The American right sure seems to like stories about foreign countries killing their citizens. Most recently, leading GOP candidate Rick Santorum claimed that 10 per cent of the Netherlands' deaths were from euthanasia, 5 percent forced, and that "elderly people in the Netherlands don't go to the hospital" or, if they do, wear bracelets saying "do not euthanize me," all of which is false.
The furor was only just beginning to die down when, Monday, a video of Santorum spokeswoman Alice Stewart began to circulate. Asked about Santorum's bizarre claims, Stewart, astonishingly, held her ground. "Rick is strong pro-life," she repeated.
Ignoring the shakiness of Santorum's statements seems like an odd strategy. Many Americans have already stepped forward to denounce the "bogus statistics," as the Washington Post calls them, and the Dutch seem to be somewhere between bewilderment and outrage. What's behind the Santorum campaign's bizarre insistence that the Dutch are icing their elderly at such an appalling rate? Well, it's part of a pattern.
This isn't the first time that Republican politicians have scared voters with stories of seemingly civilized Europe ushering its citizens off to their deaths. Back during the health care debate in 2009, Republican senator Chuck Grassley suggested the British National Health Service would have refused to treat Senator Ted Kennedy, instead letting his brain tumor run its course. British paper The Guardian noted, too, at the time, that the what it called the "right-leaning" Conservatives for Patients' Rights group claimed on its website that "anyone over 59 in Britain is ineligible for treatment for heart disease." The trend reached peak absurdity when Investor's Business Daily issued an editorial backing Republican opposition to Obamacare while including the sentence "People such as scientist Stephen Hawking wouldn't have a chance in the U.K., where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless." The problem with this, of course, was that Stephen Hawking is himself British, and responded by telling The Guardian that he "wouldn't be here today if it were not for the NHS."
Politicking by demonizing a foreign "other" is as old as time. What's fascinating about these claims--aside from the fact that they're nonsense--is that they target some of America's closest allies, not to mention its most stable and developed. And, with Republicans so concerned about Islamic terrorism, you'd think they'd actually admire Europe, where governments can seem an awful lot like the GOP on the issue. Has the right really forgotten the British protection of Salman Rushdie, or the Dutch soul-searching after the murder of Theo van Gogh?
Furthermore, the last European nation designated an "other" by the American right was France for its opposition to the Iraq war (remember "freedom fries"?). So while we're at it, let's recall that both the U.K. and the Netherlands actually came with us to Iraq.
My point here isn't that one should refrain from criticizing one's allies. As a practical matter, such an argument might have some merit, but it's most definitely not the argument being made here. Honesty has its own merits.
But the random demonization of Britain and the Netherlands isn't honest. It's not even criticism: criticism is usually directed at the people under discussion, and Republicans aren't addressing their remarks to the foreigners. They're addressing them to American voters. This is, simply, fear-mongering. Even in the early twentieth century, historian Tony Judt suggests in his book Postwar, Spanish grandmothers "were chastening wayward children with the threat of Napoleon." In the early twenty-first century, the American right is chastening wayward independents with the threat of Dutch doctors and British bureaucrats. Napoleon was in a sarcophagus when being used as a bogeyman, and thus wasn't in much of a position to object. Dutch doctors, however, are alive and unimpressed. As Americans should be, frankly. If politicians want to rely on bedtime scare-stories, it behooves them to get their bogeymen straight, instead of switching them around depending on whether they're talking foreign or domestic policy. Monsters aren't scary if it looks like the authority figures are making them up as they go along. At least the Spanish grandmothers were consistent.
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