Wednesday, April 7, 2004

From Today's Dallas Morning News

France and Germany are the big cheeses of what Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has described as "Old Europe." An undiplomatic phrase? Perhaps. But judging by the current state of affairs in both countries, the designation "old"--as in crabby, feeble and resistant to change--is apt. The governments of President Jacques Chirac and Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder are dealing with widespread public discontent, stemming in large part from persistently high unemployment and sluggish economic growth. Yet the public remains stubbornly defiant in the face of attempts to rein in generous social spending by the vast welfare state bureaucracies. The French and the Germans no longer can afford their welfare states, yet they can't bring themselves to abandon them. There's a French word for what grips both nations: malaise. It's a word commentators used to describe the speech that Jimmy Carter delivered to a national TV audience in July 1979--an address that recognized the crisis of confidence then paralyzing America. There's a straight line from the malaise speech to the election of Ronald Reagan 16 months later, which restored America's self-confidence and brought about painful but necessary reforms (as Britain had embraced earlier with the election of Margaret Thatcher). We will see if there are any Reagans or Thatchers in France and Germany. In the meantime, we Americans should learn the lessons of our allies' crises. In an era of globalization, reality will wash away economic and social structures that seemed permanent. If France and Germany don't find ways to embrace reform and arrest decline, they will write one more lesson into the history books: Old nations never die; they just fade away. Ambrose Bierce Friendship, n. A ship big enough to carry two in fair weather, but only one in foul. (Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary, c. 1911)

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