In the middle of the thundering herd’s race to blame the values issue for Kerry’s defeat, Jeff Jacoby–the Boston Globe’s tenuous link to reason–had some bad news for the idiots of the global village this week: “For four years, Americans watched and listened as President Bush was demonized with a savagery unprecedented in modern American politics….And then on Tuesday they turned out to vote and handed the haters a crushing repudiation.”
Very cutting edge, Americans. We may be on to something again. In the ’60s, it was free love. Nobody had to pay for it. Now it’s free hate–and nobody’s buying that, either. Virtually every major European newspaper is giving away lifetime supplies of toxic text and poisonous bile, all directed toward George W. Bush and the Americans hate-filled Brian Reade in the Mirror calls “the frightened and clueless…self-righteous, gun-totin’, military lovin’, sister marryin’, abortion-hatin’, gay-loathin’, foreigner-despisin’, non-passport ownin’ red-necks…who hijack the word patriot and liken compassion to child-molesting.” Persuasive, no?
Kerry, as you may recall, had no understandable plan to do anything other than take Bush’s job. The one thing that united all of his followers, polls often revealed, was hatred of George W. Bush. Hating Bush made Michael Moore a multimillionaire and, as the Times reported, Walter Cronkite a fool. But it was a lousy premise for a political campaign.
You’d think this would have been an easy thing for Democrats to see. After all, they had eight years of watching us when all we Republicans had was one huge, fun idea: Hate Clinton. Those were the days. But astonishingly, no matter how much we hated the guy, he wouldn’t go away. Al Gore, the surrogate Clinton, finally went down to defeat because he had to face a man who didn’t fall into the trap of battering folks with the hate-stick. George W. Bush relied instead on a kind of rural civility and a set of fairly cogent, appealing, commonsense notions: tax breaks, support for small businesses, a conservative approach to social problems, a realistic energy policy, etc. If Bush had run on a hate-Clinton/hate-Gore platform, he wouldn’t have carried Texas, let alone Florida.
Obviously, it’s easier to hate than to think, but the payoff, politically, is nil. That lesson is completely lost on our British friends. Lacking a better idea, the strategy of the liberal London dailies, as this front page of the Independent makes clear, is to hate Bush even more than they hated him before.
An aside: On the right, the Conservatives are using the hate-the-other-guy strategy in their effort to unseat Blair (who was quite eloquent in his remarks on the election, as noted here by the BBC). No place is the futility of this tactic more visible than in that padded room of British political magazines, The Spectator, where routine Tory screeds–like this one–have turned the “Blair lied” mantra into the dull thud of a man banging his head against a wall. “Blair lied” is even less effective than “Clinton lied,” since Clinton really did lie. Attention, Tories: No one on your charming island is going to read a “Blair lied” item in The Spectator and be convinced of anything he doesn’t already believe. Grant good faith in Iraq and go from there, Spec-lads. Why do I bother? Because your magazine is coma-inducing lately, and because Blair can only be defeated by ideas, not by hatred. However, because his only political enemies are angry, idea-lite people, to the right and to the left, he will indeed leave office one day–specifically, the day he decides to retire.
If you’re a British conservative, loopy anger is understandable. Hatred as a political tool always works best where hopelessness thrives. Jails, France, and Germany are filled with hate-filled, angry people. How’d you like to wake up tomorrow and find that Jacques Chirac is your president? Chirac and his small friend, Gerhard Schroeder, both used hate-America as a way of gaining popular support. This made sense for them, since there’s precious little political joy in countries with flat economies, immigration nightmares, collapsing pension schemes, high unemployment, and rampant anti-Semitism. The anger of the left-wing press in both countries reflects a hatred grown melancholy on a failure to be influential–much like the anger that infects that smelly bastion of Frenchiness on West 43rd Street, Gotham.
