WIN OR LOSE, OBAMA HAS
HELPED SALVAGE AMERICA’S REPUTATION
I write this entry from a
diner in the heart of London’s East End, where I have recently taken up
residence after living nearly my entire life in my beloved hometown of
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA.
Being a recent transplant
to Europe I feel it appropriate that my virgin blog entry on Blurt address an issue intertwined in both American and European society. That being
the case, why steer clear of the personal? Let’s cut straight to the bone and look
at why when I say, “I’m American,” approximately three-quarters of
Europeans get a look on their face that says, “Excuse me while I swallow
down the little mouthful of vomit that just crept up my esophagus.”
As an American with joint
Irish/American citizenship I started going to Europe on a regular basis about
seven to eight years ago. In my early days of trekking around various European
countries most people I encountered along the way almost seemed to sit up
straight as an air of interest and excitement beamed from them upon learning
that I was from the USA. This was especially true directly after 9/11, when
Europeans seemed to swoon over me and beam gushers of sympathy and
encouragement on me after learning that I was an American, or what one Englishman
referred to as, “A victim of those heartless bastards hiding out somewhere
in a cave of Afghanistan.”
But those were the good old
days, when it seemed the entire world was in sympathy with the USA. It didn’t
take long for Uncle G-Dub and Uncle Dick to f that up. The more the US took on
the look of an Orwellian nightmare rather than the beacon of freedom, equality,
and hope, the more European’s soured on the USA. All of a sudden people were
asking me, “Are you a fan of George Bush?,” suspicion in their eyes.
“And how do you feel about Iraq?” Yep, the Iraq war wrecked America’s
reputation with Europe overnight.
I wish I could say that
Europe’s sudden disdain for America was limited to our president, that they
were thinking, “The American people are A-OK friendly folk who fell victim
to the manipulation of GW…,” but it isn’t that simple. Millions of
Europeans, conservative and liberal, young and old, poured onto the streets in
protest of the US-led invasion of Iraq because it was so obvious to them that
George Bush, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell and company were
full of total b.s. in arguing that Iraq was a threat to the rest of the world.
“If we can see it,” pondered Europe, “why can’t the people and
the Congress of the USA see it? What the hell is wrong with them?
Why aren’t they out in the
street in the same numbers we are? After all, it’s their kids who are going to
fight and die for oil and to enrich the pockets of Bush and his cronies.”
You see, Europe’s attitude wasn’t that the invasion of Iraq and the behavior of
the USA pre- and post-invasion was a case of an administration gone out of
control, Europe’s attitude was that an apathetic, ignorant and lazy America
allowed a bunch of criminals to do whatever the hell they felt like doing.
I’m sorry to report that I
had become so accustomed to the rolling eyes of Europeans as I acknowledged
being from the U.S. that their skeptical attitude toward my citizenship hardly
phased me anymore. However, that changed recently when people started
asking me a new question, “What do you think of the black guy running for
president? Barack Obama?”
Hmmm… This is a
new one! I thought
to myself. Interesting…
And so it was that I
noticed a new attitude creeping into the psyche of my European brothers and
Regardless of how he
performs as president (if he happens to reach that lofty office), one thing
Obama’s candidacy has done almost instantaneously is improve the image of the
United States in the eyes of many Euros. Hillary Clinton’s candidacy helped
too, as Europe witnessed what seemed to be a breakthrough in America’s
patriarchal old-white-guy-running-the-country culture. But Hillary is very much
viewed in Europe as the Old Guard. And having voted for war, her image in
Europe is not what it might be if she were more of a Washington outsider.
Furthermore, the true symbol of social progress in America for many Europeans
lay in the history of America’s civil rights era of the 1960’s; highlighted in
particular are the images of police dogs mauling peaceful African American
activists, the courage of Rosa Parks, the inspirational vision and oratory of
Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. After witnessing an illegal invasion of
another nation, Gitmo, state sanctioned torture, extraordinary rendition, the
refusal to join a international ban on cluster bombs, the abandonment of
numerous nuclear weapons treaties, and a stick in the eye of the international
community on the issue of the environment, an African-American running for
president and having a significant opportunity to win the office resonates in
the hearts of Europeans like the low hum of a Dutch-engineered windmill power
The reality is that
European’s see Barack Obama as a spit in the face to George Bush and his America.
They see America’s support of Obama as a sign that just maybe America is waking
the hell up; that America finally realizes that the direction GW has steered
the ship and consequently the world, is straight for the rocks on the
shoreline. Bush is a madman bent on war, Obama is a diplomat who would do
everything possible to avoid war. Bush can hardly form a complete sentence,
Obama is articulate and eloquent. Bush’s mind is vacuous and empty, Obama’s
mind is forward thinking and rational. Bush is dumb, Obama is smart. Bush is
white, Obama is black.
The latter point sums it up
nicely. To Europe it is as plain as black and white. Bush represents a
belligerent, ugly America. Obama represents the idealized American Dream that
is legend in European hearts; an America that does not judge a person based
sex, religion, class or color, an America that lives up to the lofty ideals it
has symbolized for so many years.
So is that enough of a
reason to vote for Obama? In my eyes it is not the reason, it is one of
many reasons–but that’s a topic for another entry. For now I’m just happy to
report that Obama has already delivered in one respect. And I suddenly feel a
flicker of hope in my heart when people ask me what country I come from.
Justin Sane fronts the originally Pittsburgh-based punk band Anti-Flag.