Sweden, “Evil” Socialism and The Health Care Debate
SWEDEN, EVIL SOCIALISM AND THE HEALTH CARE DEBATE
As I cleared customs at Arlanda airport, pleased to be in Sweden for post-graduate studies at the University of Stockholm a few years ago, I glanced over to the news Kiosk where a screaming headline caught my eye. “Skandal I Tunalbannan”. Simply translated, it read “Scandal in the Subway” which I immediately interpreted to be a report on common graft, theft or bribery. Following my processing at the University, I bought the paper, curious about this crime that was front-page news. Amazingly, the story detailed how a subway extension in suburban Stockholm had been built, and, they had neglected to build a handicap ramp! This lead story was very publicly decried as intolerable; the disadvantaged had been shortchanged!
As Congress attempts to reconcile House and Senate versions of health care legislation, a bill that a majority of Americans apparently don’t approve of according to recent polls, it may be helpful to assess one central reason why, and how this bill became far less from what progressives had been promised, and hoped for. That subway ramp in Stockholm speaks volumes about progressive shortcomings in American politics today.
Lets face it, Republicans consistently demonstrate Borg-like efficiency in their ability to spin the facts and gin-up fearful prospects to the public. These "Star Trek" baddies who consume star systems throughout the galaxy are a great metaphor for our "friends" on the Right. Progressives consistently denounce, and then privately admire this “Resistance is futile, you will be assimilated” discipline of our adversaries, and then do little or nothing about it but complain about our “lack of passion.” This past summer for example, the news cycles were completely dominated by zealous town meeting attendees and every talking head on the right frantically raising the specter of “Losing our country”, to President Obama’s “Socialist” policies. Tea Baggers took up the baton from there in the fall, and here we are, holding our breath hoping a bill that we really don’t like very much makes it to the finish line. as many have noted, all of this is painfully reminiscent of Senator Kerry’s failure to respond to the “Swift-Boating” of August 2004, with less than inspiring, or effective rebuttals from Obama’s White House.
In light of the inflammatory rhetoric of the past year, it may be helpful and informative to take a quick look at Sweden, cited as many as the quintessential “Socialist Paradise”. Most Political Scientists agree that Sweden was indeed the “precursor” nation for most of the social welfare policies now the norm in Western European Democracies, such as universal health care, educational subsidies, care for the elderly and the disabled, parental leave, as well as extensive employment and pension benefits.
With a population under 10 million, dwelling in a beautiful, pristine nation the size of California with abundant natural resources and a largely homogeneous population, any direct comparisons with the polyglot monolith of United States is not the objective here. Its policies, lifestyle, and general welfare are however, quite relevant when the talking points of the right are unequivocal in asserting that “Socialist States” are a complete failure, with miserable citizens suffering under the yoke of oppressive governments intruding into their lives.
The national dialogue regarding health care reform has consistently overlooked or underplayed “quality of life” issues which to many, is the essence of this entire debate with millions of Americans uninsured, and countless others rendered bankrupt, and most shamefully, terminally ill from lack of medical care. In all developed nations, with the exception of the U.S., the support of the commons, the basic services affecting our daily lives, provided by the government, are basic, fundamental rights. Without debating the quality of their respective health care services which independent international agencies rate significantly superior to ours, Sweden, and many other Western European Democracies who have chosen this path, are certainly not the Dante’s Inferno the right would have you believe.
In fact, Sweden is not a “Socialist” country in the classical sense at all. Marx and Engels would have been very disappointed with Sweden where 90% of industry is privately owned. Sweden is a modern, “Social Democratic” nation as are most European countries where, the “Middle Way” between collectivism and individualism has been carefully crafted. Virtually unfettered, capitalist free market economies have meticulously endeavored to achieve harmony with welfare policies that at the end of the day, have created very “decent” societies.
While the burden of excessive taxation was the hot topic in Sweden during the 70’s and 80’s, tax rates have been lowered considerably. Their capital markets and banking system diligently avoided the precarious financial speculation that nearly derailed the world economy last year by demonstrating exemplary fiscal discipline. Sweden’s economy today is strong, stable and resilient, unlike their Nordic neighbor Iceland who rushed headlong into the American model of de-regulated banking and is now virtually bankrupt.
If per-capita income, quality health care, happiness index variables, life expectancy, economic stability, and environmental sustainability are measure of success, Sweden is certainly one of the most successful countries in the world. With Sweden and other Social Democracies so routinely vilified, the rhetoric emanating from the Republican Borg “drone” raising the specter of “failed Socialist principles” undermining our safety, security and way of life rings not only hollow, but disingenuous, and intellectually dishonest.
It is essential that Progressives become more effective in refining a strategic focus that leverages our greatest strengths. Our principled, values laden history of supporting Social Security, civil, gay and workers rights, environmental protection, and universal access to education are so rarely discussed, or even referred to in passing. Why? We must dramatically improve our communications tactics to reflect these values, which a significant majority of Americans strongly identify with. We need to be much more consistent, and aggressive in our ability to respond to and correct blatant lies from the Right. This past few weeks for example, every Republican talking head, from Senators and Congressmen to their “ditto-heads” in the media have decried the health care bill as a “Government takeover of Health Care” which is completely false false! If it only were so! The bogeyman of Socialism rears its ugly head again! Where is the indignation and rebuttal to these endless distortions we see and hear daily? Not only do we need to correct the Right on their facts, we need to respond, empowered by and mindful of the success of nations like Sweden where Social Democratic principles have resulted in very agreeable societies.
We need to shift the dialogue, become more bold and assertive in claiming the high moral ground, without hesitation in the true values debate. We must remind the American people that government can facilitate compassionate and useful policies, especially when the will to do so is affirmed by the public in endless polls and research studies. Good policy always reflects the will of the people. We must do a better job in communicating this very basic value proposition, or suffer the electoral consequences in 2010 and beyond.
Mark L. Mawrence
Is a consultant who resides in Santa Monica California where his "Dolphin Piggy Banks" have contributed over $250,000 to homeless charities.