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Seeing Obama as Norwegians See Him
I just returned from a research trip to Norway where the people I interviewed often brought up the topic of our new President. The first was Kristin Clemet, the director of a conservative think tank. "This spring on a delegation to Washington I was struck again," she said, "by how different the political spectrum is in Norway from your country. Here, Obama would be on the right wing." I checked her view with others -- academics, politicians, activists all over the Norwegian spectrum -- and all but one agreed. In Norwegian terms, our President's positions are very conservative.
When Norway hit a major financial crisis in the early '90s (from a real estate bubble and speculating banks), the Norwegians decided against bail-outs. Three of the biggest banks were simply taken by the government, their senior management fired, their stockholders sent packing. The government nursed the seized banks back to health over time while the economy made a quick recovery. The other troubled banks were left to declare bankruptcy or find new capital. Norway's action sent a clear message to the banks: mismanagement and greed don't pay. The result is that today its own financial sector is clean and only needs to deal with the impact of other countries' disasters. Norway's strategy was very far from Obama's bank-friendly game plan.
When Norwegian oil was discovered, the country decided not to risk putting their new treasure in private ownership. Norwegians were therefore able to lead the world in environmental responsibility and to avoid boom/bust impact on their seacoast cities. Most important, Norway has been stashing the oil profits in a public, socially responsible "Pension Fund" that will support the Norwegians' famously high living standard for many generations to come.
Half a century ago Norway already had a universal health care system that is simplicity itself. There's a single payer (the government) and minimum red tape, something like Medicare but for everyone and better. The entire political spectrum supports this. By contrast, Obama says he backs the failed U.S. private insurance scheme and his team is wobbling on his own modest proposal to add a public option. So I would have to say to thoughtful Republicans: even if you don't like the Nordic blend of capitalism and socialism, with its virtual abolition of poverty, free university education, and enlightened environmentalism, you're only confusing the issue when you try to label the President with the "S"-word. You may think his policies are wrong, but in Norway even conservatives would say the Democrats and Obama don't go nearly far enough.