In fact, ever notice how, when hate-mongers try to appear affable, they can’t resist the rush of a bile-shooter? In the International Herald Tribune, an editorial (via the New York Times) asks for a “new start”–but only after comparing Bush voters with Muslims who vote for all those goofy imams. The Guardian calls those who voted for Bush racists, then asks for a “handshake.” Hell if I’d shake hands with anyone who wants to shake hands with a racist.
In Le Monde, a corrupt newspaper in a nation choking in corruption, the America of Bush II is seen by Jean-Marie Colombani as a bizarre place, where only New York and California can be understood by your standard-issue elite Frenchman. When you’re in Kansas, you’re not in the Ile de France any more, Toto. It’s clear, says Colombani, that Dominique de Villepin–poet, essayist, bureaucrat–was right when he said Europe would be unable to control American military might without developing military might of its own. That same theory paid big dividends about a hundred years ago, too. What we’ve learned as Americans since is that only a fool trusts France as an ally. The dumbest thing W. said in his first term–other than “reelect Arlen Specter”–was when he stood next to Chirac in Normandy on the 60th anniversary of D-Day and said that Americans would be glad to die for France again.
Le Monde and other French dailies covered the election with the sort of uncomfortable obsession of conspiracy theorists: The paper had piles of election-related stories last week–I counted 16 on one day alone. If Le Monde devoted as much skeptical coverage to French politics, not only would the hate-filled French rise in anger, Colombani would probably end up sharing a cell with Chirac.
In an AFP report in Le Figaro, Chirac claimed Bush’s mandate was an “occasion to strengthen Franco-American friendship [sic] and the trans-Atlantic alliance,” and to join together to fight terrorism and promote liberty and democracy (which is, no doubt, why he’s refusing to attend an EU luncheon for visiting Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi). In Libération the message was a little less full of blather: Basically, “If you liked Bush I, you’ll love Bush II.” The paper also offers a roundup of the rest of the EuroPress under a pop-quiz headline adapted from the Mirror: “How can 59 million people be so dumb?” I really had to work on that one, because it was sort of a trick question. I finally figured it this way: The population of France is 60 million, so that leaves one million unaccounted for. Those would be the ones who don’t hate us.
German newspapers deftly avoided nuance: “Bush belongs at a war crimes tribunal–not in the White House” was the delicate way Die Tageszeitung expressed their view of the U.S. election. The Frankfurter Allgemeine saw the Bush victory as evidence of “culture war”–although Kulturkampf carries a little extra historical baggage in Germany. Davids Medienkritik cites among other items a particularly odious piece of hate-filled trash in Spiegel Online by an American woman named Jody Biehl, who, says Spiegel, “isn’t the only American living in Europe suffering from a Bush re-election hangover. Nor is she alone in her thought that the United States has become as scary as Osama bin Laden.” I think she is, actually. But who cares? Jody may not be an inspired essayist, but she sure is feeling pouty: “I am sickened. I want the cavalry to come in and take these pretenders away. Or better, I want the extras in this bad film to burn down the stage…In the end, this election has done one thing to unite me with my countrymen. Like them, I, too am now deadly afraid.” Deadly, indeed. See what a little hatefulness can do? There is some good news, though: “As long as that fear exists, I will make Europe my home.”
Those people are nuts, and those who aren’t nuts are completely carried away. As John Vinocur reports in today’s IHT:
Just days before Tuesday’s vote, Felix Rohatyn, the distinguished banker and former U.S. ambassador to France, defined the election stakes for European consumption…talking to the French newsmagazine l’Express, Rohatyn described this week’s choice of a president as probably the most important in America since 1900 “and even since the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860.”
Were Europeans supposed to read into this that the election was tantamount to choosing between Kerry or slavery and civil war? The interview didn’t say.
But it well reflected the sense of rage and disenfranchisement that the internationalist wing of the American liberal establishment was experiencing at the prospect of Kerry’s defeat. Over the months leading up to the vote, its tactics seemed to be a kind of media carom shot. It involved branding Bush as a horror in discussing him with Europe, legitimizing and reinforcing in the process a slew of more anti-American than anti-Bush commentators, and then watching as this was replayed back into the Democratic campaign mix as evidence from Europe that Bush’s America had lost the world’s love and respect.
