close. The Soviet Union and East Berlin were drab and utilitarian. Signs championed the virtues of work: one Russian billboard declared WORK IS THE GLORY OF THE PEOPLE. The signs on stores announced merely: MILK and BREAD.
Europe, by contrast, is colorful, lively, modern as well as ancient, and infinitely interesting. Some European countries have Socialist--even Communist--political parties, but they also have conservative parties that call themselves, for example, "the Christian Democratic Union" and "the British National Party" (the right and the far right). The streets of Paris are marred (in my opinion) by American fast food restaurants, and the outskirts of Paris have a DisneyLand. European cities have strong police forces and are safe to wander around in late at night. Urban transportation is quick, easy, and affordable. High-speed trains take you from one part of the continent to another without the hassles we all experience now at airports.
In short, Europe is capitalist. It has banks, car manufacturers, small shops, chain stores, and international corporations, just like we do.
Unlike us, some European countries protect their native industries--I'm thinking of Germany. Unlike US Republicans, the majority of Europeans support universal, affordable education and health care.
Two summers ago I stopped into the British National Health Service in Exeter when I thought I might have a contagious case of the flu. There were two options: an Emergency Room for people at risk of dying and an Urgent Care room for the rest of us. I waited only twenty minutes to see a nurse (although I had no appointment and was not even a UK taxpayer). While I was there, I looked at a poster on the wall that announced the various services of the NHS; they included home visits. Ten minutes after seeing the nurse, I saw a doctor, and off I went. It was efficient, prompt, and utterly civilized.
During the Cold War, Republicans stirred up fears of communism and the USSR. Their new strategy is to stir up fears of socialism and Europe. It's a pathetic, manipulative, and dishonest ploy.
Romney and his rivals want Americans to imagine a drab, oppressive, regulated Europe, full of idle wasters languishing at the public expense. If you have never visited our cousins across the Atlantic, I want to tell you that this depiction is—not to mince words— horseshit.