Friday, July 25, 2008

Obamania in France.


Things have definitely changed for the better between France and the U.S. in the last 5 years, since our two nations got into a major row over Iraq. A new French president has been elected, despite his vocal admiration for the United-States, the war in Iraq has been proved to be a political failure, and there are American elections coming up.

Does it mean that “the average American has enormous fondness for the French people," as Obama said?

Well, the very fact that Obama showed himself with a French president is a sign that perceptions have changed. That would have never happened in the last presidential campaign:

Four years ago, Senator John Kerry spent months fighting back impressions that he appeared too French – even though he wasn’t – and conservative commentators used to create a caricature that likely affected his candidacy.

At the same time, and contrary to what happened in Berlin, Obama is not looking to draw crowds in Paris "because he knows his huge popularity in our country could ill serve him with a part the American centrist electorate.", as conservative newspaper Le Figaro wrote.

As usual for Sarkozy, there is no hesitation of show of emotions (which makes a lot of French a bit uncomfortable):

"Obama? He's my buddy," Le Figaro quoted the president as saying before Obama's arrival. "I am the only Frenchman who knows him." (AP)

It is true that Sarkozy met with Obama in 2006, before he was president. But he also met with McCain back then. However, both candidates have had different treatments:

Obama's reception in Paris contrasted with how his rival, Republican John McCain, was received in March. Obama was greeted by a smiling Sarkozy, who returned to Paris for the meeting from another summit. The joint Sarkozy and Obama news conference was held in front of the Elysee Palace; after Sarkozy and McCain met, the senator fielded questions alone from reporters in the courtyard. (LATimes)

Maybe Sarkozy genuinely prefers Obama or he’s trying to capitalize on Obama's great popularity among the French.

One thing that must be kept in mind is that actually very few people in France and in the world know anything about Obama’s policy. I even suspect that most people don't even want to know much.

All people outside America seem to care about is that he is not G. W Bush for one, that he is young (à la Kennedy) AND that he is black.

Interestingly, Obama’s candidacy resonates in the tougher neighborhoods of France where it triggers discussions about France’s own political integration of minorities (or lack of thereof). Ironically, it seems it in those neighborhoods that American foreign policy is most strongly condemned that Obama and the American model of integration are most highly regarded

If elected, President Obama may end up being a great disappointment, given how high the expectations are, but he will have accomplished two things: to make people believe in the possibility that there is an American dream somewhere out there, and improve the credibility of American foreign policy in the world, when it comes to justice and fairness.

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