A sigh of relief from France
Surprised and delighted. But also dismayed at certain troubling aspects of the campaign.
The overwhelming response across Europe has been elation. French President François Hollande offered Obama his “warmest congratulations” as did most other leaders.
Hollande summed up why the re-election is so welcome. Obama, he said, “is fully engaged on the international scene and well aware of current global challenges: peace, economy and the environment.”
The economy is the principal reason Europeans are relieved. A dossier spécial in le Monde Diplomatique feared that a Republican victory would have weakened Europe’s ideological resolve. Obama’s defeat “would be immediately interpreted as a failure of progressive strategies of Keynesian stimulus and health care reform.”
Obama’s interventionist stimulus program, the prestigious daily claimed, helped him win. “He showed that federal aid can contribute to economic growth.”
The Republican strategy of “making this election a referendum on how the President had managed the economy” was “parfaitement sensée” – perfectly sensible. “Le problème”, however, was that they “did not appear more credible in this area”.
Close second to the economy as a reason to celebrate Obama’s win is global security.
“Un soupir de soulagement” – a sigh of relief – was the response of Le Figaro’s Jean-Jacques Mevel. That and “fingers crossed for the future”.
“There is concern about the precedent that a second-term US president is more interventionist in foreign policy”, Mevel noted. “The second term is likely to be more aggressive.”
But this was more portent than warning. “The US is tired of divisions over Euroland’s inability to end the interminable Greek ordeal.”
Le Monde expressed concern over tensions likely to continue with Israel after PM Netanyahu backed Mitt Romney.
Laurent Zecchini’s report from Jerusalem pondered “whether Obama will be tempted to take revenge, and if so, how”. He quoted an Israeli diplomat troubled by Netanyahu’s “bet on the wrong horse”. Israel’s “capital at the White House has been squandered”.
Not surprisingly, Netanyahu was quick to applaud Obama’s win and promise collaboration to “ensure the vital interests of the security of the United States and Israel”.
While the economy, global relations and the environment were causes for celebration, two election issues trouble Europeans.
Jacob Weisberg at Slate.fr was dismayed that personal moral and religious concerns such as contraception and abortion featured so prominently. “It is curious these are considered more important than anything else by some people. More important than employment or public debt.”
“The fact that you are pro-choice or pro-life is nobody else's business”, claimed Jacky Terrasson in Newsring.fr. “Matters of private choice should not be at the heart of the debate. These should not be arguments to garner votes.”
US specialist at le Nouvel Observateur Soufian Alsabbagh agreed. “Talking about rape and abortion in terms used by Mitt Romney’s team is unacceptable for a segment of the population, including centrist voters.”
Philippe-Joseph Salazar also expressed bemusement at the priority afforded religion in the election campaign. He noted Romney’s concession speech: “I will pray for him [Obama] and our great nation.”
“Seen from France this is so comical”, the philosopher observed.
Commentators were also disturbed by the extent of “les mensonges flagrants – blatant lies – of the Republicans during the campaign”. In Europe this is usually punished with shaming in the media and banishment from public life.
“Romney stacks lie upon lie”, wrote Jacky Terrasson in Newsring.fr. Cécile Dehesdin at Slate.fr was shocked to see Romney “mentir si éhontement” – shamelessly lying.
Pierre-Yves Dugua at Le Figaro referred to Romney false allegations that Obama planned to slash military spending “by hundreds of billions of dollars” and disarm America. “Military spending under Obama has increased slightly,” he noted. “Democracy cannot come from waging this war of lies.”
How can a party so seemingly committed to Biblical values be so disdainful of teaching regarding bearing false witness? This seems the imponderable question.
Do Europe’s responses hold challenges for democracy in the US? And in other nations with parallel political processes and similar media, such as Australia and Great Britain? In all three countries both these phenomena alien and disturbing to the rest of the developed world – religion-based morality and frequent lying – seem embedded in the political right.
Why have so-called Conservative parties embraced “stacking lie upon lie”? What is the role of the media in calling to account? Does having sections of the press which also routinely distort and fabricate encourage mendacity?
Will this significant election loss by the Republicans prompt a rethink in this area?
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