Zurich, Switzerland — Many Europeans are closely following America’s presidential campaign because they feel Europe has as much at stake in it as Americans. Today’s dangerous world — and America’s role in it — make them care passionately who will next occupy the White House.
Some continentals may have been caught up in the hype associated with the Barack Obama “mania” that swept Europe this summer, but that support is thin. What thoughtful Europeans want is not hype but genuine multi-lateral cooperation, an end to war, economic stability, a prudent Russia policy and a balanced Mideast solution. Most Europeans also agree that they want someone other than President Bush in the Oval Office.
Last weekend, I traveled to Zurich to speak with ten professional Swiss and German citizens about America’s presidential election. The people with whom I spoke consider themselves politically independent and passionate about their countries and the negative impact they believe American policies have had on Europe. They granted me a group interview under the condition that I use only their first names.
These Europeans do not necessarily represent the views held by the majority of their countrymen or the average citizen in Western European. But I believe their perspectives are representative of the European professional class that follows the political winds blowing back and forth across the Atlantic.
I asked them to identify which American presidential contender they favor and why. Six of the ten said they favor Sen. John McCain, but no one was enthusiastic about that choice. Two endorse Obama, and two said they favor neither man.
Matthias, an attorney, said he “trusts McCain more on constitutional issues” and Maria, a psychologist, favors McCain because the Arizona senator is “less likely to wage war than Obama.” Andre, a Swiss school teacher, said McCain is the “lesser of two evils.”
Renate, a German school teacher, said she is “deeply distrustful of Obama.” She says Obama “came out from nowhere,” and it makes her wonder “who sponsors him.” She doesn’t believe he has “concepts of his own” but is “a puppet” of the elite. Besides, Renate is suspicious of Obama’s “image building campaign” which makes her trust McCain even more.
Maria agreed with Renate’s statement that Obama came out of nowhere. She fears the senator will bring a dangerous ideology to the presidency. McCain comes across as an ideological neutral to the group.
Everyone agreed this presidential election is important for Europe. Thomas, an engineer, indicated that U.S. policy influences European governments and especially in his German homeland. Everyone mentioned American policies that have fractured the U.S.-Europe relationship — America’s invasion of Iraq, Russia policy, and out of control economic policies.
Agnes, a teacher who immigrated to Switzerland from Berlin, believes this election is important because it “finishes the Bush era.” She vigorously disagrees with the Bush administration’s “unilateral war-making policies” which she says is evidence of America’s “arrogance.” She expects the next president to build bridges of cooperation with Europe.
Ullah, a Swiss teacher, says the election is important because Obama would be America’s first black president. That’s significant for her because it will make “America’s Africa policy easier to negotiate.” But she admits that Obama will be much easier to manipulate than McCain.
Charlie, a Swiss banker, says this election is important because collectively we must prevent another Cold War with Russia, and he hopes the new American president will “keep Israel from attacking Iran.” He doesn’t believe that Obama is up to the job because “being president is complex work” which requires considerable experience, which Obama lacks. That’s why, according to Charlie, he can support McCain. However, Charlie is concerned that McCain might not complete his term in office due to health problems.
There was no clear consensus in the group regarding which candidate would be best for the world economy. Thomas believes that McCain “will stop America’s debt policy,” but Maria says that neither candidate is “sufficiently transparent on economic issues.” Andre hopes a President Obama would reverse Bush’s “destructive tax policies that favor the rich.”
Matthias says McCain is best prepared to address the rough economic challenges ahead because he has “experience and cold blood.” He explained that “cold blood” means that McCain would be cool under pressure.
The group was split regarding the best candidate on foreign policy. Thomas expects Obama to have better foreign policy advisors than McCain. Maria believes McCain will be “less inclined to go to war because of his prisoner of war experience.” Andre contends that McCain will “stay closer to international law than Obama,” and Matthias dismisses Obama’s promise to work with international bodies like the United Nations. He believes Obama’s advisors will radicalize his foreign policies, such as “linking America closer to Israel.”
All but one of the interviewees agreed that McCain is best qualified for the presidency. Thomas, the sole dissenter, contends that McCain’s military experience was an overall negative for the presidency (which Thomas failed to explain). The others agreed that McCain’s military and congressional experiences are a big plus.
Werner has a personal concern about Obama’s qualifications. He fears that a vote for Obama is a vote for Michelle Obama, the senator’s wife. Werner contends that Mrs. Obama wears the trousers in that home and that would have negative implications for an Obama presidency.
Matthias favors McCain because he was severely tested in the Vietnamese prison, which helped form his character. He illustrated that view by comparing McCain to an old, reliable jeep. It works under difficult conditions. But Obama, Matthias explained, is unproven. He believes the junior senator from Illinois is too risky for the presidency.
The conduct of the campaign and each candidate’s advisors was a concern. Renate is concerned about all the hype that surrounds Obama. She says there is a widespread perception within her network of friends that Obama is “better than McCain only because he is a new face.” This view, explained Renate, “reminds her of talk about Adolf Hitler in the 1920s and 30s.” Hitler promised that things would change for the better but provided no definitive plans.
Ruth fears that Obama will depend “on elites” like former national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski for his policies, which for her is a red flag. Specifically, Ruth mentioned Brzezinski’s proposal to divide Russia into three parts.
All agreed that Europe’s media has fawned over the Obama candidacy and seldom mentions McCain. That imbalance has left Europeans vulnerable to manipulation.
I ended the interview by asking each participant for the message they would like to send to American voters. Agnes asked Americans to elect a man who will behave more equal in the international community. Andre agreed with that view, adding that Americans don’t understand the rest of the world and, in fact, “they feel superior.” Several people asked that America stop the wars and find a “real honest peace” and “international partnership.”
These Europeans passionately care about who America elects as president. They grudgingly support McCain primarily because of his experiences and perceived non-ideological approach to governing, and they are highly suspicious of Obama.