By Thomas Kando
I have been in Europe for about a week. I got here the same day as Obama. So I saw and read a lot about the G20 meeting in London last week, then the meeting with Nato's 27 members in Strasbourg, then Obama's trip to Turkey, etc. It's quite clear that, apart from whatever policy differences exist between the American President and the Europeans, the man remains unbelievably popular over here. There is no doubt that if Europeans could vote for the US presidency, Obama would be elected with a far greater majority than the 53% or so he got against McCain. This is all very fine. It also helps a lot with the problem discussed by Madeleine in the previous post - European anti-Americanism. That sentiment is quite subdued, at least for the time being. So what is it with Obama's popularity? I voted for him enthusiastically, and I continue to support him wholeheartedly. Why? Simple. Because of his positions and because of the policies he is proposing and enacting. He has promised to reverse or undo his predecessor's policies, and to fix the previous administration's disastrous legacies - from a stupid, costly and unnecessary war to an economic debacle caused by plutocratic greed, to environmental irresponsibility and an arrogant unilateral foreign policy.
However, Obama turns out to be a lot more cautious than many of us would have expected (and hoped) him to be. He wants to de-escalate the war in Iraq, but he is escalating the one in Afghanistan. He is still trying to save the banks by bailing them out instead of nationalizing them, or letting them go bankrupt. He is still promising tax cuts, even though the government's deficit is out of control. And so forth. Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman thinks that Obama and his Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner are doing it all wrong, still beholden to Wall Street. Well, I'm no expert. For now, I still strongly believe in the new man. To me, his efforts at saving the world still look inspiring.
But I'm wondering: what makes him so incredibly popular with hundreds of millions of Europeans? I do not believe that his popularity is based on his substantive positions. I do not believe that most people know what those are. I believe that most people - certainly over here, and probably also to a great extent in the US - love the new American President in a visceral, emotional sense that has little to do with his policies. They love him because he is handsome, he possesses a Stentorian voice in which he delivers eloquent speeches, and because he is the first President to come from the ranks of "the other." He is black. He is not, as Brazilian President Lula Da Silva recently accused the architects of the world economic crisis of being, "white and blue-eyed." If I were mean, I would be tempted to say that many Europeans love Obama because they are snobs. But I don't want to say that.
I suppose it's okay for leadership to be based on charisma - that is, after all, what I am talking about. But its' dangerous. Take President Kennedy. His popularity was very similar to Obama's: he was - first and foremost - handsome and eloquent. What he actually stood for was entirely secondary to the electorate. For example, let's not forget that Kennedy was every bit as much of a cold warrior as Richard Nixon, and that he brought the world to the edge of nuclear extinction during the Cuban Missile Crisis. But okay, overall Kennedy was, like Obama, both charismatic and a pretty good President.
But what if the charismatic leader is really a bad person? Hitler, right? Or maybe Napoleon (a more ambiguous example). Or Juan Perron.So here is my main point: Charisma is not the best basis for electing our leaders. Information about their policies is. And I have a strong impression that a majority of the people who are so blindly in love with Obama - certainly on this side of the pond - don't have a clue about his policies and his intentions. But the good news is: The new President's policies and positions are fine - even though most people don't know what they are.
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Wednesday, April 8, 2009
By Thomas Kando