Foreign press fails to make fun of U.S. election system shocker!

What the foreign papers are saying.
Feb. 6 2008 3:10 PM

American Idols, International Edition

Foreign press fails to make fun of U.S. election system shocker!

The Independent. Click image to expand.
The Independent of Britain

As the international press reports on the outcome of the Super Tuesday races, there is a curious lack of grousing about the complexity or craziness of the U.S. electoral system or the lack of a clear winner in the Democratic contest. It's almost as if they're, well, excited about this race. Can this be true? An editorial in Britain's Independent sums things up nicely:

One early conclusion from the primaries is that whoever wins the White House—Republican or Democrat—will not be a proxy third-term George Bush. American voters are clearly impatient to see the back of him. That probably bodes well for the future direction of US foreign policy and may help to explain the excitement with which this campaign is being followed abroad.

The other reason, of course, is the vivid, all-American cast of characters. The promise of the first woman or first black American to head a US presidential ticket is epoch-making in itself. But the frenetic pace and switchback nature of the Democratic contest has shown off the US election process at its thrilling best.

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Apparently, the appeal of a good horse race is universal. Or perhaps we should liken it to a reality TV series instead: The British tabloid the Sun runs its Super Tuesday coverage under a banner that reads, "The Real American Idol." But whether your preferred metaphor is sports or song, an unscripted plot line and the lure of "to be continued" has foreign editorialists engaged in the U.S. presidential contest as they haven't been in years.

In a mea culpa of sorts, Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian admits, "In 2000 it was fashionable to say that Al Gore and George W Bush were ideological twins, 'the Tweedledum and Tweedledee' of bland centrism. Now we know, to our cost, how wrong that was." Freedland, along with a host of other writers, is not about to make that mistake again; he goes on to provide scrupulously detailed comparisons between Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama, along with Republican front-runner Sen. John McCain. At Germany's Spiegel, Gabor Steingart lays it out: "Barack Obama is the man of hope. Hillary Clinton is the woman of secret fears. He inspires. She reassures. He is inventive. She is reliable. He seems soft. She's hard as nails. He'll win if the sun's shining. She'll win if there's a storm brewing."

As for McCain, now a shoo-in for the Republican nomination as far as the international press is concerned, a Financial Times editorial allows: "Disenchanted Republicans were thought ready to lose this election—as if it were the least they could do to atone for George W. Bush. The McCain surge suggests the party has not lost its will to win." In the Daily Telegraph, Andrew O'Hagan notes, "The joke is that George Bush messed up so badly that nobody can now get a white guy elected; the joke won't entirely be on liberals if John McCain wins the election, because McCain, if nominated, may turn out to be the most liberal Republican since Abraham Lincoln." Really? O'Hagan must have been listening to Ann Coulter.

Honest Abe isn't the only former president casting a long shadow today.At the Australian, Geoff Garrett observes, "Whoever is inaugurated next January will try to convince the US and the world that he or she is not another George W. Bush, but rather the heir to more esteemed presidents: Bill Clinton for Hillary Clinton, John F. Kennedy for Barack Obama, and Ronald Reagan for John McCain." Joseph Brean at Canada's National Post takes things a step further and claims, "[T]he U.S. presidential race is turning into a battle of dead presidents, with the most popular Republican president of living memory, Ronald Reagan, facing down his Democratic counterpart, John F. Kennedy."

Explaining the elaborate rules of delegate selection and party primaries and caucuses to an international readership can be tough, but the press rose to the challenge. Author and Slate columnist Christopher Hitchens told readers of the British tabloid the DailyMirror, "The Super Tuesday voting system is modelled on the rules of Quidditch but if you want a brief rule of thumb to guide you through the maze it is this: Republicans care about states whereas Democrats care about delegates." And finally, eager to find a local angle on this decidedly U.S.-centric story, many papers took advantage of a new constituency closer to their own newsrooms. For the first time, registered Democrats living abroad were able to cast their votes in person Tuesday (Republicans still have to mail in absentee ballots). So, reporters descended on polling places—many of them conveniently located in restaurants and pubs—to gather comments from expat voters in Bangkok, Berlin, Delhi, Geneva, Jakarta, London, and Moscow, among other places. The odds-on favorite among voters in Jakarta? Sen. Obama, who lived in Indonesia as a child.

Susan Daniels is a former Slate staffer. She lives in Amsterdam.

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