New York Times
January 21, 2005
Watching George Bush's second inaugural from a bistro in Paris is like watching the Red Sox win the World Series from a sports bar in New York City. Odds are that someone around you is celebrating - I mean, someone, somewhere in Europe must be happy about this - but it's not obvious.
Why are Europeans so blue over George Bush's re-election? Because Europe is the world's biggest "blue state." This whole region is a rhapsody in blue. These days, even the small group of anti-anti-Americans in the European Union is uncomfortable being associated with Mr. Bush. There are Euro-conservatives, but, aside from, maybe, the ruling party in Italy, there is nothing here that quite corresponds to the anti-abortion, anti-gay, anti-tax, anti-national-health-care, anti-Kyoto, openly religious, pro-Iraq-war Bush Republican Party.
If you took all three major parties in Britain - Labor, Liberals and Conservatives - "their views on God, guns, gays, the death penalty, national health care and the environment would all fit somewhere inside the Democratic Party," said James Rubin, the Clinton State Department spokesman, who works in London. "That's why I get along with all three parties here. They're all Democrats!"
While officially every European government is welcoming the inauguration of President Bush, the prevailing mood on the continent (if I may engage in a ridiculously sweeping generalization!) still seems to be one of shock and awe that Americans actually re-elected this man.
Before Mr. Bush's re-election, the prevailing attitude in Europe was definitely: "We're not anti-American. We're anti-Bush." But now that the American people have voted to re-elect Mr. Bush, Europe has a problem maintaining this distinction. The logic of the Europeans' position is that they should now be anti-American, not just anti-Bush, but most Europeans don't seem to want to go there. They know America is more complex. So there is a vague hope in the air that when Mr. Bush visits Europe next month, he'll come bearing an olive branch that will enable both sides to at least pretend to hold this loveless marriage together for the sake of the kids.
"Europeans were convinced that Kerry had won on election night and were telling themselves that they knew all along that Americans were not all that bad - and then suddenly, as the truth emerged, there was a feeling of slow resignation: 'Oh well, we've been dreaming,' " said Dominique Moisi, one of France's top foreign policy analysts. "In fact, real America is moving away from us. We don't share the same values. ... In France it was a very emotional issue. It was as if Americans were voting for the president of France as much as for president of the United States."
That sense that America is now so powerful that it influences everyone else's politics more than their own governments - so everyone wants to vote in our elections - is something you hear more and more these days.
Elizabeth Angell, a 23-year-old American studying at Oxford, told me that a Pakistani friend at school had asked her if he could just watch her fill out her absentee ballot for the U.S. election. "He said to me, 'It's the closest thing I am going to get to voting. ... I wish I could vote in your election because your government affects my daily life more than my own.' "
The one concrete result of the U.S. election will probably be to reinforce Europe's focus on its own efforts to build a United States of Europe, and to further play down the trans-Atlantic alliance. "When it comes to emotions, the re-election of Bush has reinforced the feeling of alienation between Europe and the U.S.," Mr. Moisi said. "It is not that we are so much against America, it is that we cannot understand the evolution of that country. ... This election has weakened the concept of 'the West.' "
Funnily enough, the one country on this side of the ocean that would have elected Mr. Bush is not in Europe, but the Middle East: it's Iran, where many young people apparently hunger for Mr. Bush to remove their despotic leaders, the way he did in Iraq.
An Oxford student who had just returned from research in Iran told me that young Iranians were "loving anything their government hates," such as Mr. Bush, "and hating anything their government loves." Tehran is festooned in "Down With America" graffiti, the student said, but when he tried to take pictures of it, the Iranian students he was with urged him not to. They said it was just put there by their government and was not how most Iranians felt.
Iran, he said, is the ultimate "red state." Go figure.