Poggioli: Letters from Europe

The presidential campaign has mesmerized Europe, the historical cradle of anti-Americanism. After eight years of transatlantic tensions, Barack Obama is Europeans' overwhelming favorite. Look at these Venetian gondoliers:

Most Europeans dismiss U.S. election campaigns as the best example of everything childish and provincial in American culture. Not this time: this campaign is the most intensely covered in recent European history. At work and in cafes, people talk about it incessantly.

Most attention is focused on Barack Obama. He's seen as the best chance to usher out the Bush administration — the darkest period in U.S.-European relations.

Obama has even become a cultural icon - in France, his face is on designer bags and DJs mix his speeches into house music tunes....and these Venetian gondoliers have taken liberties with an old Italian standard. While some in John McCain's campaign suggest Obama is a socialist, the venerable conservative British weekly, The Economist, a bastion of free-market capitalism, has gone so far as to endorse the Democratic candidate.

And its European online readers are overwhelmingly choosing Obama. Yet it's a paradox that a black American has become the great European hope.

In Europe, anti-immigrant feelings are often turning into racism and xenophobia; extreme right-wing parties are gaining ground and there's hardly a chance for a minority to be elected for city hall.

Millions of young, disenfranchised Europeans from minority groups see an Obama victory as a milestone that will also help them obtain political representation.

Jean Leonard Touadi, the only black deputy in the Italian Parliament, said that even if Obama does not reach the White House, "he has already achieved a symbolic victory, because he has shown the way forward, and there is no going back."

Before I sign off, let me ask you a question: Do Americans really care about Europe the way they once did?

Producer's Note: We are thrilled to welcome Sylvia Poggioli back to Weekend Edition as a regular contributor. "Letters from Europe" will be a series you'll hear on the radio once a month. In addition, Sylvia will be blogging from the field occasionally on Soapbox. Welcome Sylvia! - Davar Iran Ardalan, Senior Producer

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