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USA Oui! Bush Non! | The Nation

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USA Oui! Bush Non!

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It is not that there is no anti-Americanism at all in Europe. Virtually every European nation can point to some tradition of anti-Americanism in almost every aspect of its political and cultural life. More recently, though, leftist anti-Americanism, initially associated with powerful Marxist parties and, later, with opposition to the Vietnam War, has all but disappeared, with the partial and complicated exception of the antiglobalization movement.

Eric Alterman would like to thank the Investigative Fund of
the Nation Institute and the German Marshall Fund (US) for their
financial support of his research in Europe.

CORRECTION: Alessandro Portelli is
the correct name of the professor of American literature at the
University of Rome. Jürgen Habermas is, of course, a philosopher of
the Frankfurt School (as Alterman originally wrote), who is also
affiliated with Frankfurt University.

About the Author

Eric Alterman
Eric Alterman
Eric Alterman is a Distinguished Professor of English, Brooklyn College, City University of New York, and Professor of...

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Anti-Bushism, yes. There's plenty of that. Europe is a continent whose political center of gravity remains almost as far to the left of center as America's is to the right. The current German government governs from Wellstone/Feingold country. Even most of the conservative parties in Europe are to the left of the Democrats in this country. Cultural issues also divide; the negative reaction to Bush in Europe feels quite visceral. It's not as if Europeans can't stand the idea of a conservative Republican President. To a surprising degree, they warmed to Ronald Reagan, as Alain Frachon, who writes about foreign affairs on the editorial page of Le Monde, explains. "When Reagan was President, we never had the impression he was motivated by fundamentalism. He was divorced. He had worked in Hollywood. But this George Bush is totally foreign to us. He quotes the Bible every two or three sentences. He is surrounded by Christian fundamentalists. He says he has no problem sleeping after sending someone to death. There was a dose of charm, humor, of Hollywood to Reagan. But not to Bush. It's another world and one we find extraordinarily hypocritical. No one told us that the Republicans had moved this far to the right."

Things were quite different under Bill Clinton. As Serge Halimi, the leftist editor of Le Monde diplomatique, the publication that is frequently accused of being the intellectual home of the anti-American worldview, argues, "The hostility to US policy would be lessened with Clinton in the White House, even assuming that these policies were exactly the same as Bush's. Clinton's 'I feel your pain' worked well in the international arena too, much better in any case than Bush's 'I don't give a damn what you think.' I assume people prefer to be lied to than they do being overtly despised." Susan Neiman, an American who heads the Einstein Forum in Potsdam and has lived there on and off for twenty years, also draws a distinction between the European reactions to Clinton and Bush. "American leftists don't appreciate what Clinton did," she says. "He was the thinking person's American Dream. Alive, unpretentious, he played the sax. For seven years in Europe, it was suddenly unbelievably cool to be American. Bush, on the other hand, is the American nightmare: a spoiled frat boy who doesn't know or care about the rest of the world."

What most Europeans seem to recognize is that this is a big, beautiful and damn complicated country. For every George Bush, we have a Spike Lee. For every Charlton Heston, we have a Paul Newman. For every Lee Greenwood, there's a Lauryn Hill or a Wynton Marsalis. Globalization--which for the average European has got to be hard to distinguish from Americanization--appears to evoke little resentment from those who have normally been at the forefront of opposition to the encroachment of (vulgar, materialistic) American culture in Europe. On the left-wing fringes, there's some hatred, sometimes expressed in violence against McDonald's--but the ideologues of this movement, like the famous Jose Bové, will tell you that it's really McDonald's they hate, not the nation that happens to have spawned it. Le Monde, the traditional home of snooty Euro-superiority, is now publishing a weekly supplement from the New York Times in English. Frachon tells me, "You will find America in every section of the paper. America in rock and roll, movies, in our fashion. On TV too, America is there on a daily basis. This is sometimes irritating, but we are also addicted to it. We try to fight the replacement of French with English, but I do not want to miss The Sopranos."

As Le Monde diplomatique's Halimi explains, "We in Europe speak of resisting the United States and its market fundamentalism. We then argue that the best way to achieve this is to build a strong Europe. And then how do we go about it? By creating a single market meant to compete with the United States, a single market that, precisely, demolishes in the very process by which it is built everything that was distinct about our national models. To be more in a position to compete like the United States, we become more like the United States, as if the alternative to GM is to build another Ford."

In Germany, US-led globalization is barely an issue at all, despite the power and influence of the Greens. As one Bundestag staff member explained to me, "We do not even consider McDonald's, Starbucks or these Hollywood studios to be American anymore. They are world companies that are bigger than any nation." What's more, the Germans could not be more different from the French in their discomfort with the notion of preserving their "culture." Given the catastrophe of the Nazi period, one observer notes, "We don't think German culture is something that needs to be preserved from outside influence."

Liberal and leftist Spanish intellectuals seem to have an attitude of understanding of, if not admiration for, American capitalism. When I met Pedro Sorela, a novelist and frequent contributor to the liberal Spanish literary/political journal Letras Libres, in a fancy hotel bar in Madrid that is abutted on one side by a Starbucks and on the other by Planet Hollywood, he spoke rather ruefully of America's so-called masters of the universe as "bastards, but bastards who have to support their investments. Myself, I admire the United States. I don't want to marry the United States--I would like to see other films and other TV shows. Still, it's a very effective foreign-affairs policy. I like Julia Roberts and Mel Gibson."

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