Opinion: Europeans Should Prepare for Obama Disappointment | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 09.07.2008
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Opinion: Europeans Should Prepare for Obama Disappointment

Europeans welcomed the news that the Democratic presidential hopeful would visit Berlin and other major European cities this month. But Jefferson Chase says Obama's main task will be to avoid seeming too Euro-friendly.


Recent United States' electoral history is littered with the corpses of Democratic presidential candidates who were perceived as being a bit too European for Middle America's liking.

In 1988, Mike Dukakis blundered badly by suggesting that Iowan farmers consider producing Belgian endive, a vegetable most Americans neither knew nor could pronounce.

In 2004, John Kerry's European background and fluency in French rebounded against him, as Republicans began starting speeches with the phrase "Hello or, as John Kerry would say, bonjour."

One of the surest ways not to get elected president is make your fellow Americans feel inferior. It's better to bubba it up like Bill Clinton and pretend to be less worldly than you are than to risk being perceived as an effete social climber who adopts foreign words and ideas -- no matter how sensible they may be.

Barack Obama, who has already had to struggle against the elitist label, will be mindful of this when he does his grand tour of Europe later in July.

Tough love

The news on Tuesday July 8 that Obama intends to pop by Berlin on July 24 created an immediate buzz among Germans, who prefer him by a margin of nearly seven-to-one to his older, less charismatic and more hawkish rival, Republican candidate John McCain.

Rarely, if ever, has a US President been so thoroughly loathed in Europe as George W. Bush. And German Obamaniacs would love to see their man deliver a firebrand speech proclaiming a return to policies of diplomacy over military intervention, environmental responsibility, and cooperation and consultation with America's traditional Western European allies.

Fat chance. Obama's main goal in Berlin and elsewhere will be look presidential, which in the eyes of many Americans means looking like someone who can keep Europe under control.

Perhaps for this reason, the Obama camp would like its candidate to appear in front of the Brandenburg Gate, a site that symbolizes for many Americans their victory in the Cold War since it was where Ronald Reagan famously called upon Russia to tear down the Berlin Wall in 1987.

Obama will no doubt utter some homilies about repairing the cracks in the "special friendship" between Germany and the US that appeared in the context of the US-led war in Iraq. But he's extremely unlikely to suggest that his policies, if elected, will be influenced by European opinions and perspectives.


Obama's host, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, faces a tightrope walk of her own.

Merkel, like most European leaders, would probably be happier dealing with Obama than McCain, given the Arizona senator's support for the war in Iraq and American military interventionism in general.

But Merkel has to hedge her bets to avoid creating bad blood with the Republican, which would not be in Germany's interests, should he win the presidency.

Some within the German government have questioned whether the Brandenburg Gate should be used for what will be, in essence, an American campaign speech. And thus far, the only official reaction from the Chancellor's office has been that Obama is welcome -- as is McCain.

On the other hand, Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit -- hardly unaware of the public relations value of a photo op with Obama and crowds of adulators -- has welcomed the idea of the candidate appearing at the Brandenburg Gate.

But if Obama plays it strategically cool, as strategy dictates he must, in his speech, the publicity from being seen next to "Europe's choice for President" could be less positive than Wowereit would have hoped.

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