Henry Farrell on the hysterical opposition to Obama.
He first quotes Roger Cohen:
Let Us Rally to Protect the Delicate Flower of Rugged Individualism!: Two recent versions of the same argument. First, the simplified 800 word version, from Roger Cohen.
To paraphrase Mauriac, I love France, but I don’t want there to be two of them, least of all if one is in the United States. … I think President Obama’s counter-revolution goes in the right direction. … Still, the $3.6 trillion Obama budget made me a little queasy. There is a touch of France in its “étatisme” — the state as all-embracing solution rather than problem — and there’s more than a touch of France in the bash-the-rich righteousness.... Americans, at least in their imaginations, have always lived at the new frontier; French frontiers have not shifted much in centuries. Churn is the American way. … If America loses sight of these truths, it will cease to be itself...
And then Clive Crook:
I was hoping that Brooks would press Shields to say what exactly it is about France he objects to, what makes him recoil at the parallel. Where has France gone too far, in the view of an American liberal?... Presumably, liberals approve of the universal health care, the generous and extensive welfare state, the comprehensive worker protections, the stricter regulation, the vastly more-generous subsidies for higher education, the stronger unions, the higher taxes, and especially the higher taxes on the rich.... Perhaps some liberals privately long to make the United States over in the image of France, but the great majority, I imagine, are more interested in taking the things they regard as best in the European economic model—all the things I just listed—and combining those “socially enlightened” policies with the traditional economic virtues of the United States.... Color me skeptical. Culture shapes institutions and vice versa.... This unusually severe economic crisis has called American capitalism into question, highlighting its weaknesses and making it easier to forget its strengths.... Change the system and, with time, you will change the culture. How much you will change it is debatable, and so is whether change of that kind would be good, bad, or indifferent for the country’s economic and political prospects. But it would be an error to assume that the policy transformation that some liberals long for—and which Obama, if his budget is any guide, appears to be aiming for—would leave America’s unusual cultural traits unaffected....
[T]he American exception is alive and well, and that it is more than likely the secret of this country’s awesome success.... It would be a shame to see America revert to the Western European norm.... [H]is plan to enlarge government is married to an uncompromising assault on economic inequality. And if all of this is not enough to remind you of Europe, Obama has also expressed strong support for the Employee Free Choice Act, arguing that bigger and stronger unions are a vital part of sharing prosperity more widely.... The policies that Obama is proposing have all been tried elsewhere. Ideas that look bold and new in this country are old hat across the Atlantic. And we know something about how well they work.
And Henry Farrell puts his finger on it:
There is something very, very strange in my eyes about this kind of argument. On the one hand. a notion of a healthy American culture of can-do entrepreneurialism, which has survived for centuries and caused America to prosper. On the other, the claim that the combination of broader-if-not-quite-universal healthcare, a slightly easier time for unions, and a return to the relatively mild form of progressive taxation we saw in the 1990s would very probably lead to the destruction of said robust culture. Something here Does Not Compute....
The Obama proposals are not particularly radical departures from existing practice in the US. They are certainly nothing like traditional European social democracy. Even David Brooks effectively acknowledges this, when he says that they are potentially problematic in combination rather than individually. They aren’t going to set the US on a different national trajectory, let alone make it ‘French’ or ‘European.’ Some of us might like to see this happen, but it isn’t going to, even given the ideological trauma that the US is undergoing. And arguing that American individualism is likely to wilt if exposed to nasty foreign influences smacks more of a kind of capitalist-road José Bové-ism than any serious kind of intellectual analysis.