I traveled to Europe in the waning days of the 2008 election and, in fact, wrote a piece for Huffington Post about my experience including watching the last presidential debate between at 3:00 a.m in a little hotel in Gemona, Italy.
My [business] trip started in Brussels, Belgium. My first clue that American politics reach firmly across the Atlantic ocean was in the pub where we had dinner. In the corner of dining room, a small television played. There, of course, were images of banks and stock markets and stern-faced commentators clearly discoursing on the collapse of some European bank or another. But equally prominent were the familiar faces of Barack Obama, John McCain and Sarah Palin (Joe Biden seems not to have their interest.)
My coworker nodded at the television. “So,” he said, “It looks like Obama has it in your election, eh?”
I agreed that things were looking good for Senator Obama but told him that the Obama campaign was making no assumptions and continued to campaign hard all over the country. As our conversation continued, it became clear that he was a bit puzzled why the race was even close, given the demonstrable failings of the Republican party over the past eight years.
Later in the week I was in Germany and here, too, Obama and McCain’s faces were on the television, in the newspapers and on magazine covers. Conversations with Germans inevitably turned to the election and everyone seemed eager for me to reassure them that, this time, America was going to get it right and elect Barack Obama. As one person put it, “I can understand how you Americans could make a mistake once [by electing George W. Bush.] But twice? That’s hard to understand.”
During another conversation, one of my German colleagues asked me, “What do you think of Sarah Palin?” Once it became clear that I thought she was a terrible candidate, he felt free to share his opinion that she was seen in Europe as a joke and not a serious choice. As if to confirm this, the next morning I opened a newspaper from Hamburg. In it was an article titled “Sarah Palin: Disasterous für McCain”.
Earlier this month, true to form, the main German paper Spiegel ran an op-ed explaining the Republican primary field to German readers and no holds were barred. Here’s a sampling of some of the German perspective:
Africa is a country. In Libya, the Taliban reigns. Muslims are terrorists; most immigrants are criminal; all Occupy protesters are dirty. And women who feel sexually harassed — well, they shouldn’t make such a big deal about it.
Welcome to the wonderful world of the US Republicans. Or rather, to the twisted world of what they call their presidential campaigns. For months now, they’ve been traipsing around the country with their traveling circus, from one debate to the next, one scandal to another, putting themselves forward for what’s still the most powerful job in the world.
As it turns out, there are no limits to how far they will stoop.
[T]hese eight so-called, would-be candidates are eagerly ruining not only their own reputations and that of their party, the party of Lincoln lore. Worse: They’re ruining the reputation of the United States.
They lie. They cheat. They exaggerate. They bluster. They say one idiotic, ignorant, outrageous thing after another. They’ve shown such stark lack of knowledge — political, economic, geographic, historical — that they make George W. Bush look like Einstein and even cause their fellow Republicans to cringe.
The more mind-boggling its incarnations, the happier the US media are to cheer first one clown and then the next, elevating and then eliminating “frontrunners” in reliable news cycles of about 45 days.
Take Herman Cain, “businessman.” He sat out the first wave of sexual harassment claims against him by offering a peculiar argument: Most ladies he had encountered in his life, he said, had not complained. [...]
As CEO of the “Godfather’s” pizza chain, Cain killed jobs — but now poses as the job-creator-in-chief. Meanwhile, he seems to lack basic economic know-how, let alone a rudimentary grasp of politics or geography. Libya confounds him. He does not believe that China is a nuclear power. And all other, slightly more complicated questions get a stock answer: “Nine-nine-nine!” Remember? That’s Cain’s tax reduction plan that would actually raise taxes for 84 percent of Americans.
Then there’s Newt Gingrich, the current favorite. He’s a political dinosaur, dishonored and discredited. Or so we thought. Yet just because he studied history and speaks in more complex sentences than his rivals, the US media now reflexively hails him as a “Man of Ideas” (The Washington Post) — even though most of these ideas are lousy if not downright offensive, such as firing unionized school janitors, so poor children could do their jobs.
Pompous and blustering, Gingrich gets away with this humdinger as well as with selling himself as a Washington outsider — despite having made millions of dollars as a lobbyist in Washington. At least the man’s got chutzpah.
“I think he’s doing well just because he’s thinking,” former President Clinton told the conservative online magazine NewsMax. “People are hungry for ideas that make some sense.” Sense? Apparently it’s not just the Republicans who have lost their minds here.
And what about the other candidates? Rick Perry’s blunders are legendary. His “oops” moment in suburban Detroit. His frequently slurred speech, as if he was drunk. His TV commercials putting words in Obama’s mouth that he didn’t say (such as, “Americans are ‘lazy’”). His preposterous claim that as governor of Texas he created 1 million jobs, when the total was really just about 100,000. But what’s one digit? Elsewhere, Perry would have long ago been disqualified. But not here in the US.
As an investor, Romney once raked in millions and, like Cain, killed jobs along the way. So now he says he’s the economy’s savior. To prove that, he has presented an economic plan that the usually quite conservative business magazine Forbes has labeled “dangerous,” asking incredulously, “About Mitt Romney, the Republicans can’t be serious.” Apparently they’re not, but he is, running TV spots against Obama already, teeming with falsehoods.
What a nice club that is. A club of liars, cheaters, adulterers, exaggerators, hypocrites and ignoramuses. “A starting point for a chronicle of American decline,” was how David Remnick, the editor of the New Yorker, described the current Republican race. [...]
So the US elections are a reality show after all, a pseudo-political counterpart to the Paris Hiltons, Kim Kardashians and all the “American Idol” and “X Factor” contestants littering today’s TV. The cruder, the dumber, the more bizarre and outlandish — the more lucrative. Especially for Fox News, whose viewers were recently determined by Fairleigh Dickinson University to be far less informed than people who don’t watch TV news at all.
Maybe that’s the solution: Just ignore it all, until election day. Good luck with that — this docudrama with its soap-opera twists is way too enthralling. The latest rumor du jour involves a certain candidate who long ago seemed to have disappeared from the radar. Now she may be back, or so it is said, to bring order into this chaos. Never mind that her name is synonymous with chaos: Sarah Palin.
I couldn’t have put it better.