The Aardvark Speaks : essence, effervescence, obscurity. Established 2002. A weblog by Horst Prillinger. ISSN 1726-5320


November 06, 2008

Changes?

Much as I appreciate the power change following the US election, I can't help the feeling that the expectations that many Europeans seem to have of Barack Obama seem to be slightly out of proportion. Sure, he's a smart and smart-looking guy with an oratorial gift that is impressive, and the comparisons between Obama's public appearances and those of JFK certainly do have a point, but the differences between the Republicans and the Democrats aren't ideological, at least not in a way the differences between European Conservatives and Social Democrats are.

I think that some of the European "Obamania" that led thousands of people to Obama's appearances in Berlin or Paris is based on a misunderstanding of how fundamental the political changes that he can bring about in the US are going to be. I daresay that it's highly unlikely that he is in a position to change many of the things that most Europeans do not understand about the US -- the death penalty, the attitude towards weapons, the readiness to use military intervention, to name only a few.

First and foremost, Obama is an American male. At least he's not a white American male, but the cultural divide between the US and Europe is significant, and Europeans should not fall victim to the illusion that Obama can fully transcend his cultural roots. He may not represent George W. Bush's America, but he still represents America.

Posted by Horst on November 6, 2008 09:38 PM to news of the world | Tell-a-friend
Comments
Jann said on November 7, 2008 07:53 PM:

"--the death penalty, the attitude towards weapons, the readiness to use military intervention--"...we are not a nation of bloodthirsty people drooling with anticipation as we await the next execution, carrying concealed guns to church as we listen to the preacher talk against the theory of evolution, waiting eagerly for our sons, daughters and grandchildren to reach the age where they can be sent off to be killed or maimed in far away places; no most of us are not like that!

Yes, the United States has some very serious problems, and the past eight years have been disastrous in many ways. We do not expect Barack Obama to work miracles; he cannot, for instance, magically undo decisions made by conservative, right-wing judges. But you, Horst, do not understand America or Americans...or you would not have written that last sentence, to which I, for one, take exception.

Horst said on November 9, 2008 04:19 PM:

OK, so every time I write something about the US president, someone totally misunderstands what I'm saying. I should probably stop writing about politics altogether.

I once got a piece of advice in an online chat: "whatever you do, never talk about the death penalty, weapons, abortion, or social security when Americans are present in the chat, because those who are not of your opinion will chastise you for having a different opinion, and those who share your opinion will chastise you for implying that they don't share your opinion." This has turned out to be very, very true.

I don't agree with you that I don't understand Americans; in fact, I had been kind of wary that some American might misunderstand my blog post, and your comment is the perfect example of what I referred to as the "cultural divide" between the US and Europe. We're speaking a language that both of us can understand, but we talk about totally different things. This is exactly why Obama's political agenda is much less prone to misunderstanding (and disappointment) in the US than it is in Europe.

If you seriously believe that I think the US is "a nation of bloodthirsty people drooling with anticipation as we await the next execution, carrying concealed guns to church as we listen to the preacher talk against the theory of evolution, waiting eagerly for our sons, daughters and grandchildren to reach the age where they can be sent off to be killed or maimed in far away places", then you would be implying a level of stupidity and narrowmindedness on my part that I take very strong exception to. I seriously hope that this is not the case.

Jann said on November 9, 2008 09:14 PM:

With all due respect, Horst, your post sounded negative, and mocking my words will not change that. If I didn't think highly of your intelligence, and respect your opinions, I would not be reading your blog in the first place. Surely you must realise that.

There are some Americans who do celebrate executions, do carry guns to church, and say they are pleased and proud when their children join the military and go off to Iraq. My point was that most of us are not like that.

The reason I objected to what you said, and maybe I didn't explain it well, is that despite racial barriers, despite everything, America has succeeded in electing Barack Obama, an African-American man, and a man who seems to have the right vision for America, right vision for the world, as our next president. Many thought this would never happen in their lifetimes. I saw tears in the eyes of Jesse Jackson as Senator Obama gave his victory speech. Now is the time for America to be proud. Let us have our moment!

