The Global View (2)

Largely predictable, occasionally amusing, convention coverage from the European press.


International papers are buzz with “news” of the Democratic convention. Like their U.S. counterparts, they point out that the importance of the convention is overstated–only 34 percent of Americans are currently paying attention to the election says the Guardian–and yet they still cover the heck out of it, on the (partially accurate) reasoning that the event is important for John Kerry.

The Independent, a British daily, explains:

To many voters, including many Democrats, this new JFK [John Forbes Kerry] remains Senator for Massachusetts and Vietnam war hero, but otherwise a blank. Mr Kerry’s great asset is the fierceness of the antipathy that Mr Bush has awakened through his personality and his policies. This anti-Bush passion was the reason Mr Kerry won the nomination. It could yet win him the election. But he will have to show that there is more to John Kerry than not being George Bush.

Though most observers see Kerry’s failure to define his positions — a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll found that while two thirds of Americans see this election as one of the most important in their lifetimes, only 54 percent can identify where Kerry stands on key issues — as a liability, the French daily, Libération, suggests it might be intentional on Kerry’s part:

“…presenting themselves as champions of the middle class and of deep-felt American values doesn’t clarify what [Kerry and Edwards] have to offer — unless all this has been carefully weighed up and comes from extreme political caution, like those who know it is useless to run too fast too early and that an election is won from the centre.”

Regardless, the international press agrees that Kerry received a much-needed boost from Bill Clinton’s blockbuster speech two nights ago. Drawing a clear line between the Democrats and the Republicans, the former president’s “polished” speech “wowed the convention’s opening night,” the Agence France Press reports. (Cue inevitable unflattering comparisons with Kerry’s oratorical skills and incapacity to “wow” anyone.)

Piling on, the German Fuldaer Zeitung describes Kerry as unbending and aristocratic. While Europeans see Kerry’s stoic reserve as a mark of integrity, the paper says, it goes down less well with Americans in the mid-West and South. The convention cannot possibly change the preferences of a country that — as the European stereotype has it — favors down-home simplicity over gravitas and intellectual acumen. Deutsche Welle translates:

In a country where firearms can be readily bought over the counter, the owner of a cowboy hat and a gun is more likely to be thought a man of the people than a somewhat gauche lawyer who plays the guitar.

The hottest convention-related topic in the European papers was, understandably, this: How would a Kerry win influence Europe? The British press took the convention as an opportunity to squabble over how the upcoming election would affect Tony Blair. The Financial Times (London) noted the arrival of Labour Party officials and ministers in Boston as a sign that Tony Blair is trying to reestablish ties with the Democratic Party. The Financial Times argues that, though it might initially make Blair more vulnerable — as the last coalition leader who invaded Iraq still in office — a Kerry victory would be a victory for Blair. Bush’s re-election would threaten Britain’s foreign policy:

A second term for Mr. Bush would remove any prospect of a restored transatlantic alliance. Too many bridges have been burned. That would be as damaging for Mr Blair as for the international system. Britain’s role as a pivotal operator in the transatlantic relationship depends on the existence of such a relationship. A broken alliance, as we saw over Iraq, forces a British prime minister to choose between the US and Europe-and in so doing removes his capacity to leverage British influence.

The Independent (subscription only) disagrees:

Whichever candidate wins in November, Mr Blair stands to lose. If George Bush is re-elected, Mr Blair is saddled with the continuation of this awkward alliance, which is hugely unpopular with British voters. If John Kerry wins, Mr Blair must start afresh with a president whose philosophy and priorities may be more familiar, but whom he did not expressly support.

Blair aside, the British press makes clear the importance of Kerry’s foreign policy leanings. The Financial Times reminds us that though Kerry favors a multilateral approach, he would act unilaterally if necessary. The Austrian daily Kurier echoes the sentiment that Kerry’s foreign policy will remain “America first.” Deutsche Welle translates:

We can only assume that Kerry would embellish the U.S. claim to power with rather less simplification of matters by painting them all in terms of black and white, less moralizing and less lying …

While he may not be able to quell all foreign policy fears, Kerry has certainly reassured Israel, says the Jerusalem Post. The paper reports hundreds from the Jewish community gathering in Boston to rally behind Kerry’s pro-Israel stance:

Kerry spokespeople continued to say that the Massachusetts senator would be as good on the issue as President George W. Bush, hoping Jews, concerned with Israel’s security, and impressed by Bush’s record, will feel comfortable voting for Kerry.

‘Whoever is elected, Israel’s going to have a friend in the Oval Office,’ [Senator Joseph] Lieberman told The Jerusalem Post at a luncheon in his honor sponsored by [National Jewish Democratic Council].

‘I don’t have a negative word to say about President Bush when it comes to American support of Israel. But Kerry will be equally strong,’ Lieberman said.

On the lighter end of convention coverage, both the Guardian and the BBC register their amusement at a special convention edition of Kraft Mac n’ Cheese, featuring the fearless Democratic Donkey as pasta hero. A BBC blogger describes humorous anti-Bush paraphernalia including t-shirts with slogans such as “FauxNews” and “Asses of Evil” (Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfield). Also for sale were “knickers with slightly subversive and overtly sexual remixes of many of the Bush administration’s most famous tag lines.” The blogger’s personal favorite: “A hot pair of shorts with ‘weapon of mass seduction’ printed on the front.”