"It's not only Obama's youth, eloquence and energy
that have stolen hearts across the Atlantic. For Europeans,
there have always been two Americas: one of cynicism,
big business and bullying aggression, another of freedom,
fairness and nothing-is-impossible dynamism.
If President Bush has been seen as the embodiment of
that first America, Obama has raised expectations of a
chance for the nation to redeem itself in the role that - at
various times through history - Europe has loved,
respected and relied upon."
foreign policy for the USA from Obama,
away from military dominance and
towards more cooperation and negotiation."
- Interview with Thomas Bauer, Research Fellow
at the Center for Applied Policy Research,
Munich, by Academic World
These bipolar views of US policy and behavior make it easy to understand why our allies in Europe are nervous about being on the same team with us. We're the Jimmy Piersall of NATO - they need us to help them win, so they put us in and we work hard to win, but we sometimes get frightfully out of control.
We are collectively convinced by our own paternal conservatism - that which won the West, subjugated the Indians and institutionalized racism - that to take a tack other than "bullying aggression" is to show cowardice. Barack Obama's statements about having a meaningful dialogue with those who would otherwise do us harm flies in the face of that. It is therefor the contention of Europeans that the "military dominance" to which Herr Bauer refers is seared into the mindset of conservative Americans. To them, we are a country run by gunslingers whose credo might be, "If yer talkin' ya ain't shootin', and if ya ain't shootin', yer yella!" Helluva caricature we've created for ourselves.
It is to those cartoon Americans whom reporters like NBC's Andrea Mitchell refer when they say:
"[W]hat if he is so celebrated in Europe, that there is criticism back home? That it doesn't play well in parts of the country that are, you know, a little bit more jingoistic, and a little bit more isolationist, which includes, perhaps, parts of the Midwest and Appalachia, and other parts of key battleground states, where seeing him celebrated in Europe might seem to be an implicit criticism of America."
- Andrea Mitchell of NBC News, to MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski, July 17, 2008
This bit of thoughtful punditry is wrong on so many levels, most importantly because there is no way that it can be said that Obama is actively courting the jingoist vote. Jingoists don't vote. Politicians can never measure up to their chauvinistic ideal of "real"Americans.
To be sure, criticism will come from the Right, but from a different kind of flag waver. The conservative National Review says the mistake is Europe's, not Obama's. A mistake, it says, being made by people on both sides of the Atlantic:
"Disappointment on two continents is inherent in the current enthusiasm. Europeans regard Bush, his America, and his foreign policy as little short of diabolical. They see Obama as the Fifth Cavalry riding in to save them from such dangerous folly."
- The Editorial, National Review Online, July 22, 2008
Setting the sarcasm and cynicism of the NRO editorial board aside, the senator's visit to Europe is not meant to save the Europeans, but to save us, or at least to lay the groundwork. You see, Europeans are not celebrating Obama, the man. They are rejoicing for the same reason many of us are: the end of the George W. Bush presidency. That the possible replacement for this mis-president is a forward thinking, eloquent, intelligent, bright, concerned and charismatic man like Barack Obama just helps up the hope-factor. Why not rejoice in that?
"A potential president who is beloved by Europeans? It just feels -- wrong, somehow. If our staunch European allies aren't inflamed with anger, how do we know we're doing something right?"
- James Kotecki's Video Blog, July 21,2008 - Politico.com