"Poor old Sarkozy," Addie remarks at one point in This Is How It Ends. "Poor Angela Merkel. They all seem so dowdy now, by comparison. It's like we all went to the movies in the middle of the afternoon and spent two hours swooning over George Clooney. Then we came home and found the husband sitting on the couch with his beer belly." She's referring to Barack Obama, of course. MacMahon's novel is set during and shortly after the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign, and one of the interesting juxtapositions she creates is that within a population increasingly skeptical of Americanization (from economic crises to excess litigation to the horrors of a chilled Guinness) they are still enamored of candidate Obama and all he represents.
Four years after Obama's first presidential campaign, it's easy to forget just how much of a sensation he made during his first tour of Northern Europe (Britain, France and Germany) in July 2008. Europeans scrutinized the opinion polls as carefully as Americans did. One CNN story from the time dubbed Europe "deepest Obamaland." Obama's appearance in Berlin that summer drew upwards of 200,000 people.
So why, according to polls, do Europeans admire Obama so much? For example, in Britain in 2008, confidence in the US president (Bush) was at 16%, in 2012 it is at 80%; similar results are found in Germany and France. In Southern Europe, namely Spain and Greece, confidence is lower but is still orders of magnitude higher than in 2008. Some suggest that Europeans embraced Obama as embodying a different approach to foreign policy than the one practiced by his predecessor.
A 2011 editorial in the Guardian newspaper suggests it's because (as MacMahon's quote above hints at) he offers them a model of hope for an intelligent, public-spirited leadership that many Europeans feel has been lacking during the global economic crises that have engulfed the region over the last several years. The editorial suggests that reverence for the American president indicates an unwillingness to weigh genuine success against an inspiring public image. But regardless of the reason, it's clear that, while overall confidence in the US president has slipped a little over the past three years (for example, 86% in Britain in 2009 to 80% in 2012), Obamania seems to be in Europe to stay; when Obama visited MacMahon's native Ireland in 2011, he was met by tens of thousands of excited Irish fans - and he enjoyed one of those famous pints of Guinness, chilled or not.
Picture from Associated Press/Charles Dharapak
This article is from the September 5, 2012 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.
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