Column on Obama & Europe

Obama & Europe

Tibor R. Machan

Cologne, Germany. It`s like Susan Neiman and I travelled on two different
continents during the last couple of weeks. In her Sunday July 27, 2008,
Op Ed column in The New York Times, Ms. Neiman says that "it`s hard for me
to find a European, aside from two Harvard-educated friends in Paris, who
confessed to excitement — not just about the visit, but the prospect of an
Obama presidency." So she acknowledges that Senator Obama produced
something of a frenzy in much of Europe but then maintains that no one
here has much confidence in his prospective presidency.

My own experience, after a week in Switzerland and then one in Heidelberg
(at the University there), is quite different. Most of the Europeans,
actually nearly all of them, eagerly expect a Barack Obama presidency.
This may be partly because so many of them dislike George W. Bush and do
not imagine Senator John McCain to be any different from him. I suggest
this in light of the fact that those with whom I have spoken about the
upcoming US presidential election exhibited nothing but delight at an
Obama victory. Yet this is not because of any enthusiasm about his
policies. Indeed, hardly anyone gave any indication of knowing about what
the Senator might do as president other than not be enthusiastic about
"staying the course" in Iraq. No one hereabouts seems to like that war,
that is evident.

But apart from this aspect of Senator Obama’s candidacy there is little
else that the Europeans I know and have been talking to about this say
they welcome in the man they are nearly certain will be the next president
of the United States of America. No, it is all about what is probably best
considered a sort of feeling they have about how swell it would be to have
the Senator in the White House. Indeed, my impressions is that what
Senator Obama promises for these Europeans is finally to take race of the
agenda of American politics. Whether this is realistic or not, it seems
to be what a great many people here expect.

But such an expectation is naive. The measure of racism that exists among
various Americans isn’t so superficial as to disappear with the ascendency
of Senator Obama to the US presidency. Were that the case, racism would
have disappeared a long time ago. Sadly, America’s racists, as indeed the
world’s, are mostly unshakable in their conviction that something is very
wrong with the people they demean. The only other place where I have
detected that kind of racism is South Africa and among Europe’s
anti-Semites. So I am afraid that however much Senator Obama’s candidacy
and likely victory in November amounts to a hopeful sign, much more
in-depth change needs to occur for racism to stop being a significant
aspect of American–and indeed world–culture.

What is actually disappointing in Senator Obama’s candiacay is his rather
shallow discussions of racism, for example in his speech in Berlin. And
perhaps that is deliberate. Altogether too many Europeans share a certain
aspect of the racism that is still part of America. This is the idea of
tribalism or clanism, the view that human beings belong to various groups
by their very nature. In Europe there is altogether too much talk of
ethnic identity, both by those who are victims of such thinking and those
who engage in it. Individualism, the best antidote to collectivism, has
by no means swept the continent and, sadly, it seems to be disappearing
from America as well. Those who would be the best source of teaching
about the way individualism counters collectivist thinking–namely
intellectuals at universities, newspaper and magazine editorial
departments and think tanks–still embrace the prejudiced notion that
individualism is something that produces acrimony within human
communities. They, therefore, ne
ver miss the opportunity to denigrate it, to besmirch it, as if it and not
its opposite, namely, collectivism (in all its forms) were the real
scourge.

Senator Obama could in fact be a major influence both at home and abroad
in spreading Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous doctrine about what should
really count as we think about human beings, namely, "the content of
[their] character." Each person ought, accordingly, be judged as an
individual who either possesses or lacks admirable character traits, never
mind all the talk about "identity" and even "culture." Those are very
divisive aspects of anyone when treated as prominent.

So although most thinking Europeans, contrary to Ms. Neiman, do embrace
Senator Obama as America’s next president, they do it mostly for what
might be considered a sort of reverse racism: he is going to make it
appear that race no longer matters. If it were only true! For that what
we need is for a figure like Senator Obama to discuss racism in more
fundamental terms than he has done so far.

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