Europe: Understanding the United States of America

On the eve of the final speech at the Democratic National Convention, François Clemenceau, blogger for “le blog USA 2008” and currently at the convention, in Denver, Colorado, tries to explain why grasping the nuances of the US presidential elections (or the US of A in general for that matter) is not an easy task from a foreigner's perspective.
He illustrates his case with two examples. For instance, he stresses out how differently the arrest of the three men who threaten to kill Obama was perceived in Denver and in Europe. The arrest was deemed a non-story by most media in the US. The reason stated by the prosecutor was that since the three men were not a credible threat to be able to get near the candidate and cause harm, one cannot talk of a legitimate threat.
Clemenceau explains:

“On a le droit de dire « je rêve de tuer Obama et voilà comment je m’y prendrais », mais tant qu’il n’y a pas le moindre commencement de mise en pratique, tout cela relève de la liberté d’expression”.

One is allowed to say “I dream of killing Obama and this is how I will do it” but until there are not concrete action initiated towards that goal, it all comes down to freedom of expression.

Guillemette Faure of rue89 is also amazed at how freely people of various opinions are expressing themselves at the convention and how tolerant the attendees are of people with different ideologies:

“Cette faculté de la société américaine à laisser s’exprimer les adversaires est toujours étonnante. On s’en fait encore une idée à l’extérieur de la convention où des groupes anti-avortement portent d’immenses photos de foetus sanguinolents et traitent Obama de » tueur de bébés » (parce qu’il défend le droit à l’avortement). Chacun passe devant eux sans leur dire quoi que ce soit…”

The ability of the American society to let their opponents express themselves is always amazing. One telling picture is the fact that outside the convention, anti-abortion groups carry large photos of bloody foetuses and call Obama a “baby-killer” (because he is pro-choice). Everyone walks by without saying a word..

François Clemenceau points out to a second wrinkle of these elections that is unique to the US. He wonders why traditionally red states (Kansas, West Virginia, Arkansas, Colorado, Caroline du Nord, Tennessee, Wyoming, Kentucky) have elected democrats as governors. He explains:

“Il semble juste que ces Etats du Sud et du Grand Ouest font la distinction entre des gouvernements de proximité, où l’on peut programmer des politiques assez centristes et de bon sens, et l’Etat fédéral à la tête duquel on cherche à placer quelqu’un qui « incarne » l’Amérique.”

“It seems that the Southern and Southwestern states make the distinction between local state governors, who can implement political strategies that are fairly moderate and based on common sense whereas for the country as a whole, they are looking for someone who embodies “America”.

The final characteristic that seems to have stood out to European bloggers at the convention is thirst for the melodramatic speeches and the hollywood-like atmosphere of a political meeting:

“Ce n’est pas de donner dans le mélo qui est critiquable, c’est l’ambivalence qui consiste à jouer Cendrillon sur la scène et Machiavel en coulisses. Les américains savent qu’on ne gouverne pas avec des bons sentiments. Ils veulent des hommes « strong ou tough » pour diriger leur pays.”

The melodramatic speeches are not to be condemned, it's the ambivalence of being Cinderella-like on the surface and then Machiavelli in the background. Americans know countries should not be governed by good sentiments. They want people who are “strong/ tough” to lead their country.

After President Clinton's endorsement of Obama, Guillemette Faure notes that 16 years earlier, Bill Clinton made his supporters at the convention repeat in unison “we can do it”, reminiscent of the ubiquitous “yes we can” Obama slogan.

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