But when Romney, Gingrich and Santorum warn about “socialist Europe,” they sound as though they are talking about the Soviet empire, which vanished long ago. Europe is the European Union, a modern entity of 27 democratic countries that, despite many commonalities, greatly differ in history, culture, language, sociology and politics. Europe is difficult to comprehend, but viewing it through a single lens is like calling the United States a Third World nation because there are very poor areas in the South where some people live in shacks or have little access to health care or where some schools are corridors of shame.

My problem as a European living in the United States is that it is not Joe the Plumber who is bashing Europe but three longtime politicians who want to be president — people who should know better. Wasn’t Mitt Romney a missionary in France? Hasn’t he spoken fluent French since the late 1960s? I do not recall any important European politician who ran for prime minister or president and pilloried the United States in the same manner. Even when German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder came out against the imminent Iraq war before seeking reelection in 2002, the rhetoric was muted in comparison.

It is not necessary here to define socialism or to detail the many distinctions between a state-run economy and a social democracy based on a ­free-market system. But those who seek to be president of a global superpower — and may perhaps one day sit at a table with leaders of the Old World — should know a few things[.]