The Globalization Of American Politics

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?

28 thoughts on “The Globalization Of American Politics”

  1. you are right! this is a sharp contrast with american people who don’t have any idea about what happening outside the borders.
    Or, aren’t these callers no more different than you are.

  2. Congratulations, Peter, on missing the point completely. I can’t believe your English is really so bad you didn’t understand the post, so I have to believe that you choose to deliberately ignore the point.

    However, I’ll try to address your taunt. If Americans are more ignorant or less involved in the world than Europeans, please explain our overwhelming involvement in the world and the constant debate among American bloggers, American pundits and Americans in general concerning what to do about the world’s problems.

    Europeans like to claim to be ‘international’, but it’s not true. Europeans are no more internationally oriented or knowlegable than Americans, at best. When a European says international, they mean Europe. They’re concerned about the state next door, not the world. And they’re obsessed with the idea that if only American would X, Y and Z then all the worlds probelms would be solved.

    It doesn’t seem to occur to them to say if we Germans or French or Belgians did X, Y and Z we could solve one of the worlds problems. That would be taking responsibilty. Can’t do that. Better to pretend that only America can fix it. That absolves Europeans of the problem! Nice trick, that.

  3. Generally speaking, what is being described here is not the globalization of American politics, but the Anglospherization of Anglosphere politics. The Spanish elections were very much an inside-the-Beltway issue in the US, hardly any Americans knew or cared except for the single fact that Zapatero withdrew the troops. Blair is the only real non-US leader with genuine name recognition beyond the Beltway.

  4. Jim, I disagree. There’s a constant tracking, analysis and commentary wrt to American political choices. It goes way beyond the Anglosphere.

    I think it’s a worldwide abdication of responsibity. Why? Because we’re a convenient scapegoat.

    It’s also related to anti-Americanism. It’s a way dissecting and tearing down the US in an obsessive way in order for nations to make favorable comparisons to themselves or their favored political institutions. For example, The UN Oil-For-Bribes scandal. Thise that believe that the Un is viable will point to Enron and say, ‘See that? No different. Happens to everyone.’ The difference is, in the US there’s a criminal investigation, people go to jail, and legislation is passed. The UN scandal is simply ignored. Nothing to see here, move along.

  5. This goes right to a fundamental tenet of Leftism… the abrogation of personal responsibility, elevated to the nation state level.

    Of course “if only The State were run by the right people, all our problems would be solved (by The State)”. Thus, we mere peons, who have no power, certainly can’t be expected to forgo the upside (personal empowerment) without also forgoing that which MUST go hand in hand with it (personal responsiblity). So as with individuals, as is with nations.

    “Our poor pitiful powerless nations have no “power” over who gets elected President, so we have no responsibility for it either.” Quite so, but that warm and fuzzy blanket of ‘no responsibilty’ has spread to virutally the entire world and it’s problems. Thus WE (the critics) have no responsibilty, the US has it all. And thus it is emperative that “the right people” are in charge in Washington. If they are not, THAT is why problem X, Y, and Z exist on planet earth. ‘Course, even if it were Kerry or Clinton, they are still American, more “conservative” than Europe, and thus not quite “right” and thus still responsible (conveniently). But Republicans!!! God help us!!!

    Bt the way, EUrope…. gear up. Four more years. Bank on it.

  6. “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.”

    Interesting on how quickly the sophisticates revert to prejudices and bigotries when it suits them. Why should Bush’s Texan origins matter unless they want to appeal to a negative sterotype?

    *Sigh* Europeans have become such children. The projecting of all the responsibility for the world’s woes is just a symptom of infantilism.

  7. @Michael

    “Congratulations, Peter, on missing the point completely. I can’t believe your English is really so bad you didn’t understand the post, so I have to believe that you choose to deliberately ignore the point.”

    If the situation in Germany is typical, then Europeans are profoundly ignorant of the United States. As in other European countries, the Germans are obsessed with the U.S., but are far more interested in having their anti-Americanism reinforced than in actually learning anything. They read a huge amount about the U.S., but know almost nothing about it, because our portrayal in their mass media, from “respectable” newspapers like the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung to boulevard rags, on TV, radio, you name it, all conforms to a more or less vanilla anti-American party line. One could even say that, if you only speak German, it’s almost impossible to gain an accurate picture of the United States. It’s clear from what they write that German reporters in the U.S. read the gamut of newspapers, political magazines, blogs, you name it. But they filter everything, and only pass on that part of the story that sells well in Germany, that is, the anti-American party line.

  8. I could care less what the Europeans or anybody else think of us, for all of the reasons listed above, and many more I could go into. But that’s not the real point here.

