The outcome of the US presidential election will affect the lives of millions of people around the world. So it’s probably not surprising that many Europeans are resentful that only Americans will have a say in it.
What Europeans Are Saying About American Democracy
Soeren Kern | Strategic Studies Group | January 30, 2008
European media are saturated with election coverage that is heavily biased in favor of the Democrats. And, as in past elections, European elites are also demanding the right to help choose the next occupant of the White House. What follows is a brief survey of what some Europeans are saying about the American way of democracy.
An editorial in the Brussels-based, center-right De Standaard articulates a view shared by many Europeans: “American presidential elections are not ‘home affairs’. American decisions have repercussions all over the globe…. Hence, the world should be given the right to vote.”
This view is echoed by the London-based, conservative-leaning Daily Telegraph. A column titled ‘If Only We Could Vote for the Next US President’ argues that “Many Britons will feel it would be rather nice to have a vote, too. Well, maybe not a whole vote: I would settle for one worth 50 per cent of those cast by American citizens. After all, since we are a strategic colony of the US, it would be nice to have even a marginal say in how the empire chooses to dispose our goodwill and our blood and treasure.”
What European elites really seem to want is the right to “help” Americans choose the “correct” candidate. And if newspaper headlines are any indication, that person is, overwhelmingly, Illinois Senator Barack Obama. Indeed, across the continent, European elites are infatuated with Obama, who is now a cult figure.
In Germany, the center-right Berliner Morgenpost proclaims that Obama is ‘The New Kennedy’ while the centrist tabloid Bild says that ‘This Black American Has Become the New Kennedy!’ The left-wing Frankfurter Rundschau compares Obama not only to Kennedy, but also to Presidents Lincoln and Roosevelt.
The Hamburg-based, leftwing Der Spiegel asserts that: “Obama is the candidate of the idealists…. Obama also happens to be the candidate of choice for the foreign press…. Many in Europe would like nothing more than a ‘European’ America.”
In the Netherlands, the left-leaning De Volkskrant reports that the US primaries are giving the Dutch “goose bumps…. Obama has the authenticity that the Dutch electorate craves.”
In France, the center-left Libération says the new leader of the French Socialist Party should be someone with Obama’s profile: “The French Left seeks a charismatic leader, age 46, of mixed race, to deliver a message of hope and unity. At a time when American Democrats are discovering their new hero, it would be a good time for the Socialist Party and their friends to find a Barack Obama to end their internal quarrels.”
Meanwhile, in an online poll at the center-left Le Nouvel Observateur, Obama has an overwhelming 60 percent of the 2,680 votes cast, double Clinton’s 30 percent. The late President Kennedy is lagging behind, with only 4 percent of the votes.
In Britain, the centrist Times of London confirms that the Tories are suffering an identity crisis by reporting that “Tories and Labour both hope for a sprinkling of Barack Obama’s stardust. Ripples of excitement from the campaign of the presidential contender have crossed the Atlantic, and British politicians are agog.”
After months of glorifying Obama, European media have tried to portray his losses to New York Senator Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire and Nevada as part of an elaborate conspiracy to keep a black man from becoming the 44th president of the United States. After Clinton won the New Hampshire primary, for example, the Milan-based, center-right Il Giornale reported that Obama was the victim of vote-rigging.
In Germany, the Financial Times Deutschland opines that “there is something narcissistic at the heart of the idea that Clinton was breaking down at the thought that America might be recklessly throwing away the chance to be governed by her. Chronic egocentrism, narcissism, self-pity—these are exactly the qualities that to this day make Bill Clinton so hated by his enemies.”
The state-sponsored Deutsche Welle argues that although Clinton’s victory in New Hampshire is being put down to her display of ‘genuine’ emotion, it is actually a further example of “US politics descending into self-parody.”
France, meanwhile, dispatched its ambassador to keep an eye on campaign events in New Hampshire. “There’s a lot of interest in France in this election…. The administration in Paris wants regular reports,” says France’s ambassador to the United States.
In an essay titled ‘The End of the Obama Revolution’, Der Spiegel laments that: “All of those people who’ve been dreaming of America’s first black president now have to slowly wake up. It’ll happen one day, hopefully, but not in this election.”
The Times of London says that: “For all his talk of changing America’s face to the world and rebuilding old alliances, Mr Obama has been notably reluctant to engage, particularly with Europe. As British and European leaders ponder the meaning and consequences of Mr Obama’s sudden rise, perhaps they should be asking instead how much they really matter to him.” Good point.
Indeed, another Times of London story frets that: “Obama has made only one brief official visit to London—and none elsewhere in Western Europe….”
In an 800-word rant titled ‘American Primary System Fails to Impress Europeans’, Deutsche Welle implies that if Germans cannot help Americans vote Obama into office, then the US political system itself must be flawed. DW asserts that American democracy is “atavistic. It’s outdated. It doesn’t really reflect democracy in a modern sense.” The story goes on to say that America would be better off if it adopted a parliamentary system, just like the one in (surprise, surprise) Germany.
Some Europeans are beginning to wake up to the reality that a Democrat in the White House might not be in their best interests.
The Hamburg-based, conservative-leaning Die Welt offers the most forthright analysis of the implications for Europe of a Clinton victory. “For Germany, it greatly matters who finally wins the presidential race. The Clintons are not naive admirers of Germany and/or Europe. As heirs to an unpopular war in Iraq, the Clintons, after returning to the White House, would demand military coalition troop support from Europe. Indeed, as early as 2004, Gerhard Schroeder was warned that the worst possible outcome of his anti-Iraq war stance would have been a John Kerry victory. Because then the German chancellor would have had a friendly, but pushy partner in the White House who would have quickly put an end to Berlin’s anti-American politicking by asking for assistance in Baghdad.”
According to the London-based Economist, “Nor is European enthusiasm for either candidate likely to survive the election of Mrs Clinton, Mr Obama, or whoever else becomes president. The person who gets voters’ nod will rule as an American, promoting American interests around the world—and no doubt disappointing many watchers from abroad. For Europeans to imagine anything else would be naive indeed.”
In Spain, El Diario Exterior argues that an Obama victory could be especially counter-productive for the European Left, because it will show that America is not the racist state that European elites say it is: “The [European] Left, which likes to attribute to the United States an imperialist foreign policy and discrimination against blacks and Hispanics, is not as happy about the rise of Obama as one would expect. On sending the message that they are ready to elect an African American, a part of American society is exhibiting an attitude much less prejudiced than is commonly attributed to this country.” The article goes on to remind readers that Europe’s multicultural Socialist utopia has failed to beget its own Obama.
After seeing American democracy in high gear, European publics are fretting about the relative lack of democracy at home. As the Paris-based International Herald Tribune points out in a column titled ‘Don’t Look for Democracy in the EU Presidency’, “unlike America’s presidential primary elections, the start of Europe’s presidential selection process foretells very little to do with revivifying democracy.” It continues: “The choice of the European president is true to the EU’s historical character. Rather than a popular vote, the selection process will belong to the council of chiefs of state and government….”
Finally, London’s leftwing Guardian concedes that America is doing something right for a change. In a rare case of introspection and self-criticism, the paper admonishes Britons that “reflecting on the wide-open campaign of 2008, it’s obvious that British critics—and European critics generally—are guilty of smug superiority and ignorance in writing off the strengths of the American system.… Instead of dismissing American democracy in our snooty way, we need to ask what we can learn.” Now that’s a thought!
Soeren Kern is Senior Fellow for Transatlantic Relations at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group
Originally published in American Thinker
Also published in Brussels Journal