The Barbaric Americans

The Barbaric Americans

Denis Lacorne

To the French, the winner of the American presidential election in 2000 was Bill Clinton. Political commentators...

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To the French, the winner of the American presidential election in 2000 was Bill Clinton. Political commentators expressed no particular liking for George W. Bush. The little that was known about him was not encouraging. Had he ever visited Europe? Only once--a short trip to Rome to attend a friend´s wedding. The French consensus is that American democracy was discredited by the failure to complete the recount of Florida´s votes. It is thus left to the American news media, according to an editorial in the weekly L´Express, to save the "honor of American democracy" by finishing the job. But Bush´s problem, for Europeans, stems from a flawed personality as much as from the election. In the French press, he has been called a "dumb leader," the "Forrest Gump of American politics," and the great master of a new adventure in "political cretinism."

At the same time, the American election provoked a series of French articles praising Bill Clinton´s legacy and his well-demonstrated powers of seduction. There is a genuine French nostalgia for Clinton--a president who, in the view of Felix Rohatyn, the former U.S. ambassador to France, would have been overwhelmingly reelected had he been the president of France. Projecting their own perceptions onto the American political scene, French journalists were convinced that Clinton remained quite popular in the United States as well. "What if Clinton had been a candidate?" ran a headline in L´Express, which suggested that a last-minute appearance by Clinton would have saved Al Gore´s candidacy. The daily Le Monde published a sympathetic eight-page supplement that praised the departing president for having been "an economic reformer," "a protector of blacks, women, and homosexuals," "an activist struggling for gun control," "a man who managed to stop the congressional offensive of the fundamentalist Republican Right."

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