The European press has provided extensive coverage of the American presidential campaign. Much of it is of high quality -- other stories are just awful (see the Guardian below.) The results of the Republican caucuses in Iowa could be found on the inside pages of most newspapers, with many publications offering editorials as to what the vote means for the U.S. and for Europe. Some of the analyses however, tells us more about the European mind than the Iowa voter. While the U.S. press has seen a great deal of speculation about the role religion played in the voting and provided strong pieces about the faith of individual candidates, with a few notable exceptions this angle received less coverage overseas.
The best of these I have seen comes from La Stampa, Italy's largest circulation newspaper. In an article entitled "Santorum: fede, libertà e lavoro ecco la mia ricetta per la vittoria" (Santorum: faith, freedom and work - here is my recipe for victory) reporter Paulo Mastrolilli speaks with the former senator following a stump speech in Des Moines.
Recounting the senator's personal tragedies including a child born with a debilitating disease La Stampa writes:
"Sono cattolici praticanti e questo è il loro modo di trattare la vita." (They are practicing Catholics, and this is their way of dealing with life.)
Asked if he was ashamed of his Italian heritage because his grandfather fled the fascists, Santorum says (in English translated into Italian and back into English so it is not a word perfect quote):
Absolutely not. I am proud of my origins, because they made me the man that I am today. I always tell the story of my grandfather because he is a source of great inspiration. The core values I believe in, ones that are based on my life and my politics come from there.
Asked if this core value is life (a word with strong religio-political symbolism in Italian as well as U.S. politics), Santorum responds:
The value and dignity of every life, of course. It is the thing that motivates me more to get up every morning to fight, along with the help of God.
Asked how Italy should respond to its economic crisis, the senator says:
You must return to being like my grandfather, who worked hard, without complaint and without excuses. [and America must learn] the same lesson and [emulate those] who built this country through effort and hard work.
La Stampa resists the impulse of categorizing Santurum in Italian terms -- where his language and lifestyle would make him recognizable as a Catholic politician and allows him to define himself using American categories and religious and ethical standards.
Not all of the reporting has this lightness of touch. Although the vote count shows former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney running first, former Pennsylvania U.S. Senator Rick Santorum placing second, and Texas Congressman Ron Paul showing third -- the real winners were Fox News and Barak Obama some argued.
Fox News had emerged out of Iowa as the king maker of the Republican Party argued the German news magazine Der Spiegel, while the leader [the British term for an editorial] in The Independent was entitled "And the winner in Iowa was ... Barak Obama".
The Independent's editorial board argued the Republican's window of opportunity to defeat President Obama may have closed due to their sharp partisan divisions. The Financial Times followed this line too in its opinion piece "Poor Night for the GOP" while the Belgian business newspaper De Tijd in "Die lessen van Iowa" (The Lesson of Iowa) in Belgium interpreted the results as showing the Republicans being hopelessly divided.
The winner by a hair, Mitt Romney, represents the classical policy of the establishment that made the Republican Party great. The unexpected runner-up, the ultra-conservative Rick Santorum, focuses on the traditional values that play a role above all in rural America. The third, Ron Paul, appeals above all to younger, dissatisfied voters who've had enough of the political system. ... None of the three seems capable of winning over the other currents. ... For voters not allied to any one party, the Republican circus is hardly impressive. That puts the current president in a comfortable position for the time being. His chances are on the rise."
The left-liberal Viennese newspaper Der Standard concurred, writing the Republican caucus result "will work to the Democrats' advantage." However:
...the Democrats shouldn't start celebrating yet. Once the Republican candidate has been nominated the cards will be reshuffled. Then the election will be decided by what the Republican consider more important: the self-castigation of their own party or their hatred of the Democrats in the White House.
In its news analysis of the election the Prague business newspaper Hospodárské noviny also argued that Barak Obama was not yet home free.
Considering the high unemployment rate Obama shouldn't stand a chance of being re-elected. Although he has the opportunity now to defend his office, one thing he can't base his campaign on is hope. ... [The election] will be a bitter confrontation between two very different ideologies, two different notions of the role of the state and ultimately two different visions of America.
Religion, values-voting or other faith related issues did not figure highly among most accounts. While the Guardian did not do religion in its account, its reporter in Iowa does do psychoanalysis. In his live blog report on Michele Bachmann's speech suspending her campaign, the Guardian's reporter wrote:
... According to Bachmann, a painting of Ben Franklin told her to run for the presidency.
OK, so another recitation of the evils of "Obamacare" and how awful it is, which according to Bachmann is the greatest threat to America in history. I am not making this up.
Is she also resigning from congress as well? Oh and now it's back to the painting: "I worried what a future painting ... might depict" if Obamacare isn't repealed. Really.
Now she's talking about her campaign for the presidency in the past tense, but there's a lot of stuff about "the president's agenda of socialism," which is hilarious.
Now Bachmann is stumbling over reading her written text. But otherwise, it's all about fighting, how she will fight for everything. Fight, fight, fight ... President Obama socialist policies ... party of Reagan ... America is the greatest force for good ... constitution.
And after all that fighting: "Last night the people of Iowa spoke with a very clear voice, so I have decided to stand aside."
So she's not entirely insane, even if a painting of Ben Franklin speaks to her and watches her.
I find it reassuring that the Guardian employs a psychiatrist on the U.S. political beat who can tell us Mrs. Bachmann is not insane. What can one say about this last item, other than it is shoddy juvenile work that should not have made it past the editor's pencil. Comparing La Stampa's coverage of Santorum to the Guardian's coverage of Bachmann is an object lesson in the difference between good and bad reporting.