International Papers

The Anti-Anti-American Backlash

The world’s editorial writers seem to have spent their anti-American sentiments. Most of them anyway. The Financial Times made a dig at the litigiousness of American society, retelling the joke that “in many countries, now would be the moment when the generals moved in. But in the US, the lawyers have arrived to take control of the country.” Two days later, another editorial comment conjured the image of lawyers accumulating “on the carcass of the Florida election like so many buzzing flies,” concluding that finding a solution to the electoral impasse is “a challenge for statesmen, not lawyers.” Britain’s Guardian suggested Al Gore is the victim of the Clinton administration’s criminal-justice policy: Gore received the support of an overwhelming preponderance of black voters (92 percent in the South), but about 1.8 million blacks were prohibited from voting last Tuesday because they are in jail or have felony convictions. The disenfranchisement of felons “robbed the Democrats of victory,” according to the paper.

Germany’s Die Zeit posited a “postmodern theory of relativity,” much beloved by “dictators, semi-democrats, and political cynics,” according to which democracy is flawed in all its forms. “Illegal ballot papers, human error and manipulated vote-counting” can happen anywhere, “whether in a parliamentary democracy in Germany, a presidential democracy in America, a Russian-style pseudo-democracy or a people’s democracy along Chinese lines. … The chaotic election in America’s sunshine state not only damages the standing of the United States; it endangers the distinctive nature of democracy throughout the world.” (Translation courtesy of BBC Monitoring.)

The anti-anti-American backlash is evidenced in an op-ed in the Irish Times, which sympathized with Yanks, who must “endure the banality, ignorance, arrogance and presumptuousness of Europeans” discussing their homeland. Why, the piece wondered, do the Irish manage to stifle the urge to ask the French about “their heartfelt collaboration with the Nazis during the war,” Spaniards about “the virtual extermination of the sub-isthmian Indians,” or Brits about the opium wars, but upon making the acquaintance of an American, feel compelled to interrogate the poor sap about the genocide of Native Americans, the founding fathers’ fondness for slavery, or the racism of the police force. GatorWait has turned the quadrennial ordeal “into a permanent torment, a Groundhog Day in which they awake each morning to find Florida unresolved as Europeans repeatedly scold them about their country’s imperfections.”

Egypt’s parliamentary elections served as a reminder of the peacefulness of the U.S. vote. The Daily Telegraph reported that at least 14 people were killed during the three rounds of balloting—four when police fired live ammunition on crowds protesting official efforts to prevent people voting for an independent candidate. This was down from 60 deaths in 1995. The Independent ascribed this improvement to a court ruling mandating that each polling station should be supervised by a judge rather than a government official, to end “the legacy of stuffing ballot boxes.” Nevertheless, a voter told the paper, “These elections are free and fair but only if you want to vote for the person the government wants.”

Meanwhile, in Swaziland, the monarchist government reintroduced 60-day detention without trial in response to the growing pro-democracy movement. Opposition parties and trade unions are banned in the African kingdom, and recently the government also outlawed political and labor rallies and closed Swaziland’s only university. Business Day of South Africa asked what could be done against the “royal despot,” given the weakness of the opposition. “Its main weapon, the general strike, has a limited effect when the mass of Swazis are outside the formal economy. … Petitioners are dispersed by the security forces, and journalists are harassed and intimidated.” Unfortunately, the paper offered few solutions.

Que será, será: Canadians go to the polls for their own federal election Nov. 27, and Stockwell Day, who became leader of the right-wing opposition Canadian Alliance this summer, faced criticism last week for a “secret agenda” to call referendums on issues such as abortion or capital punishment if 3 percent of the electorate—about 395,000—sign a petition. Wednesday, Toronto’s Globe and Mail reported that a TV humorist has collected “35,000 signatures on a petition to hold a referendum to change Mr. Day’s first name to Doris.”