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World Gawks at American Election

RICO GAGLIANO, host:

Switching gears fairly drastically.

ALISON STEWART, host:

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Good luck with that.

GAGLIANO: Yeah. I'm not going to try a segue here. Let's just go for it.

So I was in India…

STEWART: Um-hmm. Yes.

GAGLIANO: …just about a week ago. You were aware of this, Alison. And I was interviewing a guy in Mumbai and he's a screenwriter. We were talking about movies. But as I'm about to leave, out of nowhere, he stops and touches me on the arm and says, so who do you think will be your next president? And I told him, I don't really know. It's a close race. And he says, and I'm quoting this pretty accurately because it was a memorable thing for him to say, I think. He says, let me tell you, when we in India see your top four candidates are a rebel senator, a woman, a Mormon and a black man with a middle name Hussein, we are all very interested. Well, it turns out that this guy is not alone. In fact, interest in America's presidential election may be as high abroad as it is here at home, or close to it anyway.

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STEWART: I like that as a headline for some newspaper.

GAGLIANO: Yes, I know. I would hope it's a little bit higher here , at least. But anyway, to prove that we've got John Peet on the line from London. He is the Europe editor for the magazine the Economist.

Hi, John.

Mr. JOHN PEET (Europe Editor, The Economist): Hello.

GAGLIANO: Hello. And we should specify, by the way, that you're speaking on behalf of only Europe and Russia, right? Not the rest of the world.

Mr. PEET: Yeah, I deal with Europe, that's right.

GAGLIANO: Yeah, all right. Well, what's - let's - from your point of view, in any case, what's the evidence here? How do we know interest is up?

Mr. PEET: Well, I mean, I guess, you do - I do judge it, to some extent, by newspapers - and the newspaper and the radio and television or in Europe has given more attention to this race certainly at this early stage than I can remember before, including times when I've worked in Washington. I think the Europeans are very interested.

GAGLIANO: Now, why is that? I mean, there's - I can give you a bunch of reasons. We know that President Bush isn't exactly worshipped in many foreign lands, Is the attention just eagerness to finally be rid of him? They're like, we don't care who it is.

Mr. PEET: I think it's - I mean, I think it's two things. I think one of them is that George Bush has been pretty unpopular throughout Europe for most of the past four, five years.

GAGLIANO: Mm-hmm.

Mr. PEET: I mean, there was a certain sort of surge of sympathy based on 9/11. But I think Iraq certainly sent this ratings down. And climate change is another thing that Europeans are very - feel very concerned about and very anxious to get rid of George Bush, however. So there's a strong kind of negative, we want somebody else. But the other thing is that it seems such an open race on both sides. And I think that just makes the race more exciting.

GAGLIANO: Mm-hmm.

Mr. PEET: You know, there hasn't been a clear sign, even so far that, you know, of definite candidates emerging.

GAGLIANO: Right. And we are noting that even here. Are they - are the people in Europe actually pulling for one candidate in particular? Is there somebody they favor, do you think?

Mr. PEET: No, I think it would be fair to say that most Europeans would like a Democrat to return to the White House. And I think that's often the European's bias. In this case, it's a much stronger just because they've had eight years of George Bush. So they would prefer a Democrat. And, I guess - obviously, the one they know best probably is Hillary Clinton. But Obama has generated a great deal of excitement around Europe as well.

GAGLIANO: Yeah. Is there talk, by the way, you know, the next leader of the free world could actually be female or African-American? Is that…

Mr. PEET: Yes. Those things clearly make this race much more exciting and much easier to sell as a newspaper story. And, I mean, in base respects, America is ahead of - most of Europe.

GAGLIANO: Now, well, this sort of brings up something that was interesting. And I'm going to ask you to speak for the French as a Brit. You might not become comfortable doing that. But we'll try it.

In January 10th editorial from The Economist mentions a French newspaper's commentary that electing a black president would be an act of atonement for the U.S. And, I mean, we have a racial baggage. But Europe does too. You know, is there some hypocrisy here for Europeans to say we should prove or (unintelligible)?

Mr. PEET: There's plenty of hypocrisy from Europeans. I mean, I think there's probably often hypocrisy on the part of Americans. But there's certainly plenty of hypocrisy from Europeans. I mean, there's this inkling…

GAGLIANO: (Unintelligible).

