Message from Europe: "There is a mean and merciless streak in mainstream US attitudes"

Few Americans travel to Europe, Asia, Africa or South America (and those that do tend to eat at McDonalds and read U.S. newspapers rather than engage with the culture and mix with the locals). That’s a great shame because we could learn a great deal about ourselves by hearing what other people think of us.

Most non-Americans think America’s eagerness to sell guns — even automatic weapons — to virtually anyone is insane (and it is). They think our world-leading incarceration rate is insane (and it is). But if all you know is America, it’s hard to think critically about this “perfect” nation… “perfect” according to the mobs screaming “Blame America First!” whenever anyone suggests America’s gunboat diplomacy foreign policy is anything short of a Christ-like gift to humanity.

Ironically, the Fox Snooze watchers who so frequently proclaim America the greatest nation on Earth are the very Americans with the least exposure to and knowledge of… yes… those many other nations on Earth. They’re the ones so outraged by France’s refusal to invade Iraq — because it had no WMDs — that they renamed French fries “Freedom fries” (oblivious, of course, to the fact that French fries are actually Belgian).

Given their long experience with various forms of government-run and government-directed healthcare, other nations possess mountains of valuable information and advice on how best to reform our healthcare system — 37th in the world in outcomes but the runaway “winner” in terms of expense. But instead of mining those facts to craft the world’s greatest healthcare system, our highly compensated status quo defenders in government, business and the media have been bombarding Americans with groundless, scary lies about “rationing” (as if that’s not already happening), “government bureaucrats standing between you and your doctor” (as if that’s worse than insurance company bureaucrats — who profit by denying you coverage — standing between you and your doctor), “socialism” (what’s so scary about that?), etc.

Well, here’s what one Brit — Mary Dejevsky, who happens to have the exact global vision most Americans lack: “One of the country’s most respected commentators on Russia, the EU and the US, Mary Dejevsky has worked as a foreign correspondent all over the world, including Washington, Paris and Moscow” — sees when she looks at America:

When we Europeans – the British included – contemplate the battles President Obama must fight to reform the US health system, our first response tends to be disbelief. How can it be that so obvious a social good as universal health insurance, so humane a solution to common vulnerability, is not sewn deep into the fabric of the United States? How can one of the biggest, richest and most advanced countries in the world tolerate a situation where, at any one time, one in six of the population has to pay for their treatment item by item, or resort to hospital casualty wards?

…With most pensioners protected by the state system known as Medicare, an “I’m all right, Jack” attitude prevails. It coexists with the fear that extending the pool of the insured, to the poorer and more illness-prone, will raise premiums for the healthy and bring queuing, or rationing, of care – which is why stories about the NHS inspire such dread. The principle that no one should be penalised financially by illness is trumped by the self-interest of the majority, then rationalised by the argument that health is a matter of personal responsibility.

The point is that, when on “normal”, the needle of the US barometer is not only quite a way to the political right of where it would be in Europe, but showing a very different atmospheric level, too. For there is a mean and merciless streak in mainstream US attitudes, which tolerates much more in the way of inequality, deprivation and suffering than is acceptable here, while incorporating a large and often sanctimonious quotient of blame.

Posted by James on Wednesday, August 26, 2009