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Europe knows more about us than we know about them

Guy W. Farmer

A two-week trip to England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales earlier this month confirmed what I already knew ” that Europeans are almost as interested in our presidential election and chaotic electoral process as they are in their own political battles.

For example, in England the Democratic primary struggle between senators Barack Obama of Illinois and Hillary Clinton of New York garnered almost as much media attention as Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s tough proposal to hold terrorism suspects for up to 42 days without charges. Eventually, Brown prevailed on a very close vote in Parliament but he had to share the headlines with Mrs. Clinton’s concession speech on the eve of President Bush’s arrival in London.

And in Ireland, as voters rejected a European Union (EU) reorganization plan known as the Lisbon Treaty by a 53-47 margin on July 12, local dailies ran polls on who Irish voters would choose if they could participate in our presidential election. Obama beat presumptive Republican candidate Sen. John McCain of Arizona by 30 points in one poll, which isn’t surprising since foreigners usually favor liberal Democrats by wide margins.

When I was in Madrid, Spain, in 1980, Spaniards favored President Jimmy Carter over California Gov. Ronald Reagan. We all know how that one turned out despite our embassy’s best efforts to present Carter in a favorable light when he visited Madrid prior to the November election. The Spaniards were shocked when Reagan won and thought we were crazy for choosing between a Georgia peanut farmer and a washed-up Hollywood actor. In Europe, they like old families and royal titles, and we haven’t had a royal family since the Kennedys.

Europeans are fascinated by Barack Obama and I was often asked about him and his chances to become president. I reverted to my former diplomatic self and said nice things about all three candidates: Obama, Clinton and McCain. But when I pointed out that Obama and McCain are running neck-and-neck among American voters, the Europeans were incredulous.

President Bush arrived at London’s Heathrow Airport a few hours after I flew out of that busy air terminal last Sunday. Our shuttle bus driver feared that the Bush visit would snarl London’s busy traffic and I shared his concern, knowing that our presidents travel with a 400- to 500-person entourage, including White House staffers, secretaries and security personnel. There’s nothing quite like a 30-car motorcade through the center of town when Londoners are trying to return home after a day in the countryside. Which raises a question: Do you think we would paralyze Washington, D.C., if British Prime Minister Brown visited our capital city? I doubt it.

The International Herald-Tribune summed up Bush’s European trip this way: “The finale of George W. Bush’s presidency has never seemed more imminent as it has during his tour of European capitals, a farewell visit in which reminiscence, valediction and even eulogies trailed him. Although Bush remains deeply unpopular in Europe, as at home, it’s clear that he has repaired at least some of the damage (resulting from U.S. Iraq policy) …” In fact, Bush was received warmly by Brown, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Apparently, our president is more popular among European leaders than he is here at home.

NEVADA’S FIRST COUPLE IN THE NEWS

You’ll be pleased and proud, as I was, to know that Nevada’s dysfunctional first couple, Jim and Dawn Gibbons, is making news in Europe. London’s “Independent” ran the following headline on June 11 accompanied by a photo of the “happy” couple: “Forget the Election; in Nevada all that Matters is the Governor’s Divorce.” Los Angeles correspondent Guy Adams reported that Gibbons “is fighting for his political future after becoming embroiled in a not-so-quickie but increasingly tacky divorce.”

Gibbons has been described as “the most scandal-ridden governor in the history of the state, “Adams added, noting our governor’s alleged “fawning involvement” with another woman. And that’s not all. The “journo” also re-hashed the governor’s late night encounter with a Las Vegas cocktail waitress during his 2006 election campaign and mentioned the ongoing FBI investigation into charges that Gibbons engineered kickbacks to a Reno-based defense contractor while serving in Congress. Nice!

Perhaps the Gibbons’ travails will bring some high-rolling English tourists to Nevada. We’re looking good to them these days with the dollar at an all-time low against the British pound. In England I paid $8.50 for a plain hamburger and learned that gas costs more than $10 per gallon. In fact, petrol (as they call it) is such a precious commodity that someone siphoned more than $1,000 worth of diesel fuel from our tour bus during an overnight stop.

Well, that’s my report on life and politics in the United Kingdom and Ireland. One thing is for sure: know a lot more about us than we know about them because European media offer a full menu of world news coverage, which is mostly overlooked by U.S. media. I know it’s wishful thinking but if we knew more about the rest of the world, we might have a more effective and successful foreign policy. Dream on, Guy.

– Guy W. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and former U.S. diplomat, resides in Carson City.