    When John Kerry talks about the “numerous foreign leaders” who have told him that they hope he is elected (I actually believe him), we all know who those are and why Kerry won’t name them. But this more than anything written in the Guardian or the French or German papers is an usurpation of our national sovereignty that I find disgusting. In making his claim of a “secret plan” (ala Richard Nixon) to bring the “allies” into Iraq implies that he is already negotiating with foreign powers as if he is president. I’m not sure if that is technically treasonous, but it is unseemly, and I have no doubt it is undermining our current foreign policy.

    Am I over-reacting?

    Like France, Germany and most average Europeans, John Kerry thinks America is the biggest problem in the world and I’m sure Chiraq and Schroeder look forward to working together with president Kerry to fix that.

    As he said today, the War on Terror and America’s aggressive action is what has caused terrorism. Of course that doesn’t explain the WTC bombing in 1993, The USS Cole, Kohbar Towers, or 9/11, which were all responses to the “multilateral” Clinton foreign policy, not teh War on Terror which didn’t exist yet (or we might not be in this mess now).

    I have no doubt, based on John Kerry’s numerous statements and policy positions over 35 years, that a president Kerry will virtually if not literally turn our foreign policy and sovereignty over to the United Nations. This is a very radical view, far to left of Bill Clinton who had as many problems with the UN and was almost as disliked by the Europeans as Bush is (from a policy, not personal standpoint), a fact that most Democrats don’t want anybody to remember.

    John Kerry is trying to sell himself as a centrist, down the middle guy just like Bill Clinton. But as much as I disagreed with Clinton, I don’t think he ever actually believed that America was the number one problem in the world. John Kerry, with his record of painting the United States as the bad guys from Vietnam to Nicaragua, to El Salvador, to Cuba, to Iraq, (for some reason he didn’t think that America was such a big problem in Somalia or Haiti or Kosovo) to Afghanistan and Iraq again, has made it quite clear that he does.

    He is a charter member of what Jeanne Kirkpatrick called the “Blame America First” crowd.

  9. I’m an American. I lived for three years in a German village. I wouldn’t say I’m igorant of the world. I’m aware of the Spanish election and what occured (Iberian notes). I’m aware of what is happening in England (Samidata). Ditto Australia (Tim Blair) and elsewhere.

    It’s not “Anti-Bush.” It is definately anti-Americanism.

    They are just ensuring that the UN will be reduced in influence here. Bi-lateral agreements are the way to deal with the rest of the world. No regional treaties. No “alliances.” Make them responsible for themselves.

    The world can kiss my rear. And yes, I’m voting for Bush.

  10. I’m not sure if that is technically treasonous, but it is unseemly, and I have no doubt it is undermining our current foreign policy.

    Am I over-reacting?

    I don’t think so. This is an important point that the mainstream press, by tacit agreement, does not consider newsworthy. The Left treats sovereignty as passe’ — except when it’s the sovereignty of one of our enemies or the Palestinian Authority that is in question. It’s not much different than when U.S. Supreme Court justices cite foreign practice as though it had standing in U.S. Constitutional law.

  11. Hmm… Is it really so hard to see why the Europeans follow American politics, and particularly the presidential campaign so closely? Obviously, due to its economic and military dominance, anything the U.S. does in the world has repercussions for other countries. When the U.S. decides to pursue military action in Iraq, for instance, this affects more than two countries. If the U.S. economy sputters or booms, this affects markets around the world. The point is not whether Europeans know more than Americans “about what happening outside the borders,” to quote peter. (I don’t think they do.) Unhealthy and stereotypical anti-American obsessions aside, Europe has to take an interest in American politics out of sheer self-interest. American predominance in the world economy and U.S. military operations in the Middle East cannot not affect European markets and European foreign policy. I would have thought that all this is rather obvious.

  12. It’s all part of the increasing Arabisation of the European mind. Just as in the Arab world all problems, great or small, are blamed on Israel, so too in Europe all our griefs and woes are now laid at America’s door.

  13. Mike-

    Well said. Should Kerry win, it will (for a while at least) be great for Kerry’s European cheerleaders. On the one hand, Kerry would likely continue the vast majority of Bush’s policies, as any incoming president does. But just because he isn’t named GW Bush, everyone will think it is allright.

    Eventually however, people will start to realize that the American president is still responsible to the American people, and not the rest of the world. This is no different from the post 9/11 “We Are All Americans Now” sentiment, which in effect tried to show solidarity with the US, but was really a hope that Americans would somehow change their wicked ways (i.e. become more “European” or something). Eventually, that sentiment fell by the wayside and we ended up back at the status quo ante vis-a-vis US-Europe relations.

