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Clark County all over again?

Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian yesterday:

If Sarah Palin defies the conventional wisdom that says elections are determined by the top of the ticket, and somehow wins this for McCain, what will be the reaction? Yes, blue-state America will go into mourning once again, feeling estranged in its own country. A generation of young Americans – who back Obama in big numbers – will turn cynical, concluding that politics doesn’t work after all. And, most depressing, many African-Americans will decide that if even Barack Obama – with all his conspicuous gifts – could not win, then no black man can ever be elected president.

But what of the rest of the world? This is the reaction I fear most. For Obama has stirred an excitement around the globe unmatched by any American politician in living memory. Polling in Germany, France, Britain and Russia shows that Obama would win by whopping majorities, with the pattern repeated in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America. If November 4 were a global ballot, Obama would win it handsomely. If the free world could choose its leader, it would be Barack Obama.

…..Until now, anti-Americanism has been exaggerated and much misunderstood: outside a leftist hardcore, it has mostly been anti-Bushism, opposition to this specific administration. But if McCain wins in November, that might well change. Suddenly Europeans and others will conclude that their dispute is with not only one ruling clique, but Americans themselves. For it will have been the American people, not the politicians, who will have passed up a once-in-a-generation chance for a fresh start – a fresh start the world is yearning for.

And the manner of that decision will matter, too. If it is deemed to have been about race – that Obama was rejected because of his colour – the world’s verdict will be harsh. In that circumstance, Slate’s Jacob Weisberg wrote recently, international opinion would conclude that “the United States had its day, but in the end couldn’t put its own self-interest ahead of its crazy irrationality over race”.

After the hilarious Operation Clark County, you’d think the Guardian’s top figures might be taking a more detached and diplomatic approach to U.S voters this time around but in fact Freedland’s position is equally supercilious to four years ago when, as Norm notes, he suggested Europeans and others should actually get a vote in the presidential election.

The enthusiasm of Europeans for Obama is a fascinating phonemenon which deserves a detailed examination at some stage but reading Freedland’s words I was reminded by a good piece I read some time ago at the Huffington Post on the blogspace of Andrei Markovits and Jeff Weintraub.

In contrast to the cowboy Bush and his dangerous supporters, Obama is practically an honorary European, who can appreciate the wisdom, virtue, and enlightenment typically monopolized by Europeans (which usually means western Europeans). This is often followed by the ultimate seal of approval — they would be delighted to vote for Obama themselves, if given the chance.

All very heartwarming. But having followed the European media with some care since my arrival in Vienna on June 1, I have seen very little acknowledgement of one inconvenient complicating reality. Obama, or someone with Obama’s social background and political style, would have a hard time getting elected dog-catcher in any of these European countries, let alone President or Prime Minister (or, in Germany, Chancellor).

There are various reasons why that’s true. Despite the swooning praises of Obama from the western European chattering classes, the reality is that someone in their own countries with Obama’s political style would actually turn them off. A European candidate with Obama’s message of hope and idealism would make a lot of European journalists, intellectuals, and politicians roll their eyes. And in western European countries with established party systems, it would be almost impossible for a political outsider like Obama to vault over a party hierarchy so dramatically.

But the most fundamental reasons run deeper. A number of European countries have elected women to high political office, even the highest. (Score that one for the Europeans, at least some of them.) But as Jerry Karabel and I pointed out, none of them has ever elected a non-white person of any extraction to its highest political office — that is, head of state or head of government.

Perhaps worth remembering before lecturing.

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