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U.S. Health Care Debate Feeds Anti-Americanism in Europe (Part II)

In Britain, the left-wing Independent is baffled that Americans are getting “so steamed up over so abstruse a subject [health care].” In a conspiracy-laden article titled “The right-wing crackpots taking over the mainstream,” the paper claims the real reason why many Americans are opposed to universal health care is because Obama is black. “For the first time, the detested federal government is run by a black man. A struggling economy fuels discontent, with illegal immigrants accused of stealing American jobs. The military, long a breeding ground of the far right, is sending home veterans in vast numbers. Finally there is the internet, which simultaneously propagates and intensifies the feelings of true believers — and the conspiracy theories they devour.”

The Independent continues: “The U.S. has always had a taste for conspiracy theories, but rarely as now. The place is awash with them. … Now it’s a huge leap from public health care meetings and intricate discussion of a government-run option to challenge private insurers, to militiamen in remote training camps honing skills needed to survive the ‘New World Order.’ … But common threads link them: a suspicion and fear of anything that smacks of bigger government, and a sense that the American way no longer has all the answers.”

In keeping with the racism theme, another Independent article titled “Republicans, religion and the triumph of unreason” says: “Here’s what’s actually happening. The U.S. is the only major industrialized country that does not provide regular health care to all its citizens. Instead, they are required to provide for themselves — and 50 million people can’t afford the insurance. As a result, 18,000 U.S. citizens die every year needlessly, because they can’t access the care they require. That’s equivalent to six 9/11s, every year, year on year.”

The Independent continues: “Yet the Republicans have accused the Democrats who are trying to stop all this death by extending health care of being ‘killers.’ … How do they train themselves to be so impervious to reality? It begins, I suspect, with religion. They are taught from a young age that it is good to have ‘faith’ — which is, by definition, a belief without any evidence to back it up. … Indeed, they are taught that faith is the highest aspiration and most noble cause. Is it any surprise this then percolates into their political views? Faith-based thinking spreads and contaminates the rational. … This kind of mania can’t be co-opted: it can only be overruled.”

In Germany, the center-right Die Welt, in a commentary titled “Marxism à la Groucho,” mocks Americans for resisting universal health care. “Even admirers of the United States often wonder why the most globalized country in the world is so insular and irrational on some issues. We [Europeans] scratch our heads when we hear about America’s gun control laws. We were surprised by President Bush’s anti-science views, reflected in his attitude toward climate change and the evolutionary theory of Darwin. Resistance to health care causes consternation in a similar manner. We know that America’s health care system — despite the great wealth of the country and its pioneering medical research — is pathetic. … But still, President Obama’s attempts to push health care reform are facing hysterical resistance. It would introduce Soviet Communism. Communism? Or simply better, cheaper, more reliable health care for all? The rational voice of reason has a difficult time in the U.S. Perhaps it is no coincidence that Groucho Marx was an American.”

In another article titled “Dirty Fight against Obama’s Reform,” Die Welt writes: “Death threats, grave markers for democrats, insults, with swastikas and SS runes: The debate over the health care reform promoted by Barack Obama takes on hysterical traits. The Republicans have opted for a dirty fight.” The paper wonders if demonstrators have “been bought,” presumably by the neocons. Elsewhere Die Welt says: “America’s racism is even older than its skepticism of big government.”

The left-wing Der Spiegel likes to play with statistics. In an article titled “Will Health Care Be Obama’s Legacy or Waterloo?,” Der Spiegel writes: “The [American] health care market is like a game of football without a referee. And the American superpower ranks a shameful 37th in international studies of health care systems. According to one such study, about 100,000 people a year die in American hospitals as a result of infections, while another 98,000 die because of incorrect treatment. America, as a Third World Country.”

Again, in an article titled “The Reform of the Century,” Der Spiegel claims that “every day more than 14,000 people are left without health insurance. … For the American superpower, that likes to recommend itself as a model for the world, it is a damning indictment.”

Elsewhere, Der Spiegel has managed to find a way to blame George W. Bush for the resistance to Obama’s health care reforms. In an article titled “Summer of Rage,” Spiegel writes: “Many Republicans see Democratic President Barack Obama as a usurper. They cannot remove him from office, but they can steal his momentum. They cannot overthrow him but they can shrink him. Therefore they are trying to sabotage his reform agenda, not even eight months since Obama moved into the White House. He will not be allowed to be the president he wishes to be. After the defeat of their candidate John McCain, the Republicans do not have a leadership figure. But their aggressiveness is great, and their ability to stoke fear and terror in the hearts of millions of people is intact. George W. Bush was a master in this art.”

Meanwhile, a photo album published by the left-wing Stern magazine (also published by newspapers and magazines across the continent) titled “Sick in the USA: These people are waiting for a doctor” gives readers the impression that a makeshift medical center in Inglewood, California, is the health care norm in America.

In Italy, the center-left La Repubblica, in a commentary titled “Obama’s Just War on Health,” claims: “[Americans] abandon the elderly; and they neglect children (many of whom are dying for untreated dental abscesses); people are dying on the streets. All this seems unnatural for us Europeans, accustomed to taking health care for granted. Yet this is American health care today, a far cry from television dramas that make U.S. doctors the heroes of our time.”

In an editorial, the center-right Il Tempo says the American health care system is “shameful.” Meanwhile, the Milan-based La Stampa reports that the “neocons” are behind the opposition to Obama’s health care reform. Elsewhere, in a piece titled “I Saw the Sick without Money,” the paper interviews a doctor who explains that in America, health care “is viewed as a commodity that is bought and, if you cannot afford it, you are denied. It is a mentality that explains why the upper classes refuse to pay more taxes to guarantee health care to even the most poor. So is our [the Italian] system better? It is not only better. It is a completely different thing.”

In Spain, the center-left El País, in an article titled “Obama Wants to End Restrictions on Abortion,” says the campaign against Obama’s health care reforms is based on “insults and falsehoods” and “racial hatred.” The paper mocks those who oppose Obama’s plan as falling prey to “myths” and “lies.”

The leftwing Público, in an article titled “Obama is Target of the Ultra-Right,” worries about “the rise of right-wing attacks” on Obama and warns that “the right-wing media attacks against Obama can generate a climate of racism in the U.S.”

On the campaign trail, Barack Obama promised that he would “reboot America’s image” around the world. Indeed, many Americans who voted for Obama believed that his global popularity would somehow reverse the tide of anti-Americanism that so vexed his predecessor. Echoing this sentiment of Obama as savior of America’s image abroad, presidential advisor David Axelrod recently asserted that “anti-Americanism isn’t cool anymore.” But despite that assurance, anti-Americanism seems to be alive and well, at least in Europe anyway.

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