  14. I don’t think this is a new phenomenon. Among those who take any interest at all, American policies and politics have been a matter of interest here in Brtain as long as I have paid attention (i.e. since the 1970’s).

    And why are non-Americans likely to be concerned about US politics, and other matters American?
    I would say the reasons are obvious.
    The USA is the economic, cultural, scientific, artistic/entertainment etc., powerhouse of the modern world, and THE military superpower.
    Other countries are bound to take an assymetric interest.
    Similar regard has always been paid to ascendant countries (e.g. Rome, 18th century France, Victorian Britain).

    Re. President Bush, I don’t think dislike of him originates in anti-Americanism as such.
    Opinions vary, but policy differences aside, his way of speaking, and even body language, apear to many British to be a peculiar combination of artifice and clumsiness.
    Strange, really, and very difficult to pin down. It sometimes grates a bit on me and I regard Bush quite highly.
    That it’s a personal thing is indicated insofar as it doesn’t seem to apply to e.g. Secretary Rumsfeld. People may disagree, but he doen’t irritate. And not all the time with the President; most thought his UN speeches were v. good.

    Actually, a lot of people I have talked to think that with John Kerry “reporting for duty” the Democrats have pulled off the remarkable feat of finding a worse public performer than Geoge W. Bush.
    And in terms of disdain as opposed to dislike, President Bush is not even close to President Carter.

    I think Rachel Sylvester’s article should be treated with degree of caution. She is a broadly coservative commentator, in a conservative paper.
    There may be a bit of Tory wishful thinking here; i.e. if Bush goes, it’s a bad omen for Blair, so maybe there’ hope for us. (Nope.)

    A lot of British Conservatives have become neutral-to-hostile to George Bush due to his close cooperation with their pet hate, Tony Blair, over Iraq.
    Recently Coservative leader Michael Howard has attempted to attack Blair over Iraq, WMD etc after being pro-war at the time. And been under pressure from some Tories to make this a major line of attack, even if it means pandering to anti-Americanism in the BBC/Guardian etc.

    (Echoes of Senaor Kerry’s “I was for it before I was against it”.)

    In fact any anti-war sentiment Howard and other Conservative stir up is more likely to to accrue as votes to the consistently anti-war Liberal Democrats.
    Trust the Tories to be both opportunistic AND inept.

    OTOH, Sylvester is right about some who might ordinarily favour the Democrats being ambivalent. For one thing, Senator Kerry’s remarks about “allies” seem to imply only France and Germany count in this category. Annoying.

  15. Living in Japan, I often meet with this. Just a day or two ago an aquaintance asked me which candidate I supported. I hemmed and hawwed a bit, and she came out with ‘I hate Bush.’ She repeated it several times with a very sour face.

    Japan is still very much under the US thumb, much more so than any European country, and the peoples’ attitudes reflect this. Japanese knowledge of the US is a mile wide, but an inch deep.

  16. @Herb Richter

    “Unhealthy and stereotypical anti-American obsessions aside, Europe has to take an interest in American politics out of sheer self-interest. American predominance in the world economy and U.S. military operations in the Middle East cannot not affect European markets and European foreign policy. I would have thought that all this is rather obvious.”

    A little too obvious, Herb. Your rationalizations are all quite logical. The only problem is that the number of Europeans whose obsession with the United States is really only motivated by these eminently logical considerations could be characterized in mathematical parlance as epsilon; it is vanishingly small. The overwhelming majority of those who eagerly check out Spiegel Online, le Monde, or the BBC every day to “inform” themselves about the U.S. do so because those and a vast number of other European “news” outlets can be depended on to give them a dose of anti-American propaganda to reinforce their ideological preconceptions. Do you really think Michael Moore is a bestseller all over Europe because of the high quality of the information he provides about U.S. economic or military affairs? You’re dreaming! If Europeans really wanted to inform themselves about the U.S., they would hardly tolerate the obvious and pronounced slant that applies to virtually everything they read about us. This slant has nothing to do with Bush or his supposed “squandering” of all the “sympathy” the Europeans felt for us after 9/11, but has been a fact of life at least since the fall of the Berlin Wall. The hatred the Europeans feel for the U.S. has nothing to do with finely reasoned arguments about economic and military balances of power, and everything to do with human psychology; the nature of the beast, so to speak. Try googling the amity/enmity relationship among human populations for starters, and you might begin to see the forest in spite of the trees.

