Sunday, April 20, 2008

French Kiss for Obama

From the Edmonton Sun:

PARIS -- The more things change, say the French, the more they remain the same. But France of 2008 is no longer the distant 1950s France of my youth. I admit nostalgia.

In those days, most French refused to speak English, a process they found undignified and painful. Today, the new globalized generation loves English. France is becoming bilingual. Even France's entry into the Eurosong competition is -- mon dieu! -- in English.

Paris taxi drivers, who once sought to install plates in their rear seats to electrocute passengers, have become shockingly polite. Retailers and waiters actually seem pleased to see you. The French have discovered a new happy pill.

Wine and bread consumption, once staples of French life, are way down. French are drinking less but better wines. Oppressed French can't smoke in bars and restaurants any more. Youth live on junk food. The wonderful old smoky, black and white France of my youth, with her riots, Edith Piaf and Yves Montand, army plots, silly Left Bank intellectuals, and weird little Panhard and Simca cars has vanished.

Europeans are fascinated by the U.S. presidential race. During two weeks of TV and radio broadcasting, the No. 1 question I was asked is who will win the U.S. primaries and November vote.


If all non-Americans had a vote -- I've always favoured a one-tenth vote for non-Americans -- then Barack Obama would win in a landslide. Like North Americans, most Europeans really don't know much about the experience-light senator, but what they see, they like beaucoup. You can feel a passion here for Obama that is quite remarkable.

He is, of course, the non-Bush. But so is Hillary Clinton, yet she inspires surprisingly little support even though hubby Bill, for reasons that elude me, was widely admired abroad. Hillary is regarded simply as an avatar of the Clinton political machine which, however formidable, is seen as empty of substance, and dedicated only to power and money.

The three Americans most respected internationally are Obama, Jimmy Carter and Al Gore. They are seen as representing America's best qualities. They are also a potent antidote to the rednecks, holy rollers, and totalitarian neocon ideologues who hijacked the Republican Party -- my life-long party -- and blackened America's name around the globe.

Obama is widely seen abroad as the candidate who can end the shameful Bush era and return America to a moderate, productive role in world affairs. He is expected to end the Iraq war and Bush's militarized foreign policy, and reintegrate the United States into the company of law-abiding, environmentally conscious nations, of which the European Union is now the leader.

Obama comes across to Europeans as dignified, decent, eloquent, and truthful -- qualities notably lacking in Bush and Dick Cheney who often represent some of America's cruder instincts and synthetic patriotism. Much of the world would hail and admire America for electing a man of colour, but even more so, one who appears to capture so much of what is great and admirable about the United States.

There are fears here the bitter Clinton-Obama contest may ruin both candidates, leading to four more years of Bush under John McCain.


But it may also benefit Obama. He needs to toughen up before facing the ferocious Republican attack machine that sunk war veteran John Kerry's campaign under a torrent of "swiftboat" lies. McCain is a gentleman, but not so Karl Rove's character assassins in waiting.

Obama could sharply improve America's highly negative image as a determined enemy of the Muslim world. Not because his father was Muslim, but because of his image of fairness and sensible foreign policy proposals calling for open dialogue instead of confrontation.

If Americans want to lower the terrorism threat against their nation, electing Obama is a good way to start.

It's distressing listening to the rich McCain and Clintons label Obama an "elitist" because he is intelligent, and poised. Next, they will brand him, "too French."
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