Like America listened or cared.
So, what have we learned, my friends? Gotta keep those ire-fires burning among the mad haters. As long as there’s a Teddy Kennedy and a Barbara Boxer, a Paul Krugman and a Maureen Dowd, a Dan Rather and a Walter Cronkite, we’re safe as houses. Happy houses, by the way.
‐Speaking of hate: What’s with all the crazy-angry e-mail last week? Just because in a reference to a French coastal settlement you thought I didn’t know the difference between Britney and Brittany doesn’t mean you get to send me nasty notes. As it happens, I actually do know the difference, although I see an embarrassed management changed the spelling in a failed effort to make me look smart. So now I am! One’s a singer, right? And speaking of Brittany, here’s the headline from TAZ’s page-one U.S. election story: “Oops–They did it again.”
‐Must be a headscarf-confusion thing: According to Libération, Jacques Chirac and half the French media are hovering over the soon-to-expire body of Yasser Arafat as if he were Mother Teresa. Maybe by the time you read this, the world’s ugliest terrorist will be a goner, in which case I withdraw the wisecrack and offer condolences to his family and prayers for the peaceful repose of his soul, with all the heartfelt sincerity of a French diplomat.
‐The sun never sets on Mark Steyn: He’s like Superman–he’s everywhere he needs to be, and he’s needed most of all in the pages of the Speccie, where his column this week boosts the value of the site from a click to a full beer: “Thank you, Lady Antonia Fraser! In 2000, Clark County, Ohio went to Al Gore. This time round, after the local citizenry were targeted by the Guardian to be the beneficiaries of Lady Antonia’s voting advice, and John le Carré’s and Richard Dawkins’s and many others, Clark County went to…George W. Bush!” To The Spectator, one Steyn is worth 20 Max Hastings and as many Liddles as you can fit in the back of a Ford F-150. Also in the current issue: “What is the English for ‘Refreshing towelette’?” “Did the three-foot-tall hominids of Flores have immortal souls?” and “The sudden disappearance of a beloved cat.” Take your pick, but I’d go for the Steyn item.
‐The elections in the Euro-blogs: I love I Love America. Every time I go to this cheerful, optimistic, over-the-top Italian blog, I crack up. Dig that happy election coverage. Can you imagine how much immondizia (that would be garbagio to you and me) poor Paolo has to put up with just to stand up for us? … At EuroPundits, Nelson Ascher reports Bush’s first post-election foreign-policy move: “The US finally recognized Macedonia as, well, Macedonia”–much to the annoyance of Greece, who wants the country to be called “the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, to distinguish it from the northern Greek region of the same name. But you can’t squeeze “the FYR Macedonia” into a decent national anthem–and besides, the Greeks are the surliest, most anti-American curs in Europe, so let them eat leaves or whatever, plus they can call their Macedonia the “Northern Greek Region of Macedonia”… Finally, at Stambord (“The Stockholm Spectator Blog”), Michael Moynihan and his colleagues have the massive and nearly thankless task of dotting the A’s and crossing the O’s for the Dagens Nyheter in an effort to infuse the rag with a dose of nonfiction. (Check the blog’s link to DN’s election item. You don’t need to know more Swedish than “Britt Ekland.) Writes Moynihan: “Here is a tip for you young, aspiring journalists in Sweden: When writing a story about President George Bush, just make up a bunch of revelatory ‘facts’–preferably ones that would shock and appall the self-appointed cultural elite–liberally apply alarmist language, slap a byline on it and–ta-da!–your first DN press clipping.” Moynihan then goes on to fact-check the paper’s tripe. Question. I hate to ask–and I mean this in a distinctly unhateful way: What can anyone do with a clip from the Dagens Nyheter?