Republicans Bash Europe in Search of Votes

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A Convenient Scapegoat

Indeed, even Obama has become a fan of Europe-bashing. As long as the euro crisis remains unsolved, the president has taken to repeating, the global economy will continue to suffer. The Obama administration has also repeatedly demanded that European leaders -- first and foremost German Chancellor Angela Merkel -- take more decisive action. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has traveled to Europe several times in recent months to lend urgency to the message.

Why the focus on Europe? Obama's re-election depends on at least some improvement in a moribund U.S. economy and in a persistently high unemployment rate of 8 to 9 percent. Blaming the Europeans makes for a convenient scapegoat.

But for the Republicans, the focus on Europe has a different motivation. The war on Europe is not merely one guided by economic concerns. It is presented as a cultural confrontation. "American elites are guided by their desire to emulate the European elites," says Gingrich. "As a result, anti-religious values and principles are coming to dominate the academic, news media and judicial class in America." Secular Europe, in other words, has become a threat to Christian America.

Romney, too, sees it as a battle for the soul of America. The former Massachusetts governor, who has been dogged by accusations that he is a flip-flopper and not quite conservative enough to be the Republican presidential candidate, has begun emphasizing his love for patriotic songs during campaign appearances. Hardly a stump speech in New Hampshire goes by without him quoting a verse or two from "America the Beautiful."

A Vote for Freedom

From there, it is often but a small step to expressing his disdain for Europe. "The president said he wants to fundamentally transform America," Romney said during an appearance in Iowa at the end of December. "I kind of like America. I'm not looking for it to be fundamentally transformed into something else. I don't want it to become like Europe." He went on: "I want America to be more like America, if you will. I want the songs, that patriotism that we have."

Santorum prefers to take a slightly more historical approach, comparing the European welfare state to the absolute rule of monarchies. The founders of America, he says, left Europe because they no longer wanted to be ruled by monarchs. I don't believe, he says, that resources should be redistributed from the top to the bottom.

It is a statement that sounds absurd from a European point of view -- even more so given the current state of the U.S. economy. The American dream of being able to rise from being a dishwasher to a millionaire hasn't been reality for years, perhaps decades. And a recent study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that social mobility between generations is now much lower in the U.S. than it is in Canada and in several Western European countries.

Still, the key message the GOP field wants to convey is: A vote for the Republicans is a vote for freedom.

And not, as it happens, just any Republican. The field itself has taken to accusing each other of being too "European." Recently, RC Hammond, the spokesman for Newt Gingrich's campaign, commented on Mitt Romney's alleged support for a value added tax. "The fact that he's willing to look at European Socialism shows just how far out of the conservative mainstream he is," Hammond said.

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