Europe's Usurpation of the Obama Triumph

Europe is rejoicing in the Obama victory and claiming it as a direct result of their moral superiority over Americans while at the same time hiding their own shortcomings and intolerances.
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The Obama victory is nothing short of sensational, epochal and a true game-changer in American politics. And we American progressives have every reason to be immensely proud of having backed this wonderful man in this historic quest that has already changed this country and will do so much more in the months and years to come.

While it is wonderful to observe how the world has welcomed this victory and how Obama has been met with a good-will bonus the likes of which is unprecedented in human history -- just think about it, the man has been welcomed by virtually every country in the world -- I find it troubling that European countries in particular regard Obama's election not only as a wonderful event all its own, but that they view it as their very own victory; as a direct vindication of themselves. By so doing, they are using the Obama triumph to justify their moral superiority in that they claim Obama as a crypto or quasi-European who is basically an American by accident. Having watched German television over the past few days, listened to German radio broadcasts and read the country's leading newspapers, there is an unquestioned sense of celebrating a German victory: The de facto "German" Obama, or the Obama with German sensibilities has defeated the racist, retrograde and yahoo Americans. Watching Micheline Calmy-Rey, the eminent French television personality, exclaim triumphantly and with glee that "Obama parle comme nous... (Obama speaks like we, i.e. the French, do), implicit in her gestures and demeanor was the unsaid "et pas comme les Americains" (not as the Americans). And to hear the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi -- a major Bush acolyte -- laud Obama as "young, attractive and well tanned" is tasteless to say the least.

My point is simple: Countries in Europe are rejoicing in the Obama victory and claiming it as a direct result of their moral superiority over Americans while at the same time hiding their own shortcomings and intolerances, the weekly ugly racisms at their soccer grounds, the discriminations that are so common to their own societies and the very fact that a person of Obama's racial, cultural and social identity, as well as his life's story, would never be elected dog catcher in any of these allegedly enlightened societies, let alone head of government and head of state.

Obama's triumph is an American story from start to finish as he has repeatedly stated. I hope that he -- as well as we -- will use this fact to deny Europeans their falsely claimed moral high ground by hijacking a unique event in modern history with which they had nothing to do. Just like we progressives have rightfully fought against American moral haughtiness, so, too, should we oppose such strains if they arise elsewhere, particularly if they are based on a usurped rather than achieved struggle.

I was delighted to have generated such a bevy of responses even though most were very critical of my argument. That is perfectly fine and most legitimate, and I very much expect and welcome such from a fine place of political discussion such as the Huffington Post.

Less wonderful were the few - but extant -- downright abusive, even hateful, e-mails that I received from folks on account of my piece.

There is absolutely no need for that.

Permit me to address only three comments:

1. Not only have I traveled to Europe, not only have I lived in Europe, but I actually am as much European as I am American. I was born and raised in the West Romanian city of Timisoara (Temesvar) where I learned Romanian, Hungarian and German; I then attended high school in Vienna; and I have returned to Europe all my life for extended research and teaching trips anchored mainly on the German-speaking world, but not only. I have stayed extensively in France, Britain, Italy and other countries of Western as well as Eastern Europe. In short, I know Europe quite well.

2. Never did I mean to imply that I am not ECSTATIC about Europe's love of and admiration for Barack Obama. He fully deserves these - and then some. And I am most welcoming of any and all support that Obama can get in this very troubled world in which he will need every ounce of it to succeed in his worthy endeavors.

What I did mean to say - and I stick by this completely - is that a number of European pundits and commentators whom I have followed in the wake of the past four days have analyzed the outcome of this election quite arrogantly and haughtily: basically as America's and Americans' having passed their audition, having redeemed themselves, having come to terms with their ignominious past by electing Obama. In other words, Americans had to pass a test of sorts. While I have welcomed such sentiments emanating from African American commentators, I find such views coming from European commentators a tad insulting. Again, I am not speaking of "Europeans" in terms of an entity that has been covered by appropriate survey research which surely will come and be of great interest to me. All I was saying is that part of the European "commentariat's" (the chattering class's) reactions to this stellar event was deeply problematic for me and continues to remain so. If and when Germany will elect its first chancellor of Turkish origin, France its first president of Maghrebi origin, Britain its first prime minister of West Indian (or Indian/Pakistani) origin, let us then revisit the matter. Until then, any moral superiority by Europeans towards Americans is uncalled for. Again, this has nothing to do with the complete legitimacy of Europeans' delight in Obama's historic victory. And my utter delight in the Europeans' delight to boot.

3. I know that Micheline Calmy-Rey is not a French TV commentator but Switzerland's current foreign minister, former president and one of its most prominent politicians, especially since I saw her repeatedly on television during my teaching at St. Gallen University in Switzerland. Sloppy and hasty editing of my original piece in which I cut and merged two sentences on two separate people, one on Ms. Calmy-Rey and another on a French television commentator, yielded the erroneous statement in my original piece. Such are the dangers of haste, the perils of our Internet age. Still, no excuse and I regret this error deeply.

Andrei S. Markovits is the Karl W. Deutsch Collegiate Professor of Comparative Politics and German Studies at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

He is spending the current academic year as a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (CASBS) of Stanford University.

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