THE WRONG BOOGEYMAN…. For the better part of a year, Republicans have shouted “Europe!” as a shorthand criticism of Democratic policy proposals. The GOP’s assumption is that European economic policies represent some kind of dystopian nightmare that Americans necessarily find repulsive. When Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the top Republican on the House Budget Committee, said last year that President Obama’s budget is “worse” than “Europe’s” — as if the continent has just one budget — it was meant as the ultimate conservative insult.

It continued throughout 2009. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said public-private competition in the health care system is inherently dangerous because “it will lead us in the direction of the European style.” In October, Townhall’s Ben Shapiro said he hates the America of the Obama era because “it’s the European view of America.”

Paul Krugman notes today that the continent Republicans find so repulsive isn’t quite as bad as they think. On the contrary, Europe “is an economic success, and that success shows that social democracy works.”

The point isn’t that Europe is utopia…. But taking the longer view, the European economy works; it grows; it’s as dynamic, all in all, as our own.

So why do we get such a different picture from many pundits? Because according to the prevailing economic dogma in this country — and I’m talking here about many Democrats as well as essentially all Republicans — European-style social democracy should be an utter disaster. And people tend to see what they want to see. […]

Taxes in major European nations range from 36 to 44 percent of G.D.P., compared with 28 in the United States. Universal health care is, well, universal. Social expenditure is vastly higher than it is here.

So if there were anything to the economic assumptions that dominate U.S. public discussion — above all, the belief that even modestly higher taxes on the rich and benefits for the less well off would drastically undermine incentives to work, invest and innovate — Europe would be the stagnant, decaying economy of legend. But it isn’t.

Our ideas can save democracy... But we need your help! Donate Now!

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.