I have tried to visit various places in Europe each year since 9/11, and am currently leading a tour of battlefields here, ancient and modern, and things seem this season a tiny bit different. In a completely unscientific manner,after listening to various Europeans talk on politics, America, etc., a very funny thing impression seems to follow: while we are engaged in a campaign that may end up taking the country very much to the left in the sense of higher taxes, more government, and more foreign policy led by international consensus, the Europeans seem to be questioning the welfare state more than ever, and seem more pro-American than ever before.
Maybe it is the winding down of the Bush administration and hopes for Obama, or worries about terrorism, or fear over the estrangement after the fallout of 2003; in any case, the people seem more friendly –and more critical about high prices and sharply limited choices here on the continent. For all our whining, in terms of access to cheap plentiful consumer goods, housing judged by square feet of living space, more than one car, and gas and food prices, Americans are quite privileged.
The astronomical prices of gas, coffee, meat, etc. are not just attributable to the exchange rate, but when pegged with salaries here, make essentials more dear than in the states. In another completely unscientific observation, there are very few mothers with small children to be seen, very little new housing construction, and a lot of traffic jams, despite $9 a gallon gasoline.Europe still seems very much a society of the elderly and the thirty something single person.
A final note. After visits to Nato and the EU, I appreciate how Europeans are quite astute in privileging idealistic and enthusiastic Eastern Europeans as official spokespeople; when a Czech lectures about the democratic nature of Nato versus the old Warsaw Pact, and the positive role it plays in European/Western solidarity, or a Slovakian contrasts the EU treatment of the individual versus communist brutality, the effect is not American skepticism for statism, but appreciation of liberal institutions that serve more the common good. I don’t think the same impression would be conveyed by a Western European praising the benefits of the status quo.