(This is the final part in my series on American conservatism; the other parts are listed here in the order that they should be read: Why Is America So Consevative, Barry Goldwater Blues, The Collapse and Fall of Democratic Liberalism, The Rise of the Neocons, the Moral Majority and the Gipper, The Conservatives Worst Nightmare, Furious Partisanship, The Accidental President, The Accidental President Part II, Don’t Mess With Texas, How Could It All Go Wrong For Conservative America?)
Why is the United States the odd man out amongst developed nations? Why is the United States so loathed by former allies? Why is the United States so very different from any other nation in the world? Why is it the only developed nation never to have a left-wing government?
Conservatism is embedded into the very DNA of America.
According to the most recent surveys, favourable feelings about America are at the lowest point in every country since data has first been collated (which incidentally, is the 1950s). All European nations want a more independent relationship with the US and the majority of European nations also believe that Bush’s foreign policy is utterly misguided. Crucially, 83% of Americans and 79% of Europeans believe they have very different social and cultural values.
It could be suggested that since the shared threat of the Soviet Bloc has collapsed, the end of the Cold War has encouraged a more robust mutual analysis between the former allies and frankly, neither is happy with what it sees across the pond. Much of this stems from impotence; America is the inescapable world power and this leaves many people around the world feeling like surrogate US citizens who have to suffer at the hands of decisions that America makes but has no right of appeal or voice in these decisions.
An example of this is the foreign policy of the United States, which infuriates the rest of the globe. Whether it be the flawed logic of pre-emptive defence, or the fact that no other nation supports Israel so fully and or George Bush having the temerity to call Ariel Sharon “a man of peace”. The US also behaves like a hypocritical bully, making laws that others have to be tried by but ignoring laws that it deems annoying. For example: Kyoto, the founding of a International Criminal Court, Biological Weapons Convention, Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty, Ottawa Land Mine Convention and of course, the ABM Treaty.
And then there’s the fervent patriotism that is so alien to a Europe, a continent torn apart by nationalistic confrontation, trying to subsume national identity into a coherent superstate. No one waves their flag more, or sings their national anthem with such vigour, or thinks that their culture is so much more superior to the rest of the world than the USA. It all ends up coming across as rather gauche, rather fundamental and far too crass for European tastes.
Nothing perhaps sums up the difference more than America’s frankly backward and barbaric treatment of prisoners. Mandatory minimum sentences not only criminalize large proportions of the population but also mean that criminals have no incentive to improve behaviour. Felons are banned from many jobs, denied housing benefit and 5 million of them aren’t allowed to vote. 600,000 people are released every year with 75% of them ending up back inside within three years.
Another area of divergence and one that never ceases to surprise me, is the American’s people’s loathing of not only taxation and the public services that it provides but of helping those in need through welfare. 34% of Americans support the idea of a welfare state (the average in Europe is 74%), while 29% think that the government has a responsibility to help the poor (the average across Europe is 60%), while on my own blog travels I have seen the mantra that welfare only breeds self-destructive behaviour and reduces the incentive to get back to work; when the constant stream of evidence coming out of Europe proves the exact opposite. America has no national health service, 44 million people without health insurance and 37.5 million people living in poverty. All this self-centred policy means that America’s life expectancy is the lowest of any developed nation in the world.
America is the greatest proponent of aggressive capitalism and nowhere in the world are people so enthusiastic and proud of making as much money as possible and living the American Dream. This leads to some disturbing examples of delusional thinking, with some 19% of the population thinking they are in the top 1% of earners and another 20% thinking they will eventually end up in the top 1%. So while the rest of the world uses legislation to keep greed under control and fight to balance fiscal gain with its socio-economic impact; America pursues a lassiz-faire course that although has great benefits to the economy means that the gap between the poor and the rich grows disturbingly bigger. The top 1% holds 38% of the wealth, it is no surprise that of developed countries, the US has the greatest inequality. In no other nation would Bush’s 2003 tax cut have gotten through, as it only benefited the top 6%, incidentally putting an extra $44,500 in Bush’s pocket and $327,000 into Cheney’s coffers.
America is the world’s oldest republic and oldest democracy, it will always be exceptional and it will always be to the right of the rest of the world. What needs to happen is for the rest of the world to recognise this and to treat America accordingly and for America to understand that its position on many issues is unique and that just because it stands alone doesn’t always make it right (or wrong for that matter). More importantly, the American model must not be forced onto other countries where is patently does not fit and in turn, respect must be given to the American brand of conservatism rather than wasting time dismissing it. By recognising our political differences we can form far stronger and more truthful bonds and thus, create a far better future for us all.