No need to look askance at Europe

Delivering his victory speech in New Hampshire this week, Mitt Romney used three words three times: “jobs,” “economy,” and “Europe.” One of those things is not like the other.

Keep in mind, the references to our friends on the other side of the Atlantic had nothing to do with the potential impact of the Eurozone debt crisis on the global economy. Rather, the Republican frontrunner kept bashing Europe as a model, condemning, among other things, “a European-style entitlement society.”

What Romney may or may not realize is that is that Europe is more conservative than Republicans like to admit. For that matter, as Nicholas Kristof explained today, the caricature of the continent is wrong.

If Europe was as anticapitalist as Americans assume, its companies would be collapsing. But there are 172 European corporations among the Fortune Global 500, compared with just 133 from the United States.

Europe gets some important things right. It has addressed energy issues and climate change far more seriously than America has. It now has more economic mobility than the United States, partly because of strong public education systems. America used to have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world; now France and Britain are both ahead of us.

Back in 1960, French life expectancy was just a few months longer than in the United States, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. By 2009, the French were living almost three years longer than we were.

So it is worth acknowledging Europe’s labor rigidities and its lethargy in resolving the current economic crisis. Its problems are real. But embracing a caricature of Europe as a failure reveals our own ignorance — and chauvinism.

But there’s a related angle to this to keep in mind. Much of the political world has probably forgotten about this, but four years ago, the Romney campaign had adopted a nearly-identical tack — strategy documents from within the campaign showed that Romney and his team intended to use Europe as the centerpiece of an anti-Democratic attack.

The European Union, [the Romney ’08 campaign document] says at one point, wants to “drag America down to Europe’s standards,” adding: “That’s where Hillary and Dems would take us. Hillary = France.” The plan even envisions “First, not France” bumper stickers.

I guess they dusted off the playbook from four years ago?

It seems hard to believe any voters would seriously be persuaded by such nonsense, but for anyone tempted, it’s worth noting how backwards it is.

Europe, in case Romney hasn’t noticed, has been Austerity Central. European countries have slashed public investments to reduce their debts, and the results haven’t been pretty, with austerity failing badly to produce the intended results. But therein lies the more salient domestic point: President Obama doesn’t want to follow the European model; Mitt Romney does.

For that matter, it was Romney, not the president, who said over the summer that the U.S. should be following Europe’s lead on energy efficiency. In December, Romney touted Switzerland’s health care model as a system Americans ought to consider.

And while we’re at it, Romney is also the only presidential candidate who actually moved to Europe, living in France for nearly three years doing missionary work.

Taken together, it’s hard not to wonder what in the world Mitt Romney is talking about.