A little more than a week ago, a local ABC News anchor in Florida concluded an inane interview with Joe Biden by asking him about Barack Obama wanting to turn the U.S. into a socialist country like Sweden. Horrors! Can you imagine such a thing?
Have you ever been to Sweden or one of the other Scandinavian countries? I'm just back from a trip to Copenhagen (I could see Sweden from Copenhagen) where my friends scratch their heads over why we tolerate a government that seems indifferent to meeting the basic needs of all Americans.
A couple of years back, my Danish friend Jan, who has a wife and two kids, was complaining about having to pay a new fee of $125 a year for dental insurance. Wanting to be sympathetic and knowing Jan's love of good wine, I said, "I bet that's $500 you'd rather spend on a case of your favorite red." He looked at me puzzled because it turns out he was paying $125 for dental insurance for his whole family! (I pay my periodontist $200+ for each semi-annual visit just to keep my teeth in my head.)
In this land of the toothless and sick, you have to wonder if "Sweden" and "socialism" could be tossed around like dirty words if more people got out of the country to see for themselves how well people live in high-tax, high-service places like Scandinavia.
My friends in Denmark enjoy universal healthcare, living wages, excellent employment benefits, paid maternity and paternity leave, free education, great mass transportation and on and on.
The difference between the U.S. and Denmark is dramatic and evident from the minute you get off the plane in Copenhagen. Gorgeous, efficient airport. A fourteen-minute ride on a new subway directly into Copenhagen. Perfectly maintained streets. More than 200 miles of dedicated bicycle lanes (have a look at this great bike blog maintained by a guy who took me on a tour of Copenhagen's bike lane system). Beautiful public spaces. Incredible community recreation centers. Fantastic schools with small classes and a student-teacher ratio that no one would think to even lobby for in this country.
No question that the price is steep. The Danes pay very high taxes on everything (180% on the purchase price of a car, for example). And people live more modestly than a lot of us do, but the general quality of life is better there than here in the U.S. For starters, they don't have to worry about being bankrupted by illness or left on the street because they've lost their house in a foreclosure. I don't want to romanticize Denmark, but there is a belief by Danes that "we're all in this together," in contrast to the Republican party, which seems to believe "every man, woman, and child for himself."
I wish Joe Biden had slapped back at the interviewer and asked: "What's so bad about Sweden? What's so bad about universal healthcare? And why are you so f@#%ing selfish?"
Sometimes I think we live in the old Soviet Union, a place where the populace was so clueless and isolated that they thought they lived in the best place on earth. Well, they didn't and we don't. And it's time to look to other countries where people live better than we do to see how they're doing it. It certainly wouldn't hurt to check out Sweden.
Oh, did I tell you that you can get from Denmark to Sweden by bridge? You can drive or take a train. That's what socialism will get you!