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Süddeutsche Zeitung, Germany

Morale and Emotion Replace Reason

By Andrian Kreye

Translated By Aaron Kurzak

7 November 2012

Edited by Mary Young


Germany - Süddeutsche Zeitung - Original Article (German)

91 percent of Germans would have voted for Barack Obama. They disregard the fact that, in terms of his politics, he would probably be located in the conservative wing of the Free Democratic Party under the German party system. German love for the old and new U.S. president is an emotional, not a pragmatic, relationship. But that of course is something that we’ve imported from America.

The state in which Barack Obama has the highest share of the vote was not allowed to participate in the election. 91 percent of the citizens of the German Federal Republic would have voted for Obama according to the ARD, Germany’s second-largest public broadcaster. Taking into account the political refuseniks and the pathologically apathetic, the percentage for Romney was, statistically speaking, hardly measurable. Looking at the number of online channels, election night in the U.S. was observed as enthusiastically as the lunar landing or the boxing matches of Muhammad Ali once were. A few German citizens even headed off to the U.S. in order to assist in one of Obama’s campaign offices.

But honestly — who would pull an all-nighter for the Merkel/Steinbrück duel? How many enthusiasts would take time off over here to undertake week-long hard slogs in service of the electoral campaign? The German excitement for Obama has something bizarre about it. This ardor seizes on two historical movements in particular.

On the one hand, there is the longing for the America of the 20th century, which shoveled the path clear to a better world as the role model of the free world. There were the first approaches to a social market economy, which was anchored in American society by Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal in response to the Great Depression, while Europe descended into dictatorship and war. There was America’s spirited intervention in World War II, which saved Europe from total collapse. But there were also the years of the civil rights movement, with the shining light of John F. Kennedy and the equally irresistible cultural package of beatniks, abstract painting and rock music.

Obama has incorporated several of these historical threads. During his time in office, he has strengthened the role of women politically, reformed the health care system, fought for the rights of homosexuals at the front line of the civil rights conflict, ended the war in Iraq and initiated the departure from Afghanistan. But above all he has brought the European mind — characterized by solidarity and sympathy — into American politics. It is on account of this that many Americans hate him as passionately as the Germans love him.

The negative interpretation of the Germans’ love for Obama, however, is an unpleasant combination of anti-Americanism and philo-racism. Since the commencement of the conservative revolution with Richard Nixon’s presidential election victory in 1968, the European — but most of all the German — ethnic soul has defined itself more and more as the antithesis of the Social Darwinism and the aspirations for great power of the U.S.

Obama Will Place A Duty On Germany Regarding Foreign Affairs

The election of a black, purportedly left-wing president was seen as penance and salvation for the American nation after the dark years of the Bush presidency. Back then, it did not make a difference that, in the German party system, Barack Obama would probably be located in the conservative wing of the Free Democratic Party. Hardly anybody cared that a fierce class war had superseded racism as the central conflict of American society and that Obama had by no means played a citizen-oriented role, what with his advisers who come from the environment of investment banks and his proximity to Wall Street.

It is necessary to take a look at German Internet memes in order to recognize the philo-racist essence — Obama in a rapper’s pants or Obama greeting like a gangster, next to a superintendent. These types of words and gestures have as much to do with the magna cum laude graduate — and the reality of the black, post-ethnical middle class from which he originates — as [German hard rock group] Rammstein has to do with Angela Merkel. The key citation in his victory speech was from Frank Sinatra, not Jay-Z.

Naturally, Obama also epitomizes something of that “cool” that characterized the subversive attitude of modern jazz at its beginnings. For African-Americans his election was a historical moment, a signifier that the battle initiated by Martin Luther King had completed its march through the institutions. But race was not exactly the highlight of this election: In the more and more color-blind American society, Obama’s skin color was not of importance.

If one were to carry this argument to the extreme, it could also be mentioned that, for Europe, life with a president out of the row of Republicans was mostly much easier. It was the Republican Eisenhower’s doctrine that put up an American protective umbrella over Europe, beneath which Germany was able to concentrate fully on its economic miracle. Reagan and Bush Senior were the presidents who made sure with their equilibration of horror that the Cold War did not run hot. And George W. Bush himself and his neocons led their wars for the German economy too, even if we refused to believe that.

In contrast, Obama will place a duty on Germany regarding foreign affairs, he will intensify competition with the European Union in Asia and Africa, and he will allow Wall Street to continue betting against the euro.

Well, German love for Obama is an emotional, not a pragmatic, affair. But precisely that is an American import, without which it would be possible to lead a good life here. For when morale and emotion replace reason, as they did during the American electoral campaign, the fission of society is usually the next step.



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