Monday, June 8, 2009

Obama's European Allies Trounced at Polls

The sun sets in London before it does in Washington. This seems to be true for political trends as well. European countries have seen a seismic shift to the political right,starting in Great Britain, where the ruling Labour party dropped to third place in national elections. The Conservative Party was in first place with 29.9% of the vote. With the United Kingdom Independance Party and other right of centre political parties also doing well, it appears a foregone conclusion that the Tories will be providing Britain's next prime minister.

What caused this massive shift? Revelations about corruption in the House of Commons have certainly angered the public. Everything from home renovations to porn have been charged to the British taxpayer as part of a fringe benefits package that seems to have totally insulated them from public concerns. The Right Perspective reports as follows on the stunning upset.

"The night saw a humiliating defeat for Labour, which has been engulfed in an MP expense scandal and the illogical banning of talk radio host Michael Savage from Great Britain. Labour slumped to third place behind the UK Independance Party (UKIP), whose platform includes withdrawing Britain from the European Union. The Conservative Torry party came out first with 29.9%, UKIP second with 17.2%, and Labour finished with 16.7%."

Elections in continental Europe yielded similar results from Germany, Holland and France. The Washington Post reports as follows of the electoral upset, in which Greece alone moved to the left.

"Conservatives scored victories in some of Europe's largest economies Sunday as voters punished left-leaning parties in European parliament elections in France, Germany and elsewhere.

Some right-leaning parties said the results vindicated their reluctance to spend more on company bailouts and fiscal stimulus to combat the global economic crisis."

What is particularly odd is seeing countries like France and Germany in which Obama was greeted as a conquering hero repudiate his policies at the polls. Much of the political debate about Obama's economic policies was particularly heated in Germany, which incurred heavy debts after reunification in 1990. The ruling Christian Democrats, who support fiscal prudence were rewarded with a decisive vote of approval from the German electorate.

In addition to fiscal issues, the question of Europe's restive Muslim minorities also pushed many voters to the right, particularly in the Netherlands.

There is little doubt that the political winds from America pushed European voters to the right. American unemployment has risen faster than expected. Even President Obama has warned Americans to expect more bad news, telling the American people that we are" out of money".
Although Congressional elections are two years away, elections in Europe and elsewhere are a far quicker referendum on confidence in the policies of the Obama administration.

European elections have an added significance. Countries governed by parties that share a common philosophy of economics and governance tend to work more closely together. Back in the summer of 2008, it looked like all of Europe was rooting for Barack Obama. The crash of the stock market made his victory all but inevitable. But now when the bills have come in from Obama's stimulus package, voters are coming down with a bad case of sticker shock. Obama has hardly finished unpacking his bags at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue when he gets the sobering news from Europe that his European buddies are all moving out. Particularly shocking was Spain, which responded to depression level unemployment by booting its Socialist led government. The Socialists won 38.5% of the vote. The People's Party won 42.3% of the Spanish vote.

The same globalisation that has brought the economies of nations together has merged the political winds that traverse them as well. Europe has historically been far more ready to tax its citizens and to set up a network of social services with a high price tag and a multitude of strings attached. Europeans have decades of experience walking the path Americans are starting on today. As much as Europeans like the Obama image, a close look at his policies seems to sober them up rather quickly. Americans are going to have a chance to grade Obama's performance when they vote for Congress in 2010.

On election night in 2008, Obama found that Americans in Pittsburgh and Poughkeepsie had enough in common with the people of Paris and Berlin to suit him just fine. In 2010, this will be just as true. But I don't know if Obama will be smiling.

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