When the Democrats took over the Senate many Republicans noted that in many ways it’s easier to be in the minority. When you’re out of power, you can obstruct. You can criticize. You don’t have to make hard decisions and you can be unified in your “dismay” at the poor decisions of others. Of course this isn’t just in the Senate. When Bill Clinton ran for president he denounced former president Bush for kowtowing to the “Butchers of Beijing.” But when he became president he not only sucked up to the Butchers of Beijing, he brought them coffee while he waited for their checks to clear.
And to be fair, George W. Bush’s team criticized the Clinton administration for all sorts of policies they’re not going to change now that they’re calling the shots.
In fact, this phenomenon isn’t limited to politics. Ignored employees, disgruntled children, college students, and all sorts of people close to decision-makers but without the ability to actually make important decisions often find it easy to second-guess and pound the table.
Sometimes these outsiders have something interesting to say, to be sure. But sometimes they’re just whiners and complainers. They think if only they were calling the shots … well, cats and dogs would get along, all puppies would have good homes and pizza would never burn the roof of your mouth. Indeed, they are so sure of what should be and can be done that they assume those who do otherwise must be corrupt, or stupid or evil for doing otherwise.
The beauty of the English language is that it has a word for such people. We call them “the Europeans.”
Okay, that’s a bit misleading. Most Europeans are honest, well-adjusted, and decent people. But when we’re speaking the language of international politics “the Europeans” doesn’t refer to these people. “The Europeans” refers to a vast continental horde of bureaucrats, journalists, literati, and activists whose mental fecal impaction is so profound that they cannot grasp — decades after the fact — that they are now the backseat drivers of history.
The timing of President Bush’s visit, coinciding with the long-overdue execution of Tim McVeigh, has sent the European elite into paroxysms of idiocy. The Council of Europe issued a statement calling the execution of McVeigh “sad, pathetic, and wrong.” Environmental activists in Sweden planned a mock trial of Bush as a “climate criminal.” In Spain, Bush was being compared to the Taliban. And throughout Europe, editorial pages brimmed with accusations that Bush is a dunce, a tool of the oil companies, and an evil genius (isn’t it fun when dunces are also evil geniuses?). Meanwhile, America is barbaric, imperialistic, and doesn’t validate parking.
If you listened to the network news, however, you might think this is all something new. I’ve seen half a dozen reports about how beloved Bill Clinton was among “the Europeans.” And to an extent that’s true. Bill Clinton, after all, was an American leader who embodied various European attributes. He dated like a Frenchman, ate like a Brit, and talked like a Belgian. He was good friends with Tony Blair and practiced his German with Helmut Kohl. As there has never been a president more enamored with meetings, he was well suited to the Brussels lifestyle of long conversations intended to obscure the fact that little will be done but a great show should be made of doing it.
That said, “the Europeans” still hated America. Throughout the Clinton years, French bookstores were saturated with anti-American treatises. Who Is Killing France? The American Strategy was one. American Totalitarianism was another. And of course there was the bestseller, No Thanks, Uncle Sam, written by a member of the French Parliament. He concluded, “It is appropriate to be downright anti-American.” A few years ago Jean-Pierre Chevenement, a former French Defense minister, declared that the United States is dedicated to “the organized cretinization of our people.” This was a shot at American popular culture — something “the Europeans” despise but which normal Europeans consume with astonishing zeal.
Now, France as we all know considers itself a rival of the United States in much the same way Ithaca College considers itself a rival of Cornell University. The rivalry expends a great amount of Ithaca’s energy and is completely unknown to Cornell students. Likewise, if one in a thousand Americans even has a clue that the heroic valets to the German army are upset with us I’d be shocked.
In any event, the current anti-Bush bout of St. Vitus’s dance sweeping across the European continent is only new in the sense that “the Europeans” now have in President Bush an actual person to associate with their America bashing. Friends of the Clinton administration would like to believe Bush is hurting America’s popularity in Europe when in fact America is hurting Bush’s popularity. Bill Clinton’s fondness for apologizing for America’s misdeeds (See “Apologia Clintonia“), for example, only confirmed anti-American resentments in Europe. Clinton didn’t make America more popular in Europe; he made himself more popular. Bush is only feeling the brunt of the resentments Clinton saw no need to ameliorate.
Anyway, none of this would bother me much except for the fact that so many Americans seem to think the Europeans know what they’re talking about. For some people, it seems, 2 + 2 can equal a jar of wet snails if you say so in a European accent.
It’s bad enough that we have to be lectured by our own domestic crybabies, but it’s downright intolerable when they cite the cries of a bunch of foreign bloviators as evidence for their position.
One of the main reasons American liberals adore Europe is that Europe still worships its intellectuals. In America, intellectuals are mostly for entertainment. But across the pond, these folks get to do real damage. Why, just this spring a small Italian village had its barbershop cited by the local magistrate because its shaving brushes did not conform to the standard set by the European Union. I am not making this up.
It’s ironic. Europe-loving American liberals are fond of invoking America’s “troubling historical legacies” from racism to sexism to colonialism to environmental degradation. But they seem to forget that we inherited all of these legacies in one form or another from our European friends. And where our legacies branch off from theirs we look better by comparison.
Take the environment. Europe can afford to pontificate on what other countries should do with their forests in part because they’ve chopped down all of theirs already. When President Bush announced he was ignoring the Kyoto treaty, “the Europeans” were outraged not out of their concern for the environment but out of their love for talking about the environment. Nobody has suggested that “the Europeans” had any actual intention of adhering to the Kyoto treaty, but damn it they enjoyed having meetings about it.
The fact remains that America’s twentieth-century legacy as a force for human progress puts Europe’s to shame. Let us not forget that America saved the world from two forms of totalitarianism. Our private sector has satisfied far more human want than any EU bureaucrat has ever even wanted to satisfy. And our contribution to world politics — elections, democracy, etc. — makes those of “the Europeans” look downright malevolent. Or maybe some of you haven’t heard that Europe’s most significant political achievements in the twentieth century were: World War One, World War Two, Vietnam, Communism, Fascism, colonial oppression and post-colonial upheaval, intellectual nihilism of every flavor, and appeasement of pretty much anyone willing to say nasty words about the United States.
It’s this last point that gets to the heart of the matter. Certain segments of the Left, at home and abroad, simply believe America is always wrong, so therefore anyone or anything in opposition to America must be right. This explains why Hollywood morons and French intellectuals alike find the taste of Fidel Castro’s posterior so palatable. This is also why “the Europeans” on the UN Human Rights Commission refuse to condemn Chinese human-rights abuses. They denounce the human-rights abuses of American multinational corporations while they permit their own companies to trade with nations like the Sudan and Burma — something we bar our corporations from doing. They are not only “shocked, shocked” that we don’t heed the diktats of various dictators as amplified by the United Nations, but they snicker when we complain about paying for the lion’s share of the UN’s budget.
Look: Europe is the historic birthplace of Western civilization and therefore the world shall always owe it a debt of gratitude and respect. But, Europe is not the future. It is a collection of once-great nations and cultures whose greatest accomplishments are behind them. This is a bitter pill to swallow, I’m sure. And we shouldn’t think that Europe’s perspective is totally irrelevant. But it does mean that we shouldn’t allow the histrionics of “the Europeans” in our rearview mirror to overly distract us from the right route.