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This weekend, I was confronted by a startling revelation.
In Europe, America is the Nanny State.
I know here on this side of the pond we view our European cousins as the true socialists. We think Europe is further down the slippery slope of statism and we look to them as the (bad) example of where our nation is rapidly headed. But to Europeans, one of the outstanding and lampoonable characteristics of America is that we are the ultimate Nanny State.
I learned this from a dear friend who was visiting from Germany. My friend (we’ll call him Dietrich) is no America hater. Quite the contrary. He has deep affinity for America, having spent a year with our family as a foreign exchange student in the 70s and also having logged months of travel in the States. He admires much about our country and our people and thoroughly enjoys his time here. He even knows our history, perhaps better than most Americans, and keeps abreast of current events.
“You Have A Warning For Everything”
Yet in our discussions, I learned something about the European view of America that I really didn’t expect. “You have a warning label or sign for everything,” he noted. And he had examples from his travels. On this trip while in Hawaii, he told me about a warning sign and fence near a seaside cliff. “In Europe, we would not have such silly signs,” he said. “It’s common sense that I will tumble over and die if I fall off the cliff. Plus we do not want to spoil the view.” Dietrich then proceeded to inform me that America’s propensity for warning labels was one of the most common punch lines for European comics. They lampoon our need to be warned and forewarned for every possible contingency.
I shared with Dietrich that things are so bad that the agency responsible for national defense within our borders (Department of Homeland Security) actually issued a long list of safety guidelines for winter storms that included “walk carefully on snowy, icy, walkways, and try to stay indoors,” “stretch before going outside,” and “keep dry.” Dietrich chuckled. I also mentioned the classic “McDonalds Coffee Case” in which a litigant was awarded $640,000 after scalding herself with McDonalds coffee. Even though the cup had a warning label, the warning was deemed to be not large enough nor prominent enough. My wife chimed in on the “warning” that came with our new oven on using the device around “pet birds” (apparently the oven poses an insufficient threat to dogs, cats, snakes, gerbils, hamsters and other household pets to warrant specific mention). Just for laughs, I mentioned the toothbrush that humorously warns to “use fuzzy end.”
I told Dietrich we had an expression for this: the Nanny State. He had not heard of the phrase, but immediately knew what it meant and that it fit the European stereotype of the U.S. We then had a stimulating discussion about how the reality that America has become a Nanny State is greatly disturbing to many Americans, and how we have strayed from our roots of living under a Constitution with a basic premise of “self government” (a phrase he was unfamiliar with but really liked).
Tough Pill To Swallow
The whole conversation was difficult for me to swallow. That the land of liberty and of brave frontiers and of religious freedom and of bold entrepreneurship was now known the world-over for its propensity to warn for every possible contingency is a sobering reality check on where we are as a nation.
The good news is, we were able to spend time with Dietrich and counter the stereotype. We took him to nearby Colonial Williamsburg and reflected on the courage and tenacity of the founders of this nation, who, from nothing, built the cornerstones of this great nation. I showed him the Wythe House where Thomas Jefferson and other founders where literally home schooled and trained in the principles of liberty. We saw the House of Burgesses where Patrick Henry rose among his colleagues and delivered his stirring “give me liberty or give me death” speech which helped inspire Virginia. This is the real America.
Hopefully, Dietrich’s quick glimpse into the daily life of my family confirmed that the spirit of American enterprise we saw in Williamsburg is still alive in America today. I shared with him what happened to me after the election with the “letter to exiles” and how we are seeing a rising tide of Americans who are shaking off the slumber of our old “progressive/socialist” ways. I told Dietrich about the woman who told me that, despite severe personal and financial challenges, she had begun to build again after reading Thriving In Exile. Specifically, she picked up a brush and painted her bedroom. In the face of discouragement and despair, such an act is a bold stroke. Another friend just today told me that the same letter to exiles I wrote caused him to “pick up my pen” and re-engage the political debate he had left in frustration more than two years ago.
We Will Build!
I told Dietrich that I have a deep excitement within me to build, and we feel it every day here in the Grassfire offices. We are trying more new things now than at any time in our history. One small example: just last week and in a matter of hours our staff created an e-book of the President’s State of the Union address and the Rubio response — just because we thought it would be more useful to read the address as an e-book. Now, we have “turned the wheel” and can create e-books very rapidly. Another example: we have launched a new section on Liberty News called HealthWire and our Valentine’s Day report featured an extremely well-written piece on the health benefits of…. wait for it… chocolate. All this is happening in a month when we are delivering nearly 200,000 personal message to members of Congress on behalf of Grassfire team members, producing cutting-edge video resources like our Ronald Reagan Tribute, partnering with a group to stop human trafficking and preparing for the launch of what may be the single largest grassroots initiative in our history that provides real solutions to the fiscal and economic crisis gripping our nation (details to follow).
I trust that Dietrich boarded his plane back to Berlin yesterday with both a historical and a real-life answer to the “America is a Nanny State” stereotype. Yes, there is much work to be done here in political and cultural exile. Things are so bad that the world now laughs at us for becoming a Nanny State. But the seeds of renewal are being planted all across this land in our response to this season of exile and our determination to build and plant and bless and pray despite the storm we see swirling around us.
Thanks for all you are doing, and Let’s Build!