Editor’s note — Barack Obama is in Paris today, one day after his huge rally in Berlin. NRO’s Byron York was in Paris last month and saw firsthand a bit of the French love affair with Obama. This column originally appeared last month in The Hill.
Paris — “But why wouldn’t you vote for Obama?”
I’m having lunch with an Obama supporter at La Coupole, the venerable brasserie in Paris’s Montparnasse neighborhood. The woman who asked me that question, along with her fiance, has come to discuss something else, but the talk inevitably comes round to the U.S. presidential race. And the question here, as all across Europe, is:
What reason could there possibly be for Barack Obama not to be the next president of the United States?
Put another way, why would anyone vote for John McCain?
There are any number of reasons I could mention, but since we had just gotten word in the last few hours of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Boumediene case, in which the narrowest possible majority, 5-4, voted that prisoners in Guantanamo Bay can go to federal court to challenge the U.S. government’s right to detain them, I bring up the issue of judges.
A decision like Boumediene is bad enough from the current Court, I say. If Obama were elected, it would certainly get worse.
My lunch companion doesn’t agree. In the European mind, Guantanamo is one of the centers of evil in the world, a dungeon where George W. Bush commits unspeakable acts on innocent Muslims who just happened to be on a battlefield in Afghanistan or Pakistan when U.S. troops captured them.
She says the prisoners in Gitmo have been denied their constitutional rights.
I say they are enemy combatants; they have rights under international treaties, but not American constitutional rights.
But they have “global rights,” she insists.
What are “global rights”? I ask.
There’s no precise definition, but as far as I could tell, “global rights” appear to be American constitutional rights applied to the entire planet. It’s an astounding notion, given that American constitutional rights definitely do not apply across the entire planet — not even in places like, well, France.
Do you have “global rights,” I ask. What if you make some public statement offensive to Muslims? Here in France, you might be prosecuted. Do you have a “global right” to freedom of speech or not?
Is there a “global” First Amendment?
We went round and round without reaching any agreement on much of anything. And then things went downhill a little farther when the talk turned to the subject of Obama and race. She told me that in France there isn’t the racial segregation one finds in the United States.
I had to wonder about that. I saw almost no black faces around us in Montparnasse, but the day before, in a part of Montmartre, I saw almost all black faces.
And what about those almost entirely minority suburbs on the outskirts of Paris? Could it be that there are residential divisions of racial, ethnic, and religious groups — nothing dictated by law, just residential patterns — in France, too? Is it segregation in the U.S. but something else here?
And what about politics? A recent article in the New York Times discussed how there is “one black member representing continental France in the National Assembly among 555 members; no continental French senators out of some 300; only a handful of mayors out of some 36,000, and none from the poor Paris suburbs.”
So here in France they are very, very excited about Barack Obama, but have made it somewhat unlikely that an Obama of their own will emerge.
I have a friend in London, very Euro in outlook, who is terrifically frustrated and worried about the election.
His chief concern: the role of Americans. “It’s a pity that Americans are the ones who elect the president,” he says. “It would be much better if the people of the world voted on the American president.”
And guess who would be elected in such a scenario? Here’s a hint: It’s not John McCain.
But alas, our system works differently. We’re going to have a campaign, and then Americans will decide who will be president.
Whether Obama wins or loses, he will still be a hero here in France.
Just as long as he doesn’t try to run for office.