Don’t get me wrong. I love Europe. Scandanavia was wonderful. Russia love-hate. But an old cliche is unavoidable here: a nice place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there.
More to the point, what we face in this election is such a stark choice: the hope of a restoration of America’s constitutional republic, or the affirmation of the European-style social democracy that’s been building in Washington for decades...first gradually and now forcefully, with the passage of Obamacare being the tipping point.
And as we contemplate whether to affirm the progressive agenda that has led us to the brink of financial collapse, it is hardly difficult to predict what will happen, because it is happening right before our very eyes. The bloated, statist economies of Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Ireland and others have all been falling like dominoes into various states of collapse. All are now largely reliant upon Germany, perhaps the only sound western European economy, to bail them out through the European political and monetary unions. But how long will Germany stand for this?
Travelling by train through a rather broad swath of what used to be East Germany was depressing. It is still rather grey and grim despite almost two decades of efforts to bring it into line with what used to be West Germany. And all you need to know about Soviet tyranny is the very existence of the Berlin wall, which was really two walls separated by several yards so that if you got over the first wall, you were stuck in a killing zone and at the mercy of the Stasi, the East German secret police. When you see the remnants of the wall, and the various tortured contraptions people built to try and escape this chilling police state, you understand up close and personal the blight on humanity that was the Soviet empire. It was a tyranny so complete that people were enslaved and imprisoned within their own borders.
On to Russia, and immediately notable was the reception - or lack thereof - that we received in St. Petersburg, formerly known as Leningrad during the 70 years or so of Soviet totalitarian rule. The border agents there were about the most unfriendly you can imagine. The warm smiles my family and I offered as we presented our passports were returned with icy cold stares that seemed to scream....you’re not welcome here. Not exactly a magnet for tourism. Once we satisfied those delightful border agents, the contrast between the opulent, grandiose structures of the czarist times - the Winter Palace is more stunning even than Versailles IMHO - and the grey, grim, morose buildings - remnants of the Soviet era - was about as stark as you could imagine. And even though the Soviet Union dissolved more than 20 years ago, many people there spoke of Vladimir Putin in halting terms, and believe him to be first and foremost a product of the KGB for which he worked for the bulk of his career. The soul of Putin, so famously gazed upon by George W. Bush, is perhaps best revealed by Putin’s lament over the dissolution of the Soviet Union, which he called “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.”
Remarkably, Sweden, once the poster child for the more benign form of socialism, seemingly the most committed of welfare states (and who knew it was a near-great empire centuries ago?), has now largely turned its back on socialism and instituted a far more free market economy, something that western Europe, even though devoid of other legitimate options, has mostly refused to do.
The irony on the continent is that in eastern Europe, states ranging from Estonia to Poland which were under the Soviet boot for decades, preceded Sweden down the free market path and are now the ones with the freest economies, far freer than western Europe...and the US. Faced with restoring economies devastated by decades of socialism, these nations understood that the true free market was the only way out and the only way up. The economies of these nations are now driven by low tax rates and businesses relatively unencumbered by oppressive bureaucracies. They have been liberated by economic freedom.
Yes, how ironic that, through all the years of Soviet tyranny, eastern Europe looked to us as a beacon in the night, the outpost of freedom, and now it is we who should turn our lonely eyes to them as exemplars of the freedom and liberty that now stand in the balance for America.