Before you reach for your TV remote to check what’s going on, I don’t mean that Obama has somehow leapfrogged the electoral process to claim victory prematurely. Moreover, even if he does win the closest US election in history, it won’t be by a landslide.
Yet though the Americans haven’t voted yet, the Europeans have – and Obama’s victory is staggering. Asked whom they would rather see as US president, over 70 percent of all Europeans went for Obama – and in France he polled an unlikely 90 percent.
The French of course have a predilection for socialist politicians, as they showed in their own latest election. But Hollande only won by a couple of percentage points; he didn’t carry 90 percent of the electorate.
This enthusiastic support for an utterly useless president is worth decorticating. Why such affection for a foreign politician who broke all his good campaign promises and kept all the bad ones, who is presiding over an economy with the highest unemployment rate since ‘Brother, can you spare a dime’ was a big hit, whose administration increased the already catastrophic $10 trillion debt to a suicidal $16 trillion?
For one thing, socialism is beautiful, and all beauty is best appreciated from afar. We don’t screw our noses into the glass case protecting Mona Lisa; we step back to admire the masterpiece. Thus almost half of the same Frenchmen who voted against their own socialists enthusiastically support someone else’s. In the same vein, all those Gitane-smokers in the Left Bank used to love Stalinism in Russia but would have hated it in France.
Then of course there’s the cynical belief that a decline of US economic power, which will inevitably ensue if Obama is re-elected, will put France’s own rickety economy in a stronger competitive position. As it is, she’s slipping behind such overachievers as Spain and Italy, and her own recession is deepening with every subversive measure introduced by François’s government.
The Europeans’ hatred of Romney, or rather everything he represents, shouldn’t be underestimated either. The French in particular talk about ‘ze Anglo-Saxon model’ the way they never talked about ‘ze Nazi model’ during the occupation. What is it a model of? Personal responsibility over communal security; small rather than omnipotent state; an economy free of government meddling; high rewards for hard work, no rewards for indolence; flexible labour markets; low taxation and so forth.
Romney preaches all those disagreeable things, which activates in French minds their historical resentment of ‘ze Anglo-Saxons’, who have had the temerity of beating them on every battlefield, including the economic one. In this respect, the French choose to ignore the obvious lack of homogeneity between les yanquis and les rosbifs. Both are Anglo-Saxons which, when enunciated by a Frenchman, is seldom a term of endearment.
Few stop to realise that Romney’s rhetoric is just that, rhetoric. He says all the right things, yet if elected can be confidently predicted to do all the wrong ones. He’s a modern politician after all, and his record as governor of Massachusetts shows that he put through many Obama-style programmes there, albeit on a smaller scale. But he does make ‘ze Anglo-Saxon’ pronouncements, which trigger off traditional Gallic actuators.
Foreign policy, especially in the Middle East, is another reason, and here I begin to converge with the French, though for a different reason. The French are torn between two animosities. On the one hand, they are easily the most anti-Semitic nation in Western Europe, which unenviable prejudice provides the basis for their hatred of Israel. I heard more anti-Israeli harangues in France last summer alone than, over a lifetime, in all other countries combined.
Both Obama and Romney pledge support for Israel, but the French sense correctly that Obama’s heart isn’t in it, and Romney’s is. That alone would be enough to swing the French vote to Obama.
On the other hand, they resent their own Muslims more than any other European nation does, possibly because France has more of them than anyone else. Here the same pictorial analogy applies: the French mind Muslims much less when they burn settlements around the West Bank than when they burn cars around Paris. It’s not just absence but also distance that makes the heart grow fonder. I’m not sure the French perceive the common thread running through both incendiary excesses, but then the ability to put two and two together is never thick on the ground anywhere, not just in France.
All these are spurious reasons to cheer Obama and jeer Romney. There are better ones, and they too have to do with foreign policy. Romney is steeped in the ethos of the American religion: US supremacy, manifest destiny and a shining city on top of a hill. His own visceral feelings are strengthened by his foreign-policy entourage, neocons to the last man.
The readers of this blog probably know that I regard neoconservatism as a pernicious and ultimately dangerous trend in American politics. It represents the proselytising arm of the American religion, with its belief that every country in the world must be educated in the magnificence of American democracy. If the teaching aids required for this didactic exercise all have to be laser-guided, then so be it.
Romney, if elected, will do the neocon bidding, and since democracy is demonstrably unachievable in the Middle East (Israel apart), the region will be in the throes of a non-stop war. This creates a vast potential for a major conflagration involving Russia, possibly even China.
The neocons aren’t bright enough to realise that, by agitating for the Arab Spring, they’ve brought the world to the brink of the nuclear winter. They are driven by ideology, which can never coexist with reason – as they’ve amply demonstrated over the last decade.
The French have wisely stayed more or less out; we’ve stupidly plunged in headlong. I for one don’t want to see British youngsters dying to promote America’s manifest destiny, which I fear they may have to do in greater numbers should Romney win.
To sum up, if I still lived in America, I’d vote for Romney. In that I’d be driven by economic self-interest, which, according to Adam Smith, lies at the foundation of civic virtue. As I live in Britain, I think Obama would be the lesser evil.