Europe’s media and left-wing intelligentsia see Barack Obama as the most appealing candidate for the U.S. presidency. He exemplifies what the French leftist magazine Le Nouvel Observateur calls “the America we like.” Most Europeans deny that they’re anti-American; they argue instead that there are two Americas—the good and the bad. Michael Moore is a good American, honored with the Cannes film festival’s highest prize in 2006 for his anti-Bush fantasy documentary Fahrenheit 9/11. Other good Americans include Robert Redford, Mia Farrow, Noam Chomsky, Barbra Streisand, and Philip Roth. Charlton Heston and Billy Graham are bad—as bad as McDonald’s—and so, of course, are President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.
Let us understand why, from the European perspective, Obama is good. First, he belongs to a minority. Europeans love minorities—when they live in the U.S. We tend not to like our own minorities, whom we willingly discriminate against on the basis of skin color or religion. Black Americans, however, are popular in Western Europe, since they play good music and revolt against the white establishment. For European leftists, whites in the U.S. are inclined to be Christian, racist, and imperialist. Whites started the war in Iraq. A white U.S. soldier is an imperialist; a black soldier is a victim, fighting in the army only because he is poor.
Not only is Obama black; he is also a pacifist, or nearly so, certainly when compared with the other presidential candidates. A pacifist U.S. leader becomes more than likable; he becomes “one of us.” Opposed to the war in Iraq and uninterested in confronting Iran, Obama is almost an honorary European, more civilized than the white, imperialist, trigger-happy Republicans. Obama has also been linked with Black Muslim leader Louis Farrakhan and former national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, which suggests that he is not an unconditional ally of Israel. Israel is less popular than the Palestinians among the European intelligentsia, so Obama scores again.
Obama also favors universal health insurance, another Europe-like move in the right direction to free the bad Americans from their capitalist shackles. On capital punishment, a contentious issue between Europeans and Americans, Obama again strikes the right chord: he is a death-penalty abolitionist. His stance on this issue alone would make him a darling in Europe. But there’s more: Obama’s Christian faith seems murky. In Europe, we love secularism; at least Obama seems reserved about his faith.
The few European pundits who have closely examined Obama’s platform know that he advocates what sounds like protectionism. Economists and the business community in Europe have anxiety about a protectionist agenda, since Europe depends on free trade with the U.S. But European journalists and pundits tend to be anticapitalist and antiglobalist, so for them, Obama stands on the right side. The good American is expected neither to trade nor to fight terrorism. If more Americans were good, in fact, there would be no terrorists, as the Left in both Europe and the U.S. often contends.
Jean-David Levitte, former French ambassador to the U.S. and now foreign affairs advisor to President Nicolas Sarkozy, used to say that the only way for Europeans to influence American policy would be to have their own representative in the U.S. Senate. In fact, many Europeans believe that Europe should have a say in American elections, since the president is de facto leader of the Western world. And if they did have a vote, they would choose Barack Obama in a landslide.