  17. I don’t think it’s fair to Kerry to accuse him of negotiating with foreign powers. Kerry knows the deal without having to negotiate. Stop supporting freedom, stop upsetting dirty deals that the Axis of Weasels have negotiated with odious dictators and the anti-american drumbeat in the overseas press will die down.

    Kerry’s already announced that he’ll cave by saying that he’ll be “more realistic” and not promote freedom and democracy. People were and should be ashamed at our abandonment of the Iraqi people to Saddam after the Gulf War. Kerry would replay those scenes across the entire world.

  18. “I don’t think it’s fair to Kerry to accuse him of negotiating with foreign powers.”

    He has made a point of saying that he regularly talks with these un-named foreign leaders on a regular basis. Take that for what it’s worth.

    Again, this proves the ineptness of the Bush campaign that they haven’t been able to present this issue to the American people. He’s also received more than a couple of “unsolicited” endorsements that the American public might be interested in knowing about.

  19. “Kerry would replay those scenes across the entire world.”

    He’s already done it with his oft-quoted remark about how pro-democracy Cubans aren’t being helpful.

  20. “…the ineptness of the Bush campaign …”

    Be patient. That’s not ineptness, or even ineptitude. It’s fire discipline.

  21. Helian,

    I don’t think we’re necessarily in disagreement. The purpose of many a European’s obsession with the U.S. may well be to validate stereotypes and other misperceptions about the United States. But obviously, American economic and military dominance are a precondintion for this obsession. We may lament it, but the enmity many Europeans display towards the United States is the (utterly unjust) burden we have to bear for being the world’s sole superpower. I think we will just have to live with it, and count it as a tribute to our strength and economic success. (I think at the bottom of this European obsession actually lies envy, more than anything). And just as Europeans’ obsession with the U.S. seems more than a tad unhealthy, I dare say that our obsession with the Europeans’ antagonism is not too healthy either. ;-)

  22. Berliner Zeitung is speaking for all Europeans by expressing disappointment in Kerry.

    “Europeans are surprised to hear that John Kerry is talking about America the same way as George W. Bush does,” the paper said. “They are amazed that at the Democratic Convention in Boston, he saluted like a soldier, one hand up at his temple. They would prefer not to hear it when Kerry promises that he would never hesitate to use force in case America is under threat. They are disappointed.”

    My unhealthy obsessive response to such antagonism would be to assume that Europeans want us to accept the wrath of our enemies.

  23. “Be patient. That’s not ineptness, or even ineptitude. It’s fire discipline.”

    “don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes” was a strategy employed to overcome the unfortunate situation of posessing extremely low quality firearms.

    Or, are you implying that the Bush campaign is employing the “rope-a-dope” strategy?

    Just to be clear, that requires that not only can you take all of the abuse heaped on you by your opponent without responding, but then have enough in the tank to finish with a flurry and win. To stretch this mixed metaphor even farther, it’s one thing to try that when you have the skills of Muhammed Ali, quite another when you have the skills of Jerry Cooney.

    From a political and rhetorical standpoint, which end of that spectrum do you think Bush resides?

  24. To the people who go back to the fall of the Berlin Wall to start anti-Americanism, you are really trying too late. The last American president I can recall the Europeans liking was Pres John Kennedy and that was more because of Jackie than because of him. Before that go back to maybe Roosevelt. They accepted Ike because of WW II and Truman because of the Marshall Plan only.

    It is really funny that they always only dislike the current president, never the American people. They always tell you they like the American people. They just dislike their leaders.

    At some point we just have to say a fig on all their houses. We need to elect a president who is mainly concerned with the USA. Once he has that safe, then look at the rest of the planet.

    Like one of the previous posters I was a big fan of the UN when I was in school but that was back in the days of Ike. Once I saw what the joint had become, I can think of nothing I would rather see than the UN moving out of the US and the US out of the UN.

  25. @John Farren

    Recently Coservative leader Michael Howard has attempted to attack Blair over Iraq…

    I saw that recently on PMQs. I was at first astonished, then disgusted. Political opportunism at its worst. Kick ’em while they’re down. He’s as aware of the WMDs intel problem as anyone. As Tory leader, he’s probably more aware than most.

    It wasn’t a pretty sight. Not the kind of thing to give voters faith in you as a potential leader. It struck me as patently phoney and politically inept.

  26. “.. I hemmed and hawwed a bit, and she came out with ‘I hate Bush….”

    I would reply with what I always replied when I met ignorant Japanese during one of my many trips there: “Well, it’s a good thing we kicked your imperial asses back across the pacific so we don’t have to listen to what you think then, isn’t it..”

  27. “I can think of nothing I would rather see than the UN moving out of the US and the US out of the UN.”

    Preach on Brotha!

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