It is fashionable for the left to criticise America and use it as an example to ward off changes to British policy, especially when it comes to healthcare. Our criticisms and stereotypes of Americans are not helpful and actually hinder British policy-making, writes Chris Smith.
Is Britain inextricably becoming more like America? Do we want to become more like America? These are accusations and challenges we have been hearing increasingly (from various sections of political society) since the coalition took power last May and embarked on its path of public service reform.
Speaking as someone sceptical of American-style capitalism, interventionist foreign policy and consumer culture I have found myself susceptible to the cry that Britain’s right-wing wants us to be more like America, and unless we make efforts to the contrary we will become the USA.
Such thinking is an oversimplification of what American life truly is and also a disservice to the nation and its citizens because it implies America’s is a societal model to fear. As the most acute commentators of the left, such as Nick Cohen, have observed the most prevalent attitude towards America involve accusations that life in America is worse than in an Arab Emirate or a war-torn African republic.
More rational and fully-rounded thinking is required on this issue – there is more to becoming “Americanised” than only being able to shop in Wal-Mart or not being able to afford healthcare.
The biggest issue of all of course healthcare. Any British government who announces plans to reform the NHS is instantly met by cries that it seeks to privatise the service and replace it with an American style system that will result in those unable to pay for treatment getting kicked from hospital bed to gutter in the time it takes to decline a debit card. Like most large political issues this is hysteria that has moved away from rational debate. The American system does fail substantial numbers of citizens, and I will defend the NHS as a national treasure that we should be more proud of – but this is to miss the point.
The majority of us have only superficial knowledge of how healthcare in America works and like most other issues we confuse how the United States is a union of individual States (like the EU) with different politico-economic make up. The state of Massachusetts for example provides universal healthcare and did so before President Obama made the issue a federal mandate that was signed into law by Republican governor Mitt Romney. Only in America, huh?
What is the most prominent thing we all know about America? That there is a gun on every street corner? That it is being fired in the air by a bible-thumping, gay hating, evangelical soccer mum driving an SUV that guzzles gas like Starbucks coffee and will turn that gun on you if you mention socialism, global warming or a woman’s right to an abortion? Take your pick. These things are all true, aren’t they? And they are a glimpse of things to come here if we do not take measures against it.
Those measures include stopping Rupert Murdoch at every turn or else he will turn Sky News into Fox News UK. Or opposing all government proposals to reform healthcare because it will make us a less caring society (and more like America) if we even accept the idea government spending needs rethinking.
I do think social services should be protected but all we get from the Labour party and popular left (as I call the British political mainstream opposing the coalition) is scaremongering in the place of actual alternative policy. The public deserve more than this, they deserve a higher level of debate about where their country is headed rather than blind assertions that the coalition is going to Americanise us.
Ultimately all who genuinely fear that the UK will sleepwalk into an American dystopian state need only examine our cultural history to be reassured that such an idea is mere propaganda. As Britons we don not have it in us to be like Americans or create the type of nation they have. America is the only nation in the world founded on an idea, the idea that freedom is sacred in all forms: political; economic; social; religious; press; thought speech and expression.
In Britain we are a nation increasingly uncomfortable and unfamiliar with our history and national evolution. I suggest this insecurity makes us fear becoming another America (even when that nation is the most successful in the world). Fear does strange things to all of our minds, but what makes it worse is our politicians, who should quell our fears, are stoking them for political advantage. New Labour politicians defunct of energy or ideas know all they need do to marshal opposition to coalition healthcare policy is to claim “this will make us more like America”.
We need to be more mature about our scorn of America especially for political advantage. Does anybody seriously think a world in which China or Russia is dominant would be better? Thought not.
We need to ignore the hyperbole about, and lazy criticisms of, America when debating the proposed changes to Britain’s healthcare system.