The wrong model to emulate

One of the more common tropes in Republican rhetoric is to condemn Europe. Any proposal Democrats recommend to advance progressive causes is immediately dismissed as ridiculous, because such ideas sound “European.” It’s intended to be a conversation-ender — if Europe has something, and Democrats want something similar, it’s necessarily a bad idea. Mitt Romney seems to be building a stump speech around this shallow concept.

There is, however, a flip-side. If Democrats look to the progressivism of Western Europe as a model with merit, what’s the analogous model for Republicans? In a must-read column, Nicholas Kristof points to those who live up to the ideals of the contemporary American right.

It has among the lowest tax burdens of any major country: fewer than 2 percent of the people pay any taxes. Government is limited, so that burdensome regulations never kill jobs.

This society embraces traditional religious values and a conservative sensibility. Nobody minds school prayer, same-sex marriage isn’t imaginable, and criminals are never coddled.

The budget priority is a strong military, the nation’s most respected institution. When generals decide on a policy for, say, Afghanistan, politicians defer to them. Citizens are deeply patriotic, and nobody burns flags.

So what is this Republican Eden, this Utopia? Why, it’s Pakistan.

Republicans, of course, make no effort to outwardly embrace developing countries as their political ideals, but at its core, the conservative vision of the 21st century strongly points in this direction.

Developing countries like Pakistan are “typically characterized by minimal taxes, high levels of inequality, free-wheeling businesses and high military expenditures.” There’s a reason this may sound familiar.

Indeed, Kristof points to many of these struggling countries that invest heavily in military spending and showering tax breaks on the very wealthy, but neglect schools, infrastructure, and health care. The richest families in these countries live very well — sending their kids to exclusive private schools, traveling abroad for medical care, hiring private security, even buying separate generators to avoid relying on a crumbling public energy grid — and are well taken care of by the political elites in their countries.

It’s practically a fantasy world for congressional Republicans.

I’ve always made fun of these countries, but now I see echoes of that pattern of privatization of public services in America. Police budgets are being cut, but the wealthy take refuge in gated communities with private security guards. Their children are spared the impact of budget cuts at public schools and state universities because they attend private institutions.

Mass transit is underfinanced; after all, Mercedes-Benzes and private jets are much more practical, no? And maybe the most striking push for reversal of historical trends is the Republican plan to dismantle Medicare as a universal health care program for the elderly.

There’s even an echo of the electrical generator problem. More and more affluent homes in the suburbs are buying electrical generators to use when the power fails.

It’s up to voters to decide whether to continue on this trajectory. Here’s hoping Americans choose wisely.