Thursday, December 2, 2010

Politics

I'm sitting here enjoying a morning cup of coffee and the weather report dutifully reports that here in Amsterdam it is -7C (19 degrees Fahrenheit) and snowing. The former is probably true, but the latter is what we might politely refer to as a "misstatement," though perhaps a bit more snow fell in the night.  Amsterdam generally has a mild climate, but winters can get cold. This morning, I'll be taking the tram rather than walking to work. Brrrrr!

Leïla
This is what a black, French atheist
 conservative looks like
I haven't wanted this blog to be a political one because it's just about trying to help people see the opportunities in moving to another country. However, part of that is knowing what you're in for. For example, while my wife is a black French atheist conservative, something guaranteed to make many Republican heads explode, "conservative" in France is not the same thing as it is in the US. At its furthest right, they might be on par with US Democrats, but even that's a bit of a stretch. For many capitalist democracies around the world, you'll find that their dominant right-wing party is aligned with US Democrats and with the US Republicans being much further to the right. In fact, I've been disturbed to realize that much US Republican rhetoric seems to be echoing the far-right nationalist parties here in Europe. Those parties will rarely gain power, but here they're usually seen as being thin façades for neo-fascism.  It pains me to hear that from the US.

Just to give you a a flavor of politics over in Europe, consider that the UK is the European country most closely aligned with the US in both culture and politics.  Here are some highlights of David Cameron's 2006 speech to his Conservative party. Keep in mind that he was leading that party then and he's prime minister of the UK now:
  • Full support for the National Health Care system (NHS)
  • Better childcare and flexible working hours for mothers
  • Tax cuts aren't the answer
  • Increase the minimum wage 
  • Fighting manmade climate change
  • Building a greener Britain
  • Foreign policy should not be an unquestioned acceptance of what America does
  • Support for gay marriage
Got that? That's the leader of their conservative party.  Mind you, plenty of his other policies such as deregulating business, tough on crime, support the Afghanistan war and other issues would be right at home with US Republicans, but conservative politics over here is often a variant of "government shouldn't be messing with business or people."

In another example of how things are different, both in actual culture and perception, Fox News' Bill O'Reilly and some guests referred to Amsterdam as a "disaster" and suggested we were awash in drugs, prostitutes and assorted criminals.  Nothing is further from the truth. This is my second time living here and it's safe, clean, and the people are friendly.


It's also worth noting that even a quick search of quality of life studies show that most European citizens are happier than their US counterparts.  Mind you, I'm not saying that the US is bad or that they've done something wrong, but at the end of the day, life over here is pleasant, the economies are strong, crime tends to be lower and people are happy.

On a side note: I've lived in Europe for years and in my entire time here, I think I've met only two expats who've identified themselves as Republican and both of them are upset with what the US Republican party is doing back home. The vast majority of other expats are a mish-mash of other political beliefs, but Republicans are pretty thin on the ground here.
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