September 13, 2008
What Europeans are Saying about Sarah Palin
Europeans have greeted the news of Sarah Palin's nomination for Vice President of the United States with a predictable mixture of anger, frustration, resentment and resignation. After more than a year of uncritically praising Barack Obama as a supernatural figure destined by fate to solve all of the world's problems, European elites are suddenly coming to terms with the unwelcome possibility that the junior senator from Illinois might just be another human being after all.
European commentary on Sarah Palin has ranged from ridicule, to ridicule, to more ridicule, to reluctant acknowledgment that Barack Obama may have met his match. In any case, many European elites are sensing that the Democratic presidential candidate, by failing to pick US Senator Hillary Clinton as his running mate, may have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
A common theme running through much of European commentary is that Palin lacks qualifications; it is a critique European elites could, but will not, apply to Obama, presumably because he is a Democrat, and thus ideologically acceptable to Europe's enlightened class. Many Europeans lament that Palin is (according to Europeans) pushing the US presidential election into a battle of values rather than of policies, as if there is any real substance to Obama.
But if there is one single aspect to Sarah Palin that threatens the smug certitude of Europe's secular gatekeepers, it is her Christian faith. It therefore comes as no big surprise that Europe's media elites have directed the bulk of their fury at American evangelical Christian voters. As if European secularism is not also a religion.
What follows is a brief survey of what some of Europe's leading newspapers are saying about Sarah Palin.
Ireland's most prestigious newspaper, the Irish Times, runs a headline that says: "Just a heartbeat away from the biggest half-baked Alaskan nightmare." Another article titled "Palin the latest torch bearer for anti-science" asks:
"Who literally believes that Jonah made his home in a whale's abdomen? Nobody really, apart from the US president-and the woman who was recently added to the 2008 Republican ticket.... Sarah Palin is the latest politician to carry the torch of science misinformation tainted by religious dogma lit during the Reagan administration and nurtured by George Bush.... Yet centuries after the Enlightenment, Sarah Palin, the putative US vice-president, can endorse the passing off of Bible stories as scientific facts, dressed up as the oxymoronic term ‘creationist science'."
And just in case the paper's editors were not being absolutely clear about their choice for US president, yet another article proclaims: "Obama embodies the future King dreamt about."
Britain's leftwing Guardian newspaper tries to figure out "How to solve the Sarah Palin problem." Another story titled "Sarah Palin's war against information" asserts that "The McCain team knows that if the media do their job and give Palin the same scrutiny that any candidate for high office must endure, she will collapse." Still another story warns that "Obama faces lurking forces of darkness."
The London-based Financial Times admits that "Palin erodes Obama's monopoly on change." Elsewhere, the paper warns that "Democrats dismiss Palin at their peril."
According to France's center-right Le Figaro, Palin will "trigger the eruption of moral intolerance in the campaign." This is actually rather funny, because French elites are notoriously tolerant with everyone, except for those who do not agree with them.
In keeping with the policies versus values theme, the Paris-based leftwing Le Monde says "The choice of Ms Palin has turned the centrist John McCain into the ‘heir to Bush'." And the weekly newsmagazine Le Point calls Palin "the fanatic of the American heartland." It describes her speech to the Republican Convention as a "declaration of war [on the] Democrats as well as on the media and elites who dare to raise doubts about her ability to serve as vice-president of the United States."
Germany's leftwing Der Spiegel takes special delight in mocking Palin's religious beliefs:
"Sarah Palin's Pentacostalist [sic] past explains a lot about what she says in public, but the McCain campaign wants to play it down. Can a gas pipeline really be a manifestation of God's will?.... Sarah Palin has shown a habit of investing secular matters with religious meaning.... Palin acts as though all political decisions emanated directly from a divine resolution-and as if the Republican understanding of this resolution were the only one that could be correct."
The Berlin-based left-leaning Die Tageszeitung says:
"With the nomination of Sarah Palin as vice-presidential candidate, John McCain took on exactly what Obama avoided at all costs with Biden: A much-talked-about risk. McCain/Palin-this is where real life romps." Another columnist writes: Sarah Palin "has a closed, conservative-in part reactionary-worldview. The coordinates of her value system are well known: Family, military strength, small government, a confident America. But there is a new face to these traditional values. This is a great attraction.... This competition is an unexpected threat for Barack Obama."
The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung runs an article about "Superwoman Palin" titled "Supermama" which argues that:
"There is absolutely nothing wrong with ultra-conservative Republicans, amid their otherwise steadfast evangelical certainly, to make a U-turn. In the past for instance, when dealing with a mother of five and soon-to-be grandmother, they would not have been so quick and would even have considered it reckless to advise her to take on a job as well, let alone one of such importance."
