I’m constantly astounded by the degree to which Europeans concern themselves with American politics. You’d think I’d be used to it now, 45 years on. I remember one day in 1999 listening to the Diane Rheem show on my car radio coming back to work from lunch. The topic was the upcoming election and the guests were several European reporters covering them. I was surprised by both the number of international callers and the vehemence of their opinions.
Todays Telegraph has an article by Rachel Sylvester that brings that home to me once again:
…whatever happens in the United States in November will speed back, like a ricocheting bullet, to the British general election next year. There is an agreement across the political spectrum in Westminster that this presidential election is the most important for decades…
The American election will also have more influence on a British general election than any previous US contest..
Usually, there would be no question that the Labour government would want its “Third Way” American allies, the Democrats, to win. But the war in Iraq has complicated everything. There are some Labour strategists who think that a Kerry victory could damage Mr Blair’s own chances when he goes to the polls next year. If Mr Bush becomes the second pro-war leader to lose power (after the former Spanish prime minister, José María Aznar), then his main ally, Mr Blair, will look increasingly isolated. The Prime Minister’s position will be further weakened if John Howard, the Australian premier and final member of the “Gang of Four” war leaders, is ousted in October. “Three down, one to go” is the slogan already being prepared by the anti-war lobby.
If, if, if. I already have doubts about her analysis. True, the Iraq war was unpopular in Spain, but Aznar was ahead in the polls until the Madrid attacks. His politically motivated desire to lay the attacks at the feet of Basque separatists is what caused his defeat. The pundits, at least, claim so.
In addition, Australian Prime Minister John Howard’s polling numbers look pretty solid, with Roy Morgan reporting:
More electors now approve of the way Mr Howard is handling his job as Prime Minister (55%, up 7%) than Mr Latham’s handling of his job as Opposition Leader (50%). Mr Howard’s approval rating is still 10% below the high of 65% in mid-April 2003. In April 2003, only 28% of electors disapproved of Mr Howard’s job performance, compared to 38% saying they disapproved in the latest telephone poll.
When asked to choose between Mr Howard and Mr Latham on nine specific issues, preferences for Mr Howard have either risen or remained steady on all issues. Mr Latham’s approval has dropped on all fronts, most significantly, more electors now think Mr Howard is more ‘honest and trustworthy’ than Mr Latham (36% Mr Howard cf 33% Mr Latham). Mr Latham is equal with Mr Howard only on ‘showing more fairness to everyone’ (39% Mr Latham cf 39% Mr Howard) and as ‘better at looking after families’ needs’ (42% cf 42%).
So maybe there’s a bit of wishful thinking on Rachel’s part. Still, the following statements ring true to my ears:
“Tony doesn’t understand how much the British people hate Bush,” said one. “He thinks it’s anti-Americanism but it’s much more specific than that.” For cultural as well as political reasons, the British public cannot stand the gun-toting Texan, Mr Bush.
I say they ring true because I’m hard pressed to recall ever hearing a single Brit saying anything positive about George Bush. Not the Republicans mind you, George Bush personally. The only person I can think of that garners the same level of universal contempt on this side of the Atlantic is Jacques Chirac. I’m also under the impression he’s none too popular in Europe either, and appears to be absolutely despised by many British, judging from my reading of British newspapers and watching the occasional PM’s Questions.
Then Rachel goes on to make this astounding statement:
Whatever the outcome of the American presidential election, the parallels for the British general election are clear. The result in November will be far more important for British politics than the recent local and European elections. In an age of globalised trade and globalised terror, democracy has become globalised too.
Has democracy become globalized or only American politics? German left-wing magazine Spiegel Online keeps a Bush Meter running from week to week. Can you imagine an American magazine keeping a Schroeder Meter, or a Chirac Meter or even a Blair Meter? I can’t.
It all strikes me as rather unhealthy. It’s a way of saying, ‘If only the right folks were in power in Washington, everything would change here.” Well, it won’t. What the US does or doesn’t do can only have tangential effects on the lives of Europeans or Middle Easterners or Asians. Ninety-nine percent of the time, they are the masters of their own destinies. If only the right folks were in power in Washington, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict could be settled. If only the right folks were in power in Washington, all those jobs and all that investment wouldn’t be flowing into China and India. If only the right folks were in power in Washington, Middle Easterners wouldn’t be living impoverished under dictatorships. If only the right folks were in power in Washington, Germany’s economy would be doing better. If only the right folks were in power in Washington, the North Koreans would see that we South Koreans are their brothers and sisters, and we’d be whole and happy again. If only the right folks were in power in Washington, the climate would improve, our jobs would be secure, our lives would be happier, corruption and poverty would end. If only we could all vote in American elections, it would be springtime in the world once again. Would it be, really?