The Free World Comments on the Choice of Its New Leader
Watching America.com has now been translating foreign news and opinion about the US for three years. We are never short of content because non-Americans are sometimes more affected by American policies than are Americans, themselves, and so have plenty of opinions to express.
That is never more evident than at the time of a presidential election. The U.S. is fond of calling its leader the Leader of the Free World, and despite how arrogant that sometimes appears to those outside these shores, there is no doubt that an American presidential election is important enough that all media, everywhere, are watching closely and have plenty to say.
We recently posted this article by Thomas Klau, entitled “If the West Breaks” translated from German in the Financial Times Deutschland. It is primarily concerned with the philosophical and political divergence under Bush between the USA and Europe, and suggests that a Republican victory now would make that divergence “insurmountable”.
Foreign reactions to US elections can crystallize out some of the fundamentals of how the USA is seen around the world. First, and unsurprisingly, American politics lies firmly to the right of the politics of any other developed country. Second, but even more fundamentally, is that although the world’s press coverage of US actions has been overwhelmingly negative since Watching America began three years ago, the world is decidedly not anti-American.
Rather, the most strident criticism of the USA, whether from Europe, South America or even the Middle East, very rarely calls for a change in what America is – but instead, for a change in what it does; and typically, the stated desire is for America to become itself again. In other words, foreign editorials often use entirely American ideals, ideas and history, as the standard for judging current American activities. This fact indicates a deep acceptance of American values and a world that is fundamentally pro-American. It is also, according to Klau, this strong American identity on which a period of American introspection, expected by some to follow the Bush era, will be based.
Klau recalls the “amusement” of the world at the process by which Bush was “chosen” in 2000. Before 2004, much of the world disagreed deeply with the USA’s activities in many areas, but there was a sense that all was not lost since Americans could, by voting Bush out in 2004, show that Bush was not so much representative of America as he was an anomaly, and that indeed America’s core remained everything the world believed and wanted it to be. But the USA chose Bush again that year, and hundreds of foreign editorials on the US written since then have not hidden exasperation.
Now, here we are in 2008, when the people of this great land get another shot at deciding who best expresses what America is, and what it is to be.
And the world cares. It turns out that the world’s press clearly did not write off the American electorate for its “2004 mistake”, even though much of the world sees the choice made in the 2004 presidential election as just that.
And why not? Because, cliché as it is, America really is too great. The idea of the United States, its foundation, its history still weigh favorably against recent events, however interpreted, to reveal clearly that America is no lost cause. There may be a question about whether repeated choices over time can change the basic fabric of a nation or the actual meaning of America, but even if that is possible in some hypothetical realm, the reality isn’t close. As a non-American myself, familiar only with those parts of America that have touched my life and my own continent of Europe, such a change in American identity is almost impossible for me to imagine: the Constitution that puts individual liberty above any doctrine, the right and might displayed by winning the world wars, the Berlin Airlift, the rebuilding of the defeated countries, the great philanthropists and so on and so on.
What Barbara Jordan said of Americans applies, it seems, to everyone else on the planet:
“What the people want is very simple. They want an America as good as its promise”
That is why outsiders are watching the US election of 2008 with a closeness and seriousness to match any before.