Wednesday, February 02, 2005

The most depressing thing I've

That great title is owned by a Newsweek article entitled Dream On America.

The basic gist of the article is that America is in decline. We have lost our moral compass, and the world no longer looks to us as a beacon of freedom. Our economy is not doing as well as the EU, our health care system ranks 37th best in the world (according to WHO), "behind Colombia (22nd) and Saudi Arabia (26th), and on a par with Cuba." The gulf between the rich and the poor in the US has widened faster than in EU countries. "In Sweden, you are three times more likely to rise out of the economic class into which you were born than you are in the U.S."

When the soviets withdrew from Central Europe, U.S. constitutional experts rushed in. They got a polite hearing, and were sent home. Jiri Pehe, adviser to former president Vaclav Havel, recalls the Czechs' firm decision to adopt a European-style parliamentary system with strict limits on campaigning. "For Europeans, money talks too much in American democracy. It's very prone to certain kinds of corruption, or at least influence from powerful lobbies," he says. "Europeans would not want to follow that route." They also sought to limit the dominance of television, unlike in American campaigns where, Pehe says, "TV debates and photogenic looks govern election victories."

The same thing happened in South Africa, Kosovo, other African countries, and South America. They all prefer a European-style constitution over a American-style one.

Much in American law and society troubles the world these days. Nearly all countries reject the United States' right to bear arms as a quirky and dangerous anachronism. They abhor the death penalty and demand broader privacy protections. Above all, once most foreign systems reach a reasonable level of affluence, they follow the Europeans in treating the provision of adequate social welfare is a basic right. All this, says Bruce Ackerman at Yale University Law School, contributes to the growing sense that American law, once the world standard, has become "provincial." The United States' refusal to apply the Geneva Conventions to certain terrorist suspects, to ratify global human-rights treaties such as the innocuous Convention on the Rights of the Child or to endorse the International Criminal Court (coupled with the abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo) only reinforces the conviction that America's Constitution and legal system are out of step with the rest of the world.

The rest of the world is hating us more and more, and not just President Bush. "A plurality of voters (the average is 70 percent) in each of the 21 countries surveyed by the BBC oppose sending any troops to Iraq, including those in most of the countries that have done so. Only one third, disproportionately in the poorest and most dictatorial countries, would like to see American values spread in their country."

One of the main reasons I supported Wesley Clark and opposed George Bush this last election was that Clark understood the worldview, and Bush couldn't care less. Now I am not saying the UN or the EU or whatever gets to have "veto power" over US policy, but I am saying there are lots of good things that come out of listening to ones Allies seriously beyond good will: increased trading, more foreigners studying in our colleges and universities (they are now going to Europe more instead), increased military support for missions around the world, increased influence on the world stage, moral authority to push American Ideals and our version of Democracy. I am afraid that if we continue down this road of Bush-ism, in my lifetime we will see the US surpassed by China or the EU.

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