Foreign Affairs

Obama’s First Year: The View from Europe

When it comes to great headlines, no publication beats the (UK) Daily Mail. Wednesday morning’s edition featured a classic which dovetailed the first anniversary of Obama’s inauguration with the election of Scott Brown.  It read:  “Happy Birthday, Mr. President — here’s a bloody nose!”

The description of Brown’s victory in the Mail article, in fact those among all the 10 greater and lesser UK nationally published daily newspapers, are very telling. Scott Brown’s election was characterized as “a devastating blow,”  “a stunning embarrassment, ” “a mortifying loss.”  They warned that “the Presidential agenda could be derailed,” that the “election shock threatens Obama’s reforms,”  and that “Obama (is) facing a crisis.”   

There was an exception in the Telegraph. “Obama still has reasons to be cheerful,” one reporter meekly suggested. But the general tone is unmistakable. Brown’s win was seen as a direct body blow to Obama — a sucker punch which knocked the light-weight President off his pins. If you notice, party politics have nothing directly to do with any of these characterizations. They are about Obama alone and this speaks to the current general perception of him across the pond.  

Gerald Scarfe, a major political cartoonist for the Times of London, began — at Obama’s inauguration — depicting the new President as a promising Superman.  By the middle of last year, these images had devolved into a Superman whose biceps and pecks had disintegrated and whose cape hung limply from shriveled shoulders.  In the August addition to his series, Scarfe shows Super Obama having a face first collision into a brick wall labeled “Health Care.”    

Scarfe could easily reprint that cartoon this week with the wall now labeled “Scott Brown.”  Or perhaps Super Obama, rather than being faster than a locomotive, could be drawn being mowed down by a runaway train called The Tea Party Express.

The European printed tide seems to have turned against Obama when he was given The Nobel Prize for Peace. This prompted a Scandinavian news agency to run a commentary entitled “The End of Obamamania? Europe’s Tepid Reaction to Obama’s Nobel.”  The article’s author, Soeren Kern, noted how many European newspapers (he chronicled many examples) reacted to this announcement with “incredulity and skepticism.”  Kern continued:  “Almost without exception, newspapers across the continent — and political spectrum — are saying the award to Obama is premature and undeserved. For many people, that conclusion seems perfectly reasonable. But coming from Europe’s sycophantic media establishment, which has spent the last two years worshipping Obama as a messianic figure, such a reaction represents a sea change in sentiment toward Obama.”  Kern concluded that Europeans are trending back to generally negative reporting “about America, its people, and its President.”

Negative hardly seems a strong enough description of the headlines out of France in the last few days.  Less than a week after an earthquake leveled the former French colony of Haiti, French President Sarkozy accused Obama of having imperialist tendencies and a desire to occupy the destroyed half of the island of Hispaniola.  Of course, these two have been on the outs for some time now.

Sarkozy was the first European leader to turn on President Obama in 2009, describing him in an interview as “naïve.”  He had good reason to feel that way. Early in his Presidency, Obama had sent a letter to the French President going on about how well he envisioned them working together.  Alas, the letter was sent to the former French President, Jacques Chirac — not Sarkozy.  The news of Obama’s diplomatic faux pax was widely reported in Europe, but not by the hypnotized American media.  This incident was followed by a bungled dinner invitation in which both Sarkozy and Obama perceived themselves as snubbed by the other.  Needless to say, the French media are no longer dazzled by the American President and they think even less of Michelle Obama’s fashion sense.

Yes, safe to say, this week’s first anniversary clippings from the British papers are not likely to be pasted into the Obama family scrapbook.  Just look at the headlines.  The Financial Times: “The real missed opportunity in Obama’s first year.”  The Independent: “So, one year on, has Obama delivered?”  Also from The Independent:  “On Human Rights, Obama’s first year has disappointed.”  The London Times: “Barack Obama floundering a year on after wave of goodwill crashes.”  

But Nile Gardiner of the Telegraph will surely have to gate crash his way into the White House from now on after penning his opus: “10 Reasons why George W. Bush was a smarter world leader than Barack Obama.”  Since David Letterman is unlikely to read this top ten list, we’ve printed them here for your convenience:  (1) Bush never apologized for his country;  (2) Bush identified and confronted evil;  (3) Bush made the advance of freedom a key component of his agenda;  (4)  Bush defended national sovereignty;  (5) Bush believed in the Special Relationship (with Britain);  (6) Bush cultivated key allies;  (7) Bush understood the importance of missile defense; (8) Bush believed in fighting a global war;  (9)  Bush did not compromise U.S. security: and  (10)  Bush did not send mixed messages in the face of the enemy.

But all of these critical assessments of Obama are balanced out by the reserve of fondness held for him by the Germans.  Perhaps it was because they still tend to think of Obama as a rock star that Frankfurt, Germany, was chosen as the location to debut “Hope — The Obama Musical Story.” Featuring a cast of 30 singers and actors, “Obama, the Musical” tries to capture the magic of Obama in song. Written by an American, Randall Hitchins,   the story begins with the President’s early days as community organizer in Chicago and takes the audience with him to relive his chart topping rise in the Democrat Party.   Many of the songs include actual quotes from his campaign speeches.  There are love ballads sung to Michelle and a duet with Hillary.  Even McCain and Palin get to sing out about being losers in “a big brassy number”   One is tempted to predict the grand finale features a nimble Obama seen tap dancing his way into the Oval Office, with Joe Biden doing a soft shoe in the background.   And could you have guessed this one?  The actor who portrays the President is another American, Jimmie Wilson, who once played Michael Jackson in the musical “Sisterella.”   Yes, this is it.  Truth is stranger than fiction and we still have three more years to go.  Let’s hope we can keep the musical from becoming a horror movie.


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