In Obama v Romney, Europe Just Wants a Vote
In between trashing London’s preparations for the Olympic Games, being criticised in Poland for being anti-union, and using the European welfare state as a whipping boy, Mitt Romney has done very little to endear himself to Europeans during the course of his campaign. It reaches a sort of nadir after the first debate when Romney used Spain’s economic difficulties, their awful recession and high unemployment, to attack President Obama. Nile Gardiner seemed to summarise Romney’s antipathy towards the continent when he described it as “falling apart and drowning in a sea of debt” – a good description, funnily enough, for how many Europeans view the United States.
Just as Republicans (including the vice-presidential candidate) view the social democratic model as something to be feared, European states have never sought to be more American in this regard. The peoples of Europe are quite content, for example, with the standard of healthcare and education in their respective countries – on which they spend less and receive better outcomes when compared the United States – as well the better pay and working conditions they enjoy, protected by strong labour laws such as the EU Social Chapter.
What Europeans do recognise, although they will never make it known, is the status of the United States in the world above and beyond the European Union, in spite of their comparable economic output and strength. The actions of the United States domestically impact upon Europe both politically and economically, but rarely do those living between the Atlantic and the Pacific notice any reaction. Europeans have to suffer this imbalance of power, which is why what they want above all is a vote in the presidential election.
This desire to directly influence the outcome of the presidential horserace was most clearly expressed at this exact juncture eight years ago, when the left-leaning Guardian newspaper launched “Operation Clark County” in a bid to unseat President George W. Bush, another Republican whose personality did not travel well. The plan was to “match individual Guardian readers to individual American voters” in the critical swing district of Clark County, Ohio, having them write “a personal letter, citizen to citizen, explaining why this election matters, and which issues ought to matter to the US electorate”. Readers were also encouraged to donate to the NAACP, call up radio talk shows including Air America and Rush Limbaugh, and write letters to local media outlets like the Springfield News-Sun.
No sooner had the operation been launched when the backlash began. A letter published five days subsequent to the initiation of Operation Clark County, summing up the mood of many Americans who did not care for limeys intervening in their election, read as such:
Have you not noticed that Americans don’t give two shits what Europeans think of us? Each email someone gets from some arrogant Brit telling us why to NOT vote for George Bush is going to backfire, you stupid, yellow-toothed pansies … I don’t give a rat’s ass if our election is going to have an effect on your worthless little life. I really don’t. If you want to have a meaningful election in your crappy little island full of shitty food and yellow teeth, then maybe you should try not to sell your sovereignty out to Brussels and Berlin, dipshit. Oh, yeah - and brush your goddamned teeth, you filthy animals.
Such invective, while being odiously nativist, should be forgiven within the context of the Guardian’s ridiculously patronising scheme. Guardian readers are not to be faulted necessarily for taking an interest or picking sides in a foreign election, but the original sin in Operation Clark County was the sheer arrogance of the conceit. Executed on a person-to-person basis, it claimed in essence that a university professor living in Kilburn or a frappuccino-sipping, Planet Organic-lunching Zumba instructor from Islington knew what was better for autoworkers in Springfield, Ohio and their families than they did. Within a little over a week, Guardian editorial board member Ian Katz cancelled the operation.
Romney now finds himself in a similar situation to Bush in October 2004, involved in a close race that has come down to a few swing states, including once more Florida and Ohio. Recent polling data also shows that, like Bush, Romney is unpopular in the rest the world and rather strikingly in Europe in particular. Only 3pc of respondents to a YouGov poll in Britain, 4pc in Germany, and 5pc in France said they would feel more favourable towards the United States if Romney were to win in November.
Romney should be rather grateful, therefore, that European don’t have the vote, and that the views and opinions of Europeans have no impact upon the actual outcome of the election, as Operation Clark County demonstrated. But this does not mean, of course, that Romney should ignore in totality the negative atmosphere hanging over the United States’ most essential economic and military ally. He would wise to temper his rhetoric now – his diminishment of Europe, his suggestions that the continent to going to hell in a handcart, his trivial use of Greece and Spain’s very serious economic plight to symbolise failure – in preparation for the all too foreseeable day when he has to cooperate with European leaders and the “bureaucrats in Brussels who lack any semblance of democratic accountability” to get things done.