Illustration by Laura Hempel
"a five years plan of semi spontaneous urination"

The Brits are not known for being particularly soft on their own public policy. The last twenty years have brought with them an overhaul of the social security system, and public confrontation and scrutiny on behalf of private interests are commonplace. The National Health Service (NHS) is one of the institutions that is consistently under political pressure and subject to public dissatisfaction.

Over the summer, a wind from the far west coast has blown in over this island, bringing with it the debate over the US health reform. The debate over the US health reform proposed by President Obama has sparked a fire in conservative parts of the US, and fear of government involvement has free-market average Joes kicking and screaming for their rights to private health care. Cable news networks are mobilizing against 'Obamacare' and showers of abuse face Democrats fronting the reform in local town hall hearings.

In particular on the US cable networks, the debate has been dominated by a series of accusations against the European health systems. It has sadly become commonplace to ridicule the 'European' attempt to provide universal health care. Politician and Member of the European Parliament for the UK Conservatives, Daniel Hannan, has appeared on several occasions on Fox News debate shows as an expert commentator. On behalf of Europe, Hannan is gladly fuelling the anti-European sentiments in the US debate, and is presented as someone who has 'lived and survived socialism'. On one occasion, Hannan compared the UK to Zimbabwe, indicating that the UK is on a fast track to a total collapse of infrastructure and chaos. Not stopping there, the MEP has also stated that we would not "wish the NHS on anyone".

Hannan’s participation has infected an American debate already severely blemished by half-truths and historical inaccuracy. A hysterical anti-Obama movement, as per usual rooted in the Republican party, continues to put forward absurd statements about the European version of universal healthcare. In its attempt to steer away from a socialist state, the discourse shows an ignorance of both history and reality in Europe. Investors' "Business Daily" ludicrously asserted that the disabled physicist Stephen Hawking would never have survived if he had grown up under the ‘socialist medicine’ which the NHS provides. (Interestingly, Hawking was born and raised in England and has since entered the health care debate saying that the only reason he is still alive is precisely the NHS.)

Video: FoxNews, ConservativeNewMedia / youtube.com
The Flop European with Glenn Beck on FoxNews promoting claims too
simple to be true, yet catchy enough to fuel attacks on state
involvement in economic issues especially on the US health care reform.

The dissemination of half-truths and one-sided tales about the NHS presents 'Obamacare' as a next-stop route to socialism. The US President has to accept being compared to both Hitler and Stalin, and furthermore, Europeans with an interest in US politics have to get accustomed to a confusing use of terminology in the current and maybe future discourses. An equals sign is placed between right-wing fascism and left-wing communism. The UK socialist nightmare, as seen from the USA, is not only close to a Zimbabwean collapse, but also just around the corner from turning into a fascist-Stalinist, and why not, a Nazi state system. All at the same time, and all in a good 'European' blend.

For most readers it is perhaps not necessary to specify that Hannan's views lie far outside the UK or European conservative mainstream. Hannan's involvement in the US debate has however sparked a fire in the UK that is inspiring. Gordon Brown has announced that health care will be a central focus in the upcoming election campaign, while his opponent David Cameron has actively had to defend the NHS. The campaign group "we love the NHS" has received thousands of testimonials of positive experiences with the NHS, in addition to a 140,000 strong online signature campaign at avaaz.org.

"Hannan compares the UK to Zimbabwe, indicating that the UK is on a fast track to a total collapse of infrastructure and chaos."

It seems that this collective British response to the accusations put forward in American town halls, is to tell the Americans to leave off the unfounded criticism of their system. – "We have the right to complain, but it’s a completely different thing when you complain on our behalf!"

This grass roots move away from the spread of direct falsehoods is an important sign for the UK and anyone who supports a 'European' model. Americans have every right to have a thorough health debate. Furthermore, there are certainly several approaches to decent health care service, and it is by no means clear that the European model will stand out as the best in history. Hannan is right to engage with one of the most important debates for future Americans. His role and his obvious personal claim to fame could however prove to be extremely harmful.

That this elected European representative is deliberately accelerating a debate so far away from constructive reasoning is a devastating development at the level of international political debate. Hannan claims that his agenda is really to provide a better health system for Americans and also for the people whom he is elected to represent. If this is true, he ought to choose a different strategy than fuelling hysteria and fabrications in a debate which will no doubt have major influence both in the USA and in Europe for many years to come.

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