Blocked at home on his progressive agenda, President Obama traveled Wednesday to a land where he said he’d blend right in politically — Sweden, one of the world’s most developed welfare states.
“If I were here in Europe, I’d probably be considered right in the middle, maybe center-left, maybe center-right, depending on the country,” Mr. Obama told reporters in Stockholm. “In the United States, sometimes … the names I’m called are quite different.”
Presidents always compliment the countries they visit, but Mr. Obama seemed to bend over backwards to praise Sweden in comparison with the U.S.
When a Swedish reporter told Mr. Obama that “at home, you are sometimes accused of wanting to turn the U.S. into Sweden,” the president laughed and spoke at length about the advantages of Swedish society. From Sweden’s climate-change policies to its high level of government spending on social programs, Mr. Obama was on board with the Swedes.
“The work you’ve done on energy, I think, is something that the United States can and will learn from,” Mr. Obama said. “If we’re going to continue to grow, improve our standard of living while maintaining a sustainable planet, then we’re going to have to change our patterns of energy use. And Sweden, I think, is far ahead of many other countries.”
The president praised Sweden, which is second only to France among developed nations in its percentage of public social spending as a share of GDP, for devoting so much of its tax revenue to public-works projects. Congress has largely resisted Mr. Obama’s calls for more spending on education and infrastructure projects, after approving the $821 billion stimulus program in 2009.
Sweden “has been able to have a robust market economy while recognizing that there are some investments in education or infrastructure or research that are important, and there’s no contradiction between making public investments and being a firm believer in free markets,” Mr. Obama said. “That’s a debate and a discussion that we often have in the United States.”
Finally, the president suggested that the Swedish government is more civilized and rational than his Republican opposition in Washington.
“I do get a sense that the politics in Sweden right now involve both the ruling party and the opposition engaged in a respectful and rational debate that’s based on facts and issues,” Mr. Obama said. “I think that kind of recognition that people can have political differences but we’re all trying to achieve the same goals, that’s something that Swedes should be proud of and should try to maintain.”