About 25 years ago, I was traveling around Europe with nothing but an overstuffed backpack, which probably reeked of ripe brie from all the cheese I’d stashed into it. I was by myself, ending up befriending a Turkish woman, and we traveled together for a few weeks. She was a journalist and told me she’d gotten divorced, which meant that if she went to certain villages in her own country, she could be stoned to death.
As an American, who hadn’t spent much time outside his own country, I was taken aback. I had very limited experience with the world outside our borders and never realized how lucky we Americans are.
During our journey, at one point I told her that I’d taken the US Foreign Service exam, thinking that I might like to work abroad, but I complained that the test was really hard, “For a seven hour test, we were only given a 45 minute break!”
She just looked at me, and said, “Do you have any idea how lucky you are just to be able to take that test in the first place?” I’ll never forget those words of hers. We Americans have so many rights and privileges that we take for granted, but shouldn’t.
A friend of mine who’s African-American once told me she didn’t vote because the system has never worked for black people. I think she’s right: at times, our system hasn’t worked for a lot of people:—perhaps very notably people who are African American, but also Muslims, rich white men, grade-school teachers, 9/11 rescue workers, Catholics, business women, lesbians, expats overseas, hockey moms, and a host of others.
And yesterday I was watching Meet the Press and Senator Fred Thompson said that America shouldn’t become a “liberal welfare state” with a “European-style policy.”
I disagree with both.
As someone who’s lived in both America and Europe, each system has their pluses and minuses and although France has certain “socialist” leanings, I don’t know anyone, here or there, who could possibly think that people in France (or most other European countries) are living in a “welfare” state. Presently, we’re seeing some of the negative effects of the American system, in terms of the financial meltdown and a pricey government bailbout, yet too many people don’t have access to even basic health care, so I’m not sure that that argument is entirely convincing right now.
(Speaking of government intervention and bailouts, it’s been noted that Europe’s reaction to the financial meltdown has been better than the American one.)
I’m not going to say which continent has a better quality of life, but to use Europe as an example of what not to do is just foolish. Having lived here for six years, sure, Europe has it’s problems. But it’s delusional to think that life here is so much worse than it is in America.
Unless you’re trying to return something; then I’d have to give it to America, which wins hands-down in that department.
We all hope to create a better world. I’d like to think most people would like to improve the quality of life for themselves, as well as others. Straddling two countries, I pay taxes in America (and France), which are part of my civic duty. I don’t have kids, but I believe that by having a quality education, our young people will grown up to be better citizens. No one likes to pay taxes, but we’re happy when we call 911, the police arrive. We’re happy if there’s a fire, the firemen arrive quickly. We’re happy we have public libraries and schools, manned by people who are often unappreciated, but who work hard because they love and believe in what they’re doing.
It’s so very, very important to vote. I’m always surprised at how few Americans vote in elections, which is one of the most precious rights that we have, if not the most precious.
So take advantage of it on election day 2008—Votez!