[NOTEBOOK]Europe misjudged AmericansEurope, indeed, the rest of the world, must be sorely disappointed. Most of the elite media in Europe, bunched together on the liberal-left side of the spectrum, were caught on the wrong foot by the re-election of George W. Bush. Taking their cues from their American liberal counterparts, they read the electoral landscape in America completely wrong. Hence they were shocked to learn that John F. Kerry had lost after all. They all believed he would win by a comfortable margin. Why?
Let’s ask first: What do foreign correspondents in the U.S. read before the report home? The New York Times. What do their editors in Berlin, Paris and Brussels read? The International Herald Tribune, which is an offshoot of the Times. And they all watch CNN, a left-leaning cable network. As I am teaching at Stanford University this fall, I am of course also reading the New York Times, delivered daily on my doorstep.
In the process, I became ever more incredulous. Not only did the Times take a strong stand for Kerry and against Bush on the editorial pages, the whole news section was shot through with pieces that, by selection, intonation and even subtly inserted commentary, denigrated Bush and celebrated Kerry. If that was all one read, one just had to be convinced that all of America was eagerly awaiting Nov. 2 to banish Bush to Texas and carry Kerry into the White House.
Of course that didn’t happen. Not only was Bush re-elected with a comfortable margin, he also scored a triumph unheard of since 1936, which was the last time a sitting president actually increased his party’s strength in both houses of the Congress.
Which goes to show that the U.S. elite media from the Boston Globe to the Los Angeles Times read the country wrong, and that the European press, as a result, gets it wrong, too. So this election is above all a warning to our media: Please do not report only what fits into your preconception; report and analyze the facts without fear or favor, and tell your readers what you think on the editorial page.
Another thing the Europeans, who were rooting for Kerry, did not get from their American colleagues, was this: The Democratic candidate was by no means a mixture of Kofi Annan, Mother Teresa and French President Jacques Chirac, though Kerry was schooled in Europe and speaks perfect French. Europe’s Bush bashers did not understand that a President Kerry would have run a foreign policy not that different from Bush’s. Sure, the tone and the style would have changed, with a few more bows to multilateralist etiquette. But would Kerry have pulled out of Iraq? No, in his campaign debates he said that he would pretty much do what Bush is doing, and stay for at least four years. Would Kerry have been less obsessed by Islamic terrorists? No, during one of the debates, he said with clenched teeth, “Kill them!”
Would Kerry have joined the Kyoto Climate Protocol or the International Criminal Court? Let’s not forget that it was the Democrats under Clinton who pulled away from both of these agreements. Yes, Kerry did speak about a “global test” for American interventions abroad, but like Bush, he would never allow other nations, or the UN, a veto over American actions.
The Bush bashers praying for Kerry did not understand that the conflicts weighing on the Euro-American relationship have little to do with the person or ideology of the old and new president. The issue is power and threat. America feels that it is the main target of terrorism, a fear the Europeans do not share, even after the Madrid attack last March. The Europeans have an option the United States has not, which is to opt out of the war on terror and to flatten themselves as a target, so to speak.
Second, America is the most powerful nation on earth, which means that it has the means not only to act against this threat, but also do this by itself and without the military help of allies. Multilateralism tends to be the weapon of the weak. That makes all the difference, and that difference would not have disappeared under a president by the name of Kerry. America is the one and only superpower, and the Europeans as well as the bigger players in Asia like Japan and South Korea are just middle powers without the capacity for independent military action.
The Europeans also liked Kerry for reasons of domestic politics. Europeans think that the Democrats are the party of the poor and underprivileged (good) while the Republicans are the party of the rich and mighty (bad). In fact, these two parties have almost traded places. The Republicans have a lock on the Christian lower-middle and middle class in the American heartland between the two coasts. And they are making steady inroads among the Hispanics and the black middle class.
Conversely, the typical Democratic voter is highly educated, professional, secular and well-to-do. The Democrats have become the party of billionaire George Soros and of Hollywood moguls like Steve Spielberg and hence they are speaking a language Middle America no longer understands.
The proof? Look at it this way. By all rights, George W. Bush should have been fired on Nov. 2 for excessive incompetence in running the economy and the Iraq war. Yet he was comfortably re-elected, and he has increased his control over the Congress. Shouldn’t the Democrats learn a lesson from this surprising outcome? They will have to get back into the mainstream, where faith, patriotism and self-sufficiency counts for more than what the UN says and what Germans, Spaniards and Frenchmen think.
There is one Democrat that did not shed any tears on Nov. 2. Her name is Hillary Clinton, and she now has a clear shot at the White House in 2008. She knows why her husband, Bill, won twice ― with a resolute centrism and respect for the moral values of Middle America, instead of maneuvering among the Democratic left. Watch Hillary starting to prepare her bid two years from now. Watch her taking one page after another out of Bill’s middle-of-the-road book, and watch her win. The bet for 2008 is: Bush II will be followed by Clinton II.
* The writer is the editor of Die Zeit, a German weekly, and a research fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institute.
by Josef Joffe