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Posted by on Jan 27, 2008 in Politics | 2 comments

Europeans watch Democratic primaries with trepidation

Europeans are watching the run up to Super Tuesday with a mixture of trepidation and bemusement after Barack Obama’s overwhelming win in South Carolina, where he captured 80% of the black vote.

There is trepidation because the person and party that rule America have an extraordinary influence on the fate of Europeans, who are close military and economic allies of the US. Bemusement because the primaries are turning into a circus at which the audience sits in nail-biting tension waiting to see who falls to the ground from the trapeze.

The Democratic primaries are perplexing in light of how non-Americans have traditionally perceived the Democrats. Suddenly, a white woman and a black man are sniping lethally at each other over race and religion. For most Europeans, it is scary that Obama is being called a Muslim simply to use the fear factor against him and must repeatedly prove his Christian faith to avoid losing votes. A black Christian who is forced to use the name of Martin Luther King to bolster his credentials both as an African American and the right kind of Christian is a sight Europeans would prefer not to have to see in a democratic process.

It is even scarier that American voters are being forced to divide on racial lines because of the Clinton-Obama chasm. Obama says race does not matter but it does because he won South Carolina because of it. Clinton claims she is race neutral but she is corralling Obama in the black corner to turn white voters away from him.

Many Europeans saw the rise of Hillary Clinton as a beacon of decency in US politics and a sign that Americans are finally catching up with Sri Lanka, India, Ukraine, Israel, Argentina, Britain, Germany and Pakistan. But the sleaze and racial and religious undertones of how she hits at Obama is souring European perceptions.

Her campaign managers probably think they are creating a perception of her as a bold, decisive and humane woman with the extraordinary intelligence required to cope with America’s and the world’s problems. To non-Americans she appears to be a mean street fighter who might be a vindictive and war-mongering President if her pride is crossed. She looks like the caricature ugly American who will stoop to anything to win. If she does this now, she might do so in foreign policy as well.

Worse, it is still unclear whether she has legs of her own. Bill Clinton is well-liked around the world, but the sight is not edifying of him dominating the campaign of a woman on whom he cheated and a potential President with whom he has an unclear relationship about who wears the pants.

It is hard to find a European observer who knows what Hilary stands for. Is she for the Iraq war or against it? Would she bomb Iran or talk even if it takes a long time? Is she for tax and interest rate cuts, or other inflationary measures, to save the US from recession? What will she do if foreign sovereign funds continue to buy into major US icons because American money cannot be found to save those companies?

Mostly important, is she capable of standing on her own feet in times of crisis or must she sit on Bill’s shoulders to make a difference to America and the world?

John Edwards has mostly been written off already. He is perceived as a Southern populist whose populism is irrelevant to modern America and the modern world. For most Europeans, like it or not, the US is currently the sole credible world leader. The problems its President must solve for America and the world are far too complex for populism and rhetoric.

Let us hope, things look a little better morally and ethically by Super Tuesday.

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