24 July 2008

25 July 2008 - European Obamamania explained?

Arriving in Europe ahead of Obama World Tour 2008, I expected a wave of foreign Obamamania. At the Amsterdam airport shops, however, the most prominent biography was that of Boris Johnson, the mop-headed, American-born Tory who recently ousted “Red Ken” Livingstone as mayor of London. Dreams Of My Father and The Audacity of Hope, ubiquitous in U.S. bookstores, were nowhere to be seen.

In the streets of Prague on Saturday afternoon, a sudden roar echoed through the cobblestone canyons--a rally of hundreds of Corvettes, driven by hobbyists from all across Europe, who gunned the engines and waved to the delighted crowd. The onlookers took a sort of guilty pleasure in the parade: the Corvettes look slower and heavier than European roadsters, but they're louder and a heck of a lot more fun.

Later, at a café, we overheard a conversation among three young Austrians. They were debating German Chancellor Angela Merkel's attempt to discourage Obama from speaking at the Brandenburg Gate. Was it racist? one asked. Well, what if Bush had campaigned there? Can you imagine the protests? another answered. At the next table, American tourists, oblivious, complained about the weak dollar.

We Americans are so consumed by self-doubt that we're in danger of forgetting our greatest strengths. Opinion polls tell us the world prefers Obama, but we have failed to understand why Europeans in particular seem to like him. We're told that Europe is so fed up with Bush that it wants a more pliant U.S. leader, the kind of man who is ashamed of his country's ignorance of foreign languages (if not his own).

But the real reason Europeans like Obama may be the opposite. He is bold, brash, and arrogant--just the way Europeans like us, though they may not always admit it. Only in America could someone with so little experience aspire to the highest office, and come this close to winning. Europeans don't like Obama’s policies on trade and Iran, and they've let us know it. But they do like Obama's all-American swagger.

It's too bad Obama doesn't seem to understand this. He's convinced himself--to borrow from Bush père--that the world wants a "kinder, gentler" America. But power and pride--and the freedom that makes them possible--are what the world celebrates about America. The world likes us best when we dream big and win big. We need a president who knows how to win--without feeling guilty about it.

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