Mr. PEET: …that Europe have often had, that America is a racially divided society, a place of high crime and a place of great inequality. But actually if you look at countries like France, Britain, even Germany, there's plenty of inequality, there's plenty of crime, there's plenty of racial tensions. And they tend to sort of pretend these things aren't always happening.

GAGLIANO: Hmm.

Mr. PEET: But what is true - and I think even French newspapers have acknowledged this, is that the site of a potential black president in America is something that does draw attention. And the fact that there are no leading black politicians in France, there's no leading Muslim politicians in France, even though that country has a very large minority population.

GAGLIANO: So you think that there's some soul searching maybe, that this is triggering in the - on the part of foreign viewers of this campaign?

Mr. PEET: I think if and when it happens, it will trigger more soul searching. But certainly, the problem of integrating minorities has been a growing pre-occupation in Europe, particularly Muslim minorities.

GAGLIANO: Right.

Mr. PEET: And I - there was a time when they used to think America was not good at this. But I think some of them are beginning to say that America actually is in some ways better. All sides have their problems.

STEWART: But we should also point out, though, that there's not a Muslim minority running. That's one of those…

GAGLIANO: (Unintelligible) yes.

STEWART: …things that happening in the United States that because of Barack Obama's name, that people have been…

GAGLIANO: Right. People are making this mistake.

STEWART: …that he's a Muslim.

GAGLIANO: It's true. But I imagine a person of color is what we're speaking.

Mr. PEET: That's right. And, I mean, the - in France, for example, issue is really about Muslim minority rather than about black minority. Although, some - quite a lot of the Muslims in France are, in fact, black. But it's not seen as a racial issue, so much of the religious issue.

GAGLIANO: I see. What's - and, you know, although, you were saying that the Democrats are sort of, perhaps, favored by the Europeans. What is the consensus on the Republican candidates? Could they live with them?

Mr. PEET: I think the first one we've mentioned already, they don't like George Bush. And I think to translate that into saying we definitely don't want any Republican. I think the tendency that I see around Europe is to treat most of the Republicans as the same, you know, another version of George Bush with the kind of religious fervor or the neo-conservative thinking. With the one exception of, of course, John McCain who's probably the only one the Europeans really know much about.

GAGLIANO: Hmm.

Mr. PEET: And I think they do see McCain as a different Republican from Bush. Although, he supported the - although, he wants to keep troops in Iraq.

GAGLIANO: Right. (Unintelligible)

Mr. PEET: We're trying to identify him as somebody who's more inclined to talk to us, to be more multilateral, and I think he's clearly the one that they would favor.

GAGLIANO: What is - what do the Europeans want to hear out of the mouths of the candidates? Like, what issue when the candidates start talking about it, does the European, sort of like, prickle up and say, oh, we better pay attention to - foreign policy, the economy, things that affect the rest of the world?

Mr. PEET: I think right now, people are very worried about the economy. And I'm not sure they identify either side or any particular candidate who's having a good answer to what to do about the economy. But there is a lot of worry about the American economy and about the effect of a possible downturn or recession on Europe.

But that's - if you like a sort of big underlying concern but doesn't an easy solution. The two things that I think they would like most to hear from candidates are number one, a pledge to take global warming seriously and do something about a climate change. And number two, the kind of hint that at least in principle when it comes to foreign adventures, a new American president would want to consult and talk to allies before doing anything.

GAGLIANO: All right. Last question here. Over the last few years, people gained a lot more access to satellite TV - the Internet, we've got debates on YouTube, how much does this electronic media affect the ability of people to train their attention on this election?

Mr. PEET: I think it's absolutely huge, absolutely huge. And again, it's a bit of a two-way street. And people are seeing the impact of the Internet within America. And, of course, the Internet enables people to follow the American election so much more quickly and more closely. But they're also saying this is going to happen in Europe - I mean, Europe tends to be a little behind America…

GAGLIANO: Sure.

Mr. PEET: …on the way the Internet impacts on politics. But already, you know, in the French election, the Internet played a role. And I think you're going to see that - you're going to see that around Europe generally.

GAGLIANO: All right.

Mr. PEET: So definitely make the world - political world a smaller place. People can follow what's happening in other countries much more carefully.

GAGLIANO: Excellent. All right, keep watching because this is going to be (unintelligible).

Mr. PEET: All right.

GAGLIANO: John Peet is the Europe editor for The Economist.

John Peet, thanks for joining us. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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