Having, for the most part, a higher level of political awareness, Europeans regard the upcoming US elections with more expectation than many Americans do - 40 percent of whom do not even register to vote. Since World War II confirmed American hegemony, the question of who is in the saddle in Washington affects us directly. The euro crisis has rendered us even more dependent on what happens there.
Many of us in Europe would like to see Obama re-elected. The reasons are clear: he defends a social-welfare policy like ours, despite the fact that his opponents say it will corrupt the rugged individualism of the United States. Then, too, Obama is convinced that the best way to climb out of the crisis is with a strengthened euro. Few American presidents have taken such an interest in Europe - so much so, that his comments as to what we have to do sometimes get on our nerves.
Our preference is clear, but also our concern, for Mitt Romney seems to have a good chance of being the next president. At the Tampa convention he made good use of his best weapon: staking his own claim on the enthusiasm for change that Obama aroused four years ago, when he spoke of strong economic recovery and the creation of 12 million jobs.
The fact that Romney has amassed a large fortune might cause voters in Europe to distrust the class interests he represents - though this was the factor that gave Berlusconi his voter base. But in the United States it means the embodiment of the American dream. Nobody there is ashamed of having amassed a lot of money. A more likely cause of embarrassment is failing to enrich yourself in a land of opportunity for doing so.
The best card in the Democrats' hand is the Republicans' policy against illegal immigration
The Republicans contend that Obama has not kept any of his promises, not even that which seemed most elementary to his supporters: to close Guantanamo, putting an end to that blot on US democracy. This weighs heavily against him. On the upside, the economy has improved slowly but steadily. Unemployment has never exceeded eight percent - but that seems like a lot in the United States. In the legislative chambers the opposition has blocked the reforms Obama promised; and those that he has managed to push through to some extent, such as healthcare, the Republicans propose to overturn. Of the four Obama years there remains just the dying embers of enthusiasm, which, as far as the right is concerned, must be thoroughly stamped out.
The best card in the Democrats' hand is the policy against illegal immigration that the Republicans have applied in some states such as Arizona, and particularly the one they plan to implement nationwide. Given the weight that some states such as Texas and Florida have in the presidential election, the Hispanic vote may be decisive. The legalization of minors under 16 has been an important step in the right direction.
While the Republicans attack Obama for not carrying through his promised reforms, the Democrats jeer at Romney for his sudden conversion to the extreme right, when as governor of Massachusetts he had taken a centrist line, even pushing for reform of healthcare. Without his jump to the right Romney would not have been elected candidate, and this confirms more his pragmatism than his rightist leanings. In the campaign he will surely moderate his program, and will do so even more if he is elected president.
But for Europeans the big question is what line Romney will take on the euro. We already know Obama's attitude, and this is why we want him to win. Romney's complex personality broadcasts uncertainty in all ambits, but especially in regard to Europe. In many of the big American corporations they are still tempted to keep up the battle against the euro, the most serious competitor that has come their way. Its fall would precipitate Europe into a situation of depression and anomie of such dimensions that US capital could buy it up at bargain-basement prices.