Americans who think post-election anti-red-state recrimination is a U.S.-only phenomenon should check out the cover of Thursday’s Daily Mirror: Over a picture of President George W. Bush, the paper asked, “How can 59,054,087 people be so DUMB?” Inside, the left-leaning British tabloid headlined its editorial, “WAR MORE YEARS.” In a clear demonstration of the trans-Atlantic culture gap, the paper’s description of the president’s beliefs—clearly intended to strike Mirror readers as a radical agenda—is simply an accurate, if crude, précis of his platform: “Mr Bush opposes abortion and gay marriage, doesn’t give a stuff about the environment, is against gun control and believes troops should stay in Iraq for as long as it takes.”
The Mirror wasn’t the only British paper with a striking cover. The Guardian’s “G2” section was fronted by a page of solid black containing just two small words: “Oh, God.” Meanwhile, the Independent ran the headline “Four More Years” along with iconic images from the first Bush term: kneeling prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, tortured prisoners at Abu Ghraib, soldiers fighting in Iraq, oil-drilling machinery, sign-wielding religious extremists, and a smirking Dubya. In France, Libération ran a picture of the president under the headline, “L’Empire empire“—”The empire declines.”
Many of the British commentaries followed a consistent formula: We wish the other guy had won, but Bush scored a convincing mandate this time around, so we have to live with it. As the Guardian put it: “We may not like it. In fact … we don’t like it one bit. But if it isn’t a mandate, then the word has no meaning. Mr. Bush has won fair … and square. He and his country—and the rest of the world—now have to deal with it.” In a fit of double-negativity, the Independent’s editorial added: “This does not mean, however, that we do not contemplate the second Bush term with considerable trepidation. Another four years of a president in thrall to the religious right and the neo-conservatives is another four years in which the United States risks sliding back into an earlier age of bigotry and social injustice.” Writing in the Times of London, Simon Jenkins’ condescending sigh of disappointment typified the genre:
Mr Bush’s election will give the rest of the world a collective heart attack. It expected a Kerry win. At the very least it expected Americans to somehow rein in a man it sees as naïve and dangerously belligerent. … Americans declined to rein him in. They legitimised him. The rest of the world has been roundly snubbed.
An op-ed in the Guardian went to great lengths to describe negative stereotypes of the American electorate, then rejected them much less convincingly: “Americans are seen as unsophisticated, wilfully ignorant, obsessed with such issues as abortion, guns and gay marriage, and wedded to a device which seems calculated to impede the wishes of the majority—the electoral college. … Americans are far more complicated and unpredictable than we understand them to be.”
The conservative press cheered Bush’s victory. Rupert Murdoch’s Sun said: “The world is a safer place today with George W Bush back in the Oval Office. His re-election is bad news for terrorists everywhere.” The Daily Telegraph agreed: “The triumph of his Churchillian conservatism will … strike fear into all enemies of America and the west.” The Telegraph’s version of the “get used to it” theme was more positive: “[America] is diverging from Europe: it is younger, more self-confident, more prosperous, more devout, more diligent, more democratic and, in short, more conservative. Europe must come to terms, not only with Mr Bush, but with the nation that has elected him.” The Times encouraged Bush to let recalcitrant foreigners woo him: “The President should not waste time trying to appease or win over those who have no time for him. There is the chance, perhaps, that with the passage of time the qualities which Americans see in this politician will become more obvious to others.”
In Spain, leftist El País urged Prime Minister José Luis Zapatero to “accommodate the new reality, even though the result isn’t what he hoped for” and fix the country’s strained relationship with the United States. “This doesn’t mean turning the page or starting over from the beginning, but leaving behind the unfortunate declarative politics on both sides.” Conservative ABC—in what may have been a subtle dig at the Spanish voters who elected the Socialist Party, which had pledged to withdraw troops from Iraq, after the March 11 attacks—praised Americans for their steadfastness: “[Bush is] a president firm in his convictions and ready to fight to the end, until victory, against the threats that hang over America (and over all of us, even if we don’t want to see it).”
Elsewhere in Europe, France’s leftist Libération got with the program: “A new reactionary majority … has cemented its hold on American democracy. The rest of the world may deplore it, but it will have to adapt to this reality.” Turkey’s Hurriyet also echoed the familiar grin-and-bear-it theme: “American voters have once more brought someone they deserved to the presidency. In this case, what is left for us is to bear it and to protect our own interests with maximum sensitivity.” But Sovietskaya Rossiya defaulted to quaintly archaic Cold War rhetoric: “Bearing in mind that Bush’s policies are prompting increasingly powerful rejection in the entire world, mankind will inevitably unite against the common evil—American imperialism.”