In Europe, A Fascination With Obama-McCain

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Weekend Edition's regular and sometimes controversial essayist Diane Roberts just came back from Europe. She comments on the fascination overseas with the U.S. presidential campaign.


On a recent trip across the Atlantic, essayist Diane Roberts discovered that Europeans are mesmerized by this year's American presidential campaign.

DIANE ROBERTS: You'd think they had a vote, they're so into it. If the newspapers, television and my friends are to believed, the French and the Italians, the British and the Germans, the Belgians and the Spanish are spending a lot of time discussing McCain's outreach to Latino voters and Obama's vice presidential shortlist. French President Nicolas Sarkozy's poll numbers are lower than George Bush's, inflation is on the rise in Germany, plus, in the UK, garbagemen were on strike. I don't know about you but if my garbageman went on strike in the middle of summer, I think I might worry about that as much as an election 4,000 miles away.

Still, what was this past week's big headline? The New Yorker magazine cover, with the Obamas presiding over an American flag burning in the Oval Office fireplace. In a London restaurant, a guy in a pinstripe suit said, so sorry for interrupting our roast lamb, but would the cartoon depiction of Obama in Muslim dress and Michelle in old-school Black Panther gear worry middle Americans even more than Reverend Jeremiah Wright?

I lived in Britain during the campaigns of 1980, '84, '88, '96 and 2000 but I've never seen anything like this level of down-to-the-last-pixel focus.

And while McCain strikes most Europeans as a decent sort of guy, a guy who can at least speak in sentences with the nouns and verbs in the right places, it's Obama who's the supernova in the political sky. College students wear T-shirts emblazoned with his face. His speeches get big play on TV. London's Daily Telegraph polled the Italians, the British, the Germans and the French and found that an average of 69 percent are pulling for him to win in November.

The Europeans want change, too. For them, Obama is a citizen of the global village. They hear him talk about how Americans should learn a language other English and applaud. They hope for an American government less parochial, less convinced of its divinely-granted exceptionalism, an administration that will ask allies for advice and counsel instead of treating them as vassel states which must always obey the hyperpower across the Atlantic.

Who knows if a President Obama would really be such a cosmopolitan? But in him, Europeans see the promise of America. This Italian friend of mine says, Obama, he's the future. Africa plus Europe, a human melting pot. She goes all starry-eyed when she says, I wish I could vote for him.

HANSEN: Diane Roberts lives part time in the UK but votes in Tallahassee, Florida. She'll be sending periodic letters from London this fall.

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