I hesitate to admit that I'm old enough to know that "U.S. Republican politician was here, and he made an ass of himself" is the "Free Bird" of Europe, just as "Ve luff your Democrat President. Schqvee!" goes back to the early days of Rock & Roll. As I look forward excitedly to that trans-Atlantic flight, I look forward not-so-excitedly to the political conversations. In truth, I do look forward to talking to those who have spent time here and at least have some idea what they are talking about. Klaus or Jean-Luc in the next seat on the train, however, probably has an opinion that is formed by news media (such as Der Spiegel) whose greatest hit is anti-American rhetoric. I believe this rhetoric arises not so much from malice as from colossal thinking errors on the part of well-intentioned people on both sides of the ocean.
For weeks, I've been wanting to write about how "working class Americans" is failing utterly as a descriptor of any relevance to politics. A much better metric of attitudes is how Americans are aligned to Europe. We all know the profiles. There are those who, like me, visit Rail Europe's site for tickets to ride the rails in search of sexy smoky hairy armpit people (I'm taken, so vindow shoppink only). I envision the Obama demographic as a Venn diagram of three intersecting circles, one of which is made up of such people.
Then there are those Americans for whom the word "Europe" conjures up almost intestinal discomfort. Ten years ago, I briefly had a job--from which I was fired--working among people I thought of as lower-middle class white people, who probably were just straight-up middle class. During my brief employment, the two or three top management staffers at the branch office were sent to England on business. When they came back, it was like they'd been tortured as prisoners of war. They'd had a miserable time, and they spoke of their dislike of the food in tones right out of a Pepto-Bismol commercial. Bush America (41 and 43)--can there be any doubt?
As for me? Well, you could pretty much send me to Europe on an assignment to be publicly caned and I'd be like, "Me! Me! ME! Can I go canIgo canIgo?" It doesn't get more Europhile than Mike Miller from Glendale, Wisconsin. Hand-rolled cigarettes and strong coffee--Schqvee! I admit that I'm already thinking ahead to the walk from some big-city train station, and the inevitable seedy neighborhood surrounding the train station. Much like I imagine a European would in Las Vegas, I can walk through it thinking to myself, "Tsk, tsk. So distasteful. I had no part in this. Hey, wait--what was in that window again?"
Somehow, that anything-but-square corner of the world doesn't square with the cradle-to-grave Obama safety state (that isn't), the mommied America of 2012. I know the White House principals aren't really like that and are just playing to the worried minivan crowd--they ought to tell said crowd to get out, see the world, and live a little.
And on that note...