Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Three Things Unexpected Pushing to Surface of Europe's Newspond

In spite of the August heat, John Vinocur is back in fine form, as always. Among other things, the International Herald Tribune reporter hits the European view of American politics on the head: the latter "sometimes seem to arrive in Europe refracted by dozens of fun-house distortion mirrors." He also describes the mindset of the European press perfectly: "its logic running that since intelligent Europe hates [George W Bush] so, how could any decent, non-fascistic American contemplate voting Republican?"
During late July and August, things unexpected, and sometimes very revelatory, have a way of pushing to the surface of the European newspond, rather like gases escaping the depths of dark water.

Herewith, three choice bubbles from the summer slough. You could call them doldrums reports.

José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, Spain's prime minister, says he does not want to talk about Islamic terrorism. … "I never talk about Islamic terrorism, but international terrorism," Zapatero told Le Monde in an interview marking his first 100 days in office.

A couple of background details enter here. Zapatero's Socialists got elected in March after a murderous Madrid railway station bombing that was undoubtedly planned by Islamic terrorists to affect the election's outcome. An extreme long shot before the attack, the Socialists had campaigned on the theme that Spain would pay for José María Aznar's backing of the United States in Iraq. …

A bit like newspapers that avoid the word "cancer" in obituaries with the explanation that they are sparing sensitive readers, Zapatero is keeping Islamic fundamentalists out of the discussion of terrorism because, he says, Islam is a religion with hundreds of millions of followers "which, like all the religions in the history of humanity, involves an element of religious fanaticism."

During his campaign, Zapatero promised to rush to Senator John Kerry's side this summer in trying to court Hispanic votes to oust the awful President George W. Bush. But after Zapatero pulled Spanish troops from Iraq, and was met with Kerry's sharp criticism, the call to Zapatero for help in Boston apparently never came. …

In the interview, Zapatero was full of praise for Dominique de Villepin, the former French foreign minister who was an American bugaboo on Iraq. But Villepin, now France's interior minister, uses these days the terrorism term that Zapatero doesn't like, although he does say that France's position during the Iraq war probably has helped narrow the danger of it in his country.

Zapatero, President Jacques Chirac and Chancellor Gerhard Schröder are planning a three-way summit in the autumn. By way of preparation, Zapatero may find it useful to note that beyond Villepin, Joschka Fischer, Germany's foreign minister, refers to "jihadist terrorism" as the "new totalitarianism" and the world's greatest danger.

Read about the news that Le Monde deliberately withheld in order to eulogize its hero, Zapatero.
• The bubbles up from doldrums sometimes contain information meant to rise with stealth and vanish without a pop. Governments release new tax rates on Saturday nights in August, and corporations disclose especially embarrassing personnel decisions on getaway Friday afternoons.

There's no good reason to suppose that the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development was trying to slip anything by anyone when it chose the busiest vacation period to release a study unfavorably comparing the economy of the euro area to that of United States. … Basically, the report's point was that alongside the euro zone's self-image as a succès d'estime, its inequalities in living conditions were greater than those in the United States. That meant that if you superimposed economic disparities in American regions against the euro zone's standards, only two states and 2 percent of the American population would be eligible for the structural fund assistance, or European Union cash aid to regions, that a disadvantaged 25 percent of the euro area can claim.

To understate things, this was no great advertisement for the EU's notion of economic justice and prosperity through integration and convergence.

The report's most striking detail: "U.S. income per capita is 30 percent above the euro area's, and the gap is widening." Roughly the same ratio also applies to gross national product. …

• Of all the bubbles, there are those bearing fairly serious surprises.

…French media coverage of the not-terribly-cryptic Democratic National Convention was awaited with some interest. As it turned out, American politics, which sometimes seem to arrive in Europe refracted by dozens of fun-house distortion mirrors, came through to Paris in astonishingly straight shape.

Le Figaro, noting the two presidential candidates' strange similarities on Iraq and other American superpower concerns, wrote of the Democrats' platform: "You could almost think that the Democrats simply wrote in Kerry's name in place of Bush's." … Nominally right-of-center, but abhorring Bush from its French nationalist stance, Le Figaro even went so far as to say that "empathy with the average American remains Bush's great strong point and Kerry's weakness." And just about everybody noted that Michael Moore, France's Beloved Yank of the moment, was kept at arm's length from center stage at the convention.

Considering the extent to which Bush is usually treated with total contempt in the press here -— its logic running that since intelligent Europe hates him so, how could any decent, non-fascistic American contemplate voting Republican? — this kind of coverage served as a meaningful corrective.

And it left the almost startling mid-summer impression that if Kerry ever failed to beat the ogre, however counter-instinctive the thought here, a discernible, rational, even quite democratic American process just might be the cause.

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