Four years ago, Obama campaigned with hope and change. He ran against George W. Bush's track record, even though Bush was not running again. Today, Republicans campaign with fear and "against Europe", although Europe won't be on the ballot box in November.
For Obama, Bush was "the other" against which he defined himself. For Republicans that "other" is Europe. (See all the Poli Sci literature on collective identities and nationalism) Newt Gingrich in his South Caroline Victoria Speech according to FOX News:
Those two choices, I believe, will give the American people a chance to decide permanently whether we want to remain the historic America that has provided opportunity for more people of more backgrounds than any country in history, or whether in fact, we prefer to become a brand new secular, European-style bureaucratic socialist system.
What does secularism have to do with any of this? I think Newt Gingrich is just listing all the "bad" things he can think of and does not care for European differences. Italy, Ireland, Poland are part of Europe and not that secular. Italy has big economic troubles, Poland not so much. I would leave religion out of it. The Scandinavians are more secular, have less economic troubles and provide more opportunities (social mobility) for their citizens than the US does.
Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff from the German Marshall Fund Blog sums up the Eurobaloney on the Campaign Trail and reminds us that Americans have "traditionally understood their history, culture, and identity in contrast to Europe's."
Obama, according to Romney, "takes his inspiration from the capitals of Europe; we look to the cities and small towns of America." Learning from Europe seems to "poison the very spirit of America." Fellow Republican candidate Rick Santorum agrees, claiming that Obama is "trying to impose some sort of European socialism on the United States." Not to be outdone, candidate Newt Gingrich, in his South Carolina victory speech on Saturday night, detected the emergence of a "brand new, secular European-style bureaucratic socialism" in America.
So, why are the Republican presidential candidates running against Europe rather than against each other? Why is Europe a dirty word in this campaign? First of all, the vilification of Europe is not a new phenomenon in U.S. politics. Remember the "cheese-eating surrender monkeys"? That epithet, common during the debate about the intervention in Iraq in 2003, referred to the French, for whom the worst abuse is traditionally reserved. The French, often linked with the Germans to form an alliance of "Euroweenies," chose to sit out the war against Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and were thus scolded for having lost their "moral compass." That incident happened barely ten years ago, but one might go back hundreds of years and still detect the same type of argument about Europe. As Princeton historian Linda Colley has pointed out, Americans have traditionally understood their history, culture, and identity in contrast to Europe's.
The United States was founded as the antidote to Europe. The old continent was "the other," against which to define oneself. The history of immigration helped to entrench the view that one side of the Atlantic was intrinsically better and more blessed than the other. European decadence was replaced by "authentic Americanism." Europe, as described by the novels of Henry James, was both corrupt and corrupting. "America was a country of innocence, virtue, happiness, and liberty as against a Europe of vice, ignorance, misery, and tyranny," writes historian C. Vann Woodward. Thus, it was anti-Europeanism that reinforced the new idea of U.S. exceptionalism.
So, it's no big deal?
At the same time, Americans have long appealed to European politicians not to pander to the anti-American segments of the European public, fearing that fleeting prejudice could turn into lasting chauvinism. Gerhard Schroeder, then-German Chancellor, earned condemnation in the United States when he played to the pacifist anti-Americanism of his electorate to gain re-election in 2002. Should Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, and the rest of the Republican candidates really be held to a different standard?
At least, conservative Americans should not complain about Europeans liking Democrats more than Republicans.