The end of the American Exception?

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My column in the current National Journal discusses some of the lessons that Europe has for the Obama administration [the link expires in two weeks].

During PBS's NewsHour With Jim Lehrer last Friday, the program's resident pundits, David Brooks and Mark Shields, had an interesting exchange about President Obama's first budget. They agreed that the administration aimed to be "transformative" -- and Brooks conceded, "I think we all want that." The real question, he said, is how transformative.

Brooks: "The debate will be over the nature of it. If it's a transformative relationship that basically keeps the American model with repair, you'll get a lot of people in the center for it. If it's a transformative relationship that turns us into France, with a consumption tax and a much bigger federal government, you will not."

Shields: "That's a straw man, turning it into France. That's not the case."

Is it really a straw man? I was hoping that Brooks would press Shields to say what exactly it is about France he objects to, what makes him recoil at the parallel. Where has France gone too far, in the view of an American liberal?

Presumably, liberals approve of the universal health care, the generous and extensive welfare state, the comprehensive worker protections, the stricter regulation, the vastly more-generous subsidies for higher education, the stronger unions, the higher taxes, and especially the higher taxes on the rich. At least I assume they do, since they advocate all of those policies for the United States. Have I left something out?

As far as social and economic policies are concerned, Democrats really ought to be holding up France (or maybe Italy or Germany) as the model to which they aspire. The fact that they do not -- that they even deny the validity of the comparison -- seems revealing. No doubt it is partly a matter of tactical calculation. The idea that the United States should model itself on any other country, rather than offer itself as the model for the world, would be new to most American voters and would take some getting used to. But I do not think it is just that.

You can read the rest of the column here.

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