The Financial Times Deutschland greets the news of Palin's ascent with unabashed hostility:
"McCain's hubris and irresponsibility are by now blatant. Hubris, because only a belief in his own immortality for the next four years could justify the choice of a vice president whose only experience, aside from two years as governor of Alaska, was as mayor of a suburb of Anchorage. Irresponsibility, because US presidents run a high risk of being attacked, as exemplified by John F Kennedy's assassination, as well as by the attack on Ronald Reagan. Imagine what would happen if a President McCain were shot...The world would wake up the next morning to a President Palin.... More has been publicized in the last few days about Palin's person and family than about her views on domestic and foreign politics, which shows neither the American intellectual condition nor their public media in the best light. A preacher moderated the first debate between presidential nominees Obama and McCain during which they had to answer questions on faith and how they would handle the evil bad guys of the world. A politician whose attitude toward war and peace are largely a mystery could become president in five months, and people discuss the implications of her daughter's pregnancy. The country where all this is happening is the most powerful in the world. But for how much longer?"
The Munich-based, left-leaning Süddeutsche Zeitung assures its readers that:
"McCain used to look like an ideal candidate for the party. The conservative free-spirit repeatedly defied the current president and thereby emanated seriousness and self-assurance.... Sarah Palin threatens to demolish [McCain's] halo.... The lingering impression [is] that McCain called this fresh face to his side purely out of strategic campaign calculations.... Palin's selection comes across as imprudent, unserious and, yes, dangerous.... McCain has miscalculated: those Democrats who were disappointed by Hillary's failure and might possibly have voted for the Republican veteran will hardly be lured by the ultraconservative pro-lifer.... McCain only hopes that the evangelical base will gather behind him with new fury. That is important, but not enough to win the election in November. The payoff for this deputy from the right is less than the price of the risk that McCain runs with the center. Sarah Palin will cost the Republican Party dearly."
Meanwhile, Germany's center-right Die Welt, considered by many to be one of the country's better daily newspapers, offers a trite 15-question online Sarah Palin Quiz. Question 1: "Do you know Sarah Palin's current job?" Question 2: "Do you know the name of Palin's underage daughter, the one who is pregnant?" Question 3: "What revelations have become public about Sarah Palin?" Answer A: "She likes to wear latex and leather"; Answer B: "As a child, she once stole a lollypop"; Answer C: "Her husband was arrested for drunk driving"; Answer D: "She first wanted to be a Democrat."
Spain's leftwing El País newspaper reports that Sarah Palin is
"a figure who comes from the America that is farthest removed from, and incomprehensible to, the European spectator...[who] represents values and policy proposals...the outlawing of abortion, the preponderance of religious faith, the supremacy of the traditional family, the subjection of the State to individual initiative..."
Spain's conservative ABC newspaper runs an opinion essay titled "Obama Who Art in Heaven" which says that Sarah Palin
"seems to be treacherously undermining the huge dose of goodwill that European public opinion has devoted to Obama. Now the governor of Alaska, a member of the National Rifle Association, who promotes her state as the land of hunters, is the exact opposite of Barack Obama."
Palin represents and America that is "wild, fundamentalist and a practitioner of lynching" while Obama represents an America that is "archangelic and cosmopolitan" because, for millions of Europeans, Obama "represents the antipode of the death penalty and the free access to guns." There is a "vast divide between the intellectual sophistication of ‘The New York Review of Books' and the mass consumption in the commercial emporium of Wal-Mart. Those divides are nothing less than the reality of the United States: the Harvard of Obama the angry and prosperous Alaska of Sarah Palin."
ABC then pauses for an odd moment of reflection:
"Our old error is prejudging rather than trying to understand. That is why we never forgive the United States while we absolve every other country in the world.... Even if Europeans believe otherwise; Obama is not in heaven, but in the middle of a presidential campaign."
Thanks, ABC, for the reminder.
The Barcelona-based La Vanguardia writes that
"Palin can sell what no candidate other can offer: a boring and hardscrabble American life. Not only is Palin ‘one of ours,' according to enthusiastic Republican voters, who have awakened from their slumber with unusual force, but she could be anyone's niece. A real peanut butter girl." The newspaper concludes: "Undoubtedly, of all of the surprises of this campaign, [Palin] is the most brilliant. With her nomination, McCain has shown two things: that he is very smart and that he is not yet defeated."
Soeren Kern is Senior Fellow for Transatlantic Relations at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group.