Blake Hounshell’s closing thoughts at FP Passport on the presidential election (posted before the results came in) are spot on. But in terms of the symbolic impact, Barack Obama’s victory is a much clearer repudiation of the Bush administration in the eyes of the world than a McCain victory, rightly or wrongly, would have been. Of course, the euphoria will soon wear off, as Obama gets back to the business of advancing American dominance and hegemony in more clever and charismatic (read: Clintonian) ways than his predecessor. But America’s global line of credit just received an enormous capital infusion for Obama to work with.
One thing is certain: it’s a great day to be an American in France. There’s been a lot of jokes here about how Obama could probably win the French presidency if he ran for it. But I think it’s more accurate to say he could probably restore the monarchy. A lot of that is based on France’s historic sympathy for African Americans, which goes back to Josephine Baker and the Jazz Age (and which in many ways provides cover for its own racism regarding African Africans). Most of the people I’ve spoken to assume that his domestic policy positions are dramatically further to the left than they really are, and are unfamiliar with a lot of his foreign policy positions that will ultimately cause problems in the trans-Atlantic alliance.
But it also testifies to the way in which France, despite all of its expressions of anti-Americanism (which preceded the Bush presidency), really wants to like America, even to love it. At times, it seems like a love affair where each person sees not who the other person really is, but who they’d like them to be. But it’s closer to the truth to say that each one has such an affection for the other’s positive qualities that there’s little patience for their flaws and shortcomings.
Today, America is who France would like it to be, because on a historic level, Obama’s election represents all of our potential for change, progress and evolution that France finds so attractive. And I think that can be generalized for the world. The quarrels will come not on the level of history, however, but later, when history is brought back down to earth by the urgencies of politics.