With recent polls reflecting a shift in the mood of the American electorate, the McCain campaign finds itself in an uphill battle going into the final stretch. Yet, over here in Europe - where I am studying at the London School of Economics - the question on the minds of the politically aware is: how did McCain even make it this far? Many Europeans have difficulty understanding why the campaign still has its head above water - though, just barely - because the political pairing of McCain and Palin would never stand a chance in an election this side of the pond.
A critical part of the explanation of this rests on the fact that Europeans tend to be far more "left-wing" than in the United States. This is itself an important legacy of the European labor movements of the 19th and 20th centuries, out of which emerged a backlash against crass social inequalities. This contrasts greatly with the United States where class-consciousness is relatively weak and where there is widespread belief that upward social mobility is simply a matter of pulling oneself up the bootstraps. Evidence of this greater tilt toward "left-wing" politics in Europe can be found in the lack of a mainstream right-leaning political party across the continent that resembles the Republican Party. Take, for example, David Cameron, the Conservative Party leader in Britain. His first act as party leader was to establish a policy group on social justice, delivering over 190 proposals - many of which have been turned into legislation.
That being said, there appear to be two other factors that would work against the current Republican ticket winning over European voters.
First, many Europeans are appalled at the way in which the American Right seemingly views anti-intellectualism in its politicians as a virtue. The perception over here is that the American Right continues to demonstrate a propensity to dumb-down the political process by picking from amongst a pool of potential candidates that represent the lowest common denominator. McCain's choice of Palin has done little to counter this perception. The European media has been particularly vicious in their attacks on her. Michelle Goldberg of The Guardian stated that Palin has "lowered the standard for both female candidates and U.S. political discourse." For Palin, the reviews across the continent are no better.
Now, of course there are some leaders in Europe who appear disinterested in the nitty-gritty of the political process, a potential sign of an impaired intellect. French President Nicholas Sarkozy, appears more interested in perusing the shops of the Champs-Élysées than following up on his campaign pledges. But, even with President Sarkozy, one gets the sense that he has a grasp of the core issues in science, economics, politics and international affairs. Palin has done little to convince the Europeans that she, too, grasps the basics.
And, second, there is the issue of patriotism. Europeans have never fully escaped the trauma of the two world wars that left the continent in ruins. As such, while many Europeans have a strong affinity towards their own individual countries, they are forever conscious not to let this manifest into something greater and more aggressive. And, it is from this position that they look at the rhetoric of the Republican ticket with fear that a McCain-Palin administration would lead to further global conflict, particularly given McCain's well-documented attention towards Iran. McCain has tried to cast himself apart from the current administration, as he did in a Financial Times Op-Ed in March, entitled, "America Must Be A Good Role Model." Few Europeans seem fooled. A Swiss friend of mine at the London School of Economics went as far as to suggest that McCain would be like "Cheney on steroids."
The lesson here: when John McCain and Sarah Palin are down and out on November 5th, renouncing their American citizenship and trying their luck in Europe would be a very bad idea.