Friday, 11 January 2008

Obama's loss: the view from Europe

Given that I wrote about Europe's reaction to Obama's win in Iowa last week, I thought it logical to now write about its reaction to his loss this week. Just from personal observation, I've been surprised at the huge level of relief being expressed by most people I know here in the UK. It seems that though they were impressed with and surprised by Barack's win, they are still rooting for Hillary to win the Democratic nomination. In fact I don't know a single European who actively wants Obama to win.

Part of this of course is that they know Hillary, they adored Bill Clinton and are eager to see a return to the Clinton years. They know almost nothing about Obama, and being removed from the domestic situation in the US they can't quite understand the enthusiasm for a man who has outlined little of his actual platform or policy plans.

And from a European perspective, what they do know they don't like. An article in The Times of London in December first started spreading the fear that Obama wasn't all that interested in or knowledgeable about Europe. The article pointed out that although Obama has been chairman of the Senate European Subcommittee since he became a senator in 2004 , he has failed to convene a single policy meeting of the group. He's also only made one brief official visit to London, and none to the rest of Western Europe. In fact there has been speculation that Obama hasn't travelled in Europe at all, even on an informal level. The campaign has been slow and vague in denying this.

This of course contrasts with Clinton's extensive visits to Europe in an unofficial and official capacity and her close contact with European leaders.

But beyond the distrust Europeans feel about Obama's enthusiasm for Europe, there is also another hesitation, particularly in the UK. As one Scottish friend put it, "I think we all view Obama with some distrust because we were burned so bad by Tony Blair, who came in with that same promise of renewal and hope but turned out to be just like the rest of them."

Of course the extent to which this is true of Blair can be debated, but considering the prevailing mood about Blair's legacy here in the UK at the moment it's not surprising that they would view a 'reformer' whipping people into a frenzy of hope and enthusiasm across the pond with a bit of cynicism.


Daniel said...

Interesting post, and I'm a little disappointed he never called a meeting of the European sub-committee. But to say Obama has few detailed policy proposals is just flat wrong.

He's been more detailed on a lot of issues than Hillary has been. She tries to triangulate on everything.

Take Social Security. She is calling for a "commission" but has already committed against raising the retirement age, means-testing any benefits, or raising the cap on the payroll tax (which is at $97,500 currently). He has said he's in favor of raising the cap, so that the wealthy pay their fair share.

Take a look at his website, and compare it to Hillary's proposals. Yes, his stump speeches are much more "forest" while hers have been almost entirely "trees." But a president is supposed to lead on big themes and move the country with them, not be a controlling technocrat like Jimmy Carter. Hillary actually talked about un-complicating financial aid forms during her stump speech in Iowa. Please. I think Obama does need to add more detail to his speeches, but that's been a strategic decision by his consultants, and is not due to the fact that he has no policy proposals.

Here's Obama's issues page:

and Hillary's:

Now tell me which is more detailed.

Daniel said...

The comparison of the foreign policy sections of their websites are even more stark.

Obama worked with Richard Lugar and passed legislation to help secure loose Soviet nukes. Hillary went to Bosnia when she was First Lady with Sinbad, lol.