Nobody can predict the future, but I think that whatever Senator Obama is able to achieve as President, or perhaps I should say, what the United States is able to achieve under his leadership, will come with a positive attitude.

dieter said on November 10, 2008 09:07 AM:

@Horst,no! Please don't give up on politics!
@Jann, of course, Horst is ranting. That's what I love about him.
However, as a fellow European, I know exactly, what he is talking about. All Europe was following the Presidentials closely, and our mass media managed to spread the general view that the Americans will choose between four more years of doom or a new surge of enlightenment. I am exaggerating, of course.
However, I share Horst's view that anything that Obama is going and let alone manage to change in international relations will have to fall short from general expectations around here.

As to capital punishment, NRA and so on, these are aspects of the US political culture that are just as inconceivable for the average European as they are unmistakably present in the US.

So, Jann, please reread his posting keeping in mind that he is addressing a European public. And be assured, we all whish Obama the best of luck, but it is better not to expect the sun to go up in the West starting next february...

Jann said on November 10, 2008 11:29 AM:

@dieter, I do and always did understand that Horst was talking about European expectations, and not American. I still am not comfortable with his last sentence, but I very much appreciate hearing your point of view. Would it surprise you to know that many of us in the US find the ideas of the NRA incomprehensible, and that we thought, similarly, that the choice was either four more years of disastrous policies, or a "new surge of enlightenment" (I like your wording, and I don't think you're exaggerating). To us Barack Obama represents hope, but perhaps our expectations are more realistic.

I wonder if Europeans understand what a truly remarkable achievement it was for Barack Obama to be elected. Keep in mind that (my opinion) the 2000 election was stolen; the Florida votes were not counted properly and even though it was obvious that most people in Florida had voted for Al Gore, the U S Supreme Court gave the presidency to George Bush. Many Americans were worried that something like that would happen this time, that their votes would somehow not count. So it was not just a matter of who people were voting for, but a matter of whether a proper election could be held. But we pulled it off! The voting went smoothly and the networks called the election for Barack Obama at 8:00pm PST (11:00pm EST).

And, Horst, I don't want you to give up on politics either. But please understand that Americans are feeling proud and hopeful now; we're not quite ready to hear anything negative, even if it's intended for a European audience.

Petter Naess said on November 10, 2008 11:50 AM:

Greetings from Norway. Overnight the U.S. has gone from being a nation people detest to a nation people are excited about. That's an important change! Americans who are proud of their country can now say so in Europe - that's a change too! I think most Norwegians, like me, have fairly limited expectations of what Obama can accomplish, and realize that he's a product of a different political culture. But he's a man that makes it very hard to hate the U.S. - that has been far too easy under Bush. I suspect Europe and the U.S. will have serious differences in the future too - but those differences will discussed in an atmosphere of mutual respect - that's a big change! Like most librarians, I lean to the left...but since I also work at the U.S. embassy in Norway, I'm sensitive to your remark about Obama needing to "transcend his cultural roots." Shouldn't Europeans on the left be making the same demand of Berlusconi, Fogh Rasmussen, Sarkozy, Merkel, the late Haider, and a host of other politicians?

Horst said on November 10, 2008 12:02 PM:

Petter, I did not say that Obama needs to transcend his cultural roots. I said that he cannot transcend them as much as some European media would want him to. The problem is not Obama at all, it's the unrestrained euphoria over Obama in Europe. Not only is it perfectly unnecessary that Obama transcend his cultural roots, it would be a very stupid thing to do. My point was that the European media should see what a big step Obama's election is for the US, be happy with that and forget about their European expectations.

The remainder of your comment is very true of course. I'm still pretty much embarrassed by the Austrian election results, and even more about how Jörg Haider suddenly turned into a saint after his death. However, that wasn't the topic of my article; my article was about how European media are building extreme overblown hopes about what changes Obama can bring about, so I was criticising that for now.

Petter Naess said on November 11, 2008 04:48 PM:

Then we agree. It's easy to gloss over how different the U.S. is, since we're so conversant with many aspects of its culture. That's a memorable and true quote.."because those who are not of your opinion will chastise you for having a different opinion, and those who share your opinion will chastise you for implying that they don't share your opinion".

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