As election time buzzes electric in the American air, Parisians are gearing up for the results to come rolling in on Wednesday morning GMT. Paris is still a fundamentally liberal city despite the reign of Monsieur Sarkozy, and the vibe here is decidedly pro-Democratic. I've made an effort to use my wobbly French to engage various Parisians in conversations concerning the American political process, and the results are not surprising but comforting nonetheless: Here, Obama is King.
One of the first things French people ask me after I tell them I am American is if I am voting for Obama. One guy actually tried to buy the Obama shirt I picked up at the DNC right off my back. The newsstands proudly display French magazines with headlines projecting the election's outcome, each prediction illustrated with a picture of Barack Obama looking wonderfully valiant.
It's no surprise that the French - especially those living in a sprawling, cultural aggregate like Paris - would champion the United States' democratic candidate so fiercely. The French government was notoriously outspoken against the Republican-led Iraq War and George W. Bush is even more of a punchline here than in the States. I recently went to see Michel Royer's Being W, a scathing documentary combining all real footage with a humorous narrative voiceover. The result illustrated Bush as the buffoon that he is, but as the sole American in the audience all I could do was writhe with this deep, painful shame. This is the first time I'm even old enough to vote in an election, but in that movie theatre I felt cloaked in disgrace. The European hatred for W is a foreign kind. It is different than the "Aw shucks, we screwed up again" tinged brand of hatred lobbed effortlessly at Bush from the States, and you could feel it throbbing in that movie theatre. This was real vitriol. This was visceral. All I could do was look sheepishly at my feet as I left and hope no one said anything to me that would require a response betraying my American accent.
Last night while walking home from a bar I ran into a few French teenagers who wanted to talk about the election. One was fumbling around drunkenly on a rented bike and decided to give me his election prediction by screaming at the top of his lungs: Obama will not win because all Americans are racist! He was a white, bourgeois 17 year old who had had too much to drink but he wasn't afraid to say what perhaps we all are thinking. It's not true that all Americans are racist, but it is true that come election day there will be people wrestling with their consciouses in those metal booths with the levers and the many buttons trying to decide if in their hearts they can vote for a black man. They are not just older people brought up before the Civil Rights movement. They are mothers in the midwest and young professionals in Austin and war vets in central Pennsylvania who have been spoonfed Republican rhetoric all their lives, taught that change is a bad thing, that not only is Obama Muslim, but he is intensely radical and wont to contort the shape of this nation into something they won't recognize. It is these people who the French and I will worry about on election day. Come Wednesday afternoon I do not want to feel the shame I did in that move theatre. Come Wednesday afternoon I want to be on the streets of Paris, drunk on regime change and that good old talking point: Hope.