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An American Senator in Paris

The French population and media are keen on the man dubbed “le John Kennedy noir” (the black JFK). Their government is more cautious.

by
Francis Turner

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July 25, 2008 - 12:05 am
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Today Paris welcomes Barack Obama in the latest stage of his pseudo-presidential world tour. The media is not exactly in a frenzy. Neither (one suspects) is the populace. The former are more concerned with domestic French issues such as the effective ending of the 35-hour week, the announcement of the French equivalent of BRAC, and President Sarkozy’s intention to reduce VAT on restaurant bills.

Below that, the news sites report the embarrassing leak of nuclear material at the Tricastin reactor on the Rhone — the fourth nuclear incident in the last 15 days — and a story on WTO negotiations (Sarkozy says NO) before getting to the senator. One suspects that the populace is focused more on “les vacances” than any of the above. However, if they are paying attention to the news then they probably share the media’s sense of priorities.

Yet just as Reuters reports about Germans, the French do seem for the most part keen to welcome “le John Kennedy noir” (the black JFK) as AFP describes him. The media also is mostly welcoming. Le Figaro, in an article headlined “Obama discovers a Europe already conquered,” calls him the antithesis of Bush and also reports that 84% of the French have a favorable opinion of him compared with just 33% having a favorable opinion of McCain. The article also touches on the “JFK factor” and comments that even though Europe would welcome pretty much any non-Republican after Bush, Obama is even more welcome because of his opposition to the war in Iraq and his progressive ideas on social issues.

Europeans, according to the newspaper, see him as the true candidate of change and the embodiment of the famous American dream. Le Figaro goes on to note that Europe’s leaders will welcome his pragmatism in foreign policy and his belief in “soft power.” All in all, Le Figaro reports, Europe expects him to be much more Europe-aligned in his positions on multilateralism, climate change, and so on. The only negative in the article is the last paragraph where it wonders whether Obama likes, or even cares about, Europe. When Obama headed the subcommittee on European affairs last year, he apparently neglected both the committee and Europe.

Le Monde is not quite as flattering, with an article headlined “The ‘presidential’ tour of candidate Obama.” It starts well, with the statement that it is difficult to believe that he is not already president, and then goes on to say that he continues to refine his international stature in the avid regard media. Then it becomes less positive, pointing out that McCain is less than happy with this media enthusiasm and noting the heavily scripted nature of Barack Obama’s Flying Circus. Le Monde also has an editorial which, as in the last paragraph of the Figaro piece, notes that while Europeans think they know Obama, the reverse is not so clear. It also notes his apparent dilatoriness as head of the senate subcommittee.

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