In Europe, the Obama thrill isn't gone

Republican candidate Mitt Romney was greeted warmly by former Polish President Lech Walesa during his recent trip abroad, but Europeans generally remain fond of President Obama. CHARLES DHARAPAK / Associated Press
Republican candidate Mitt Romney was greeted warmly by former Polish President Lech Walesa during his recent trip abroad, but Europeans generally remain fond of President Obama. CHARLES DHARAPAK / Associated Press
Posted: August 03, 2012

Barack Obama is on stage, bathing in an ocean of jubilance. Two hundred thousand people are cheering for him, many chanting, "Yes, we can" — although what none of them can do is vote for him. It's July 24, 2008, and in the middle of Berlin, Obama is enjoying one of the most impressive moments of his presidential campaign.

Four years later, Obama's Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, has just finished visiting Europe. But his trip did not give the world any images comparable to those from Berlin four years ago — not even close.

Many Europeans remain fascinated with Obama. Four years ago, he had an easy act to follow in Europe, where many were deeply frustrated with the foreign policy of George W. Bush, which they found unacceptably unilateral. To them, Bush constantly seemed to be saying, "I'm the only real cowboy here, and I have the biggest hat, too."

Europeans — especially Germans, who are deeply thankful for the United States' generosity after World War II — wanted to be able to love America again. That's why they fell in love with Obama.

The crazy thing about love is that it often lasts, even when it turns out not to be entirely justified. That's especially true when lovers don't have to share a bathroom. In Europe, of course, Obama doesn't have to worry about anyone holding him responsible for the economy; Europeans have their own politicians to blame for that. And although Obama did not, for example, keep his promise to close Guantánamo — a step that many in Europe considered essential — they give him credit for at least trying to do things differently.

During the Republican primaries, in fact, one could have easily gotten the impression that many Germans were surprised and even annoyed that there were really candidates who wanted to run against Obama. Germany's mainstream media emphasized the conservatism of tea-party candidates, which tends to appall liberal-leaning Germans.

Romney, for his part, is usually portrayed in the country's media as relatively moderate, but also as a heartless businessman who doesn't care about ordinary people — and, last but not least, is dull and unable to deliver a good speech. The Obama campaign would love German television. The president could be a lot more confident about his prospects if only he could run for office in Europe.

Nevertheless, should Romney actually defeat Obama, it would not be impossible for him to establish good relations with the major European countries — notwithstanding episodes of clumsiness during his recent travels in Europe, such as his criticism of Britain's readiness for the Olympics. While Obama is popular among Europeans and more of a multilateralist than Bush, the continent's leaders have noticed that he can seem uninterested in transatlantic relations and prone to concentrate on Asia. European politicians will probably welcome anyone who makes them feel they are not playing second fiddle.

As for ordinary Europeans, though they loved John F. Kennedy and still love Barack Obama, they will be able to like Mitt Romney, too — provided he learns to say the right words at the right time.

Tobias Peter is a political reporter and news editor at the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger, a newspaper in Cologne, Germany. He is visiting The Inquirer as part of the International Center for Journalists' Arthur F. Burns Fellowship Program. He can be reached at tpeter@philly.com.

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