Sunday, October 31, 2004

Just to show that not all Barcelonese are idiotarians, here is a column from today's La Vanguardia by Josep Piqué, former Foreign Minister under Aznar and one of the leaders of the Catalan PP. He is a well-respected leader of the Establishment, known for his intelligence and moderation in both political and business matters; about his only fault is that he's a little long-winded. If he were American he'd be a moderate Republican from the non-Christian Right, pro-business wing of the party. (Translation: The guy understands the basics of economics.)

There are a surprising amount of people, like Mr. Piqué, who show basic common sense around here. About 15% or so (in Barcelona, that is) vote PP, and another 20-25% vote Convergence and Union. Some of the CiU voters are a little Cataloony, but generally they're not too bad, mostly pretty moderate folks. Then, about 40% of the people vote Socialist. At least half of these people are pretty moderate, too. They're what I'd call in the States "goddamn liberals", but when you get right down to it they're reasonable. They're not going to renationalize the phone company or set up labor camps or collectivize the kulaks or anything like that. There will be no purges or cults of personality, and they don't really believe in the labor theory of value any more. You'll get some anti-American guff off them, but they're realistic and not overly unfriendly. Now, the 15% remaining vote for either the Cataloony Republican Left or the Communist Initiative for Catalonia. Those people are nuts. Don't bother talking to them. It's like talking to a brick. Don't be unfriendly or anything, just nod politely and find something else to do.

To those who accuse me of scorning dialogue with my intellectual opponents, a question. Would you waste your time back in the States talking to someone who actually voted Communist? Or to a proselytizer for the Jehovah's Witnesses? Or a member of the Ku Klux Klan? Of course not. You'd leave politely or go across the room to the other side of the party or whatever, but both you and I know it's a waste of time to talk about serious matters with religious nuts of whatever stripe, be they Christian, Marxist, or nationalist. If you wouldn't do it back home in English, why bother doing it over here in Catalan or Spanish?

Anyway, here goes Mr. Piqué.

"These days we've been seeing different surveys which show how Europeans in general, though there are significant differences between countries, would prefer Senator Kerry to win the next Presidential election rather than President Bush. Also, I have personally observed, with some surprise, that people across the whole political spectrum find it incomprehensible that someone whom they consider, euphemistically, unadmirable (Bush) might win.

And it is true that a certain stereotype of Bush has jelled, with the unestimable help of the media of communication. A stereotype of Bush which reduces him, in my judgement very simplistically, to a crude, simple, aggressive character, ultra-right-wing, a religious fundamentalist, obsessed with terrorism, who prefers security to freedom. I know that this feeds the anti-American spasms that are so present in some European countries--which, nevertheless, owe their freedom, security, and prosperity to the sacrifice, the commitment, and the protection of the United States--and especially in Spain, all across the political spectrum. But, sincerely, I think this shows a lack of the intellectual rigor which will be necessary in order to deal with our international relations and their demands, in the best interests of our citizens.

Let's take this in order. The visceral anti-Americanism that we see every day--even in our own Administration!--may satisfy our primary instincts or even win votes, but it is not in harmony with the objective realities of our global context. The United States has been the guarantor of European freedom against the totalitarianisms, and we should remember that if the European Union has today no less than twenty-five members, it is thanks to the defeat of the Soviet Union by the United States in the Cold War. It wasn't so long ago that, two hours by air from Barcelona, in the Balkans, we Europeans were incapable of stopping the genocide that was happening and so the United States had to pull our chestnuts out of the fire. How short memory is sometimes! But, besides, with a certain schizophrenia, we criticize the so-called "lack of culture" of the Americans and at the same time we do not see the beam in our own eye. It is often argued that they know nothing of Europe and, in many cases, it is true. But do we know, in general, what is the capital of Florida, for example? Or Michigan? And, even more, are we Europeans capable of naming right off hand the capital of Slovenia or Estonia, countries that are members of the European Union? I think we need a little humility.

But this schizophrenia is produced also when we criticize their habits of living but then copy them in every detail, sometimes, as with eating habits, with very negative results. But what about cinema, music, or fashion? And I don't know anybody who has ever had the chance to visit New York, New Orleans, or San Francisco who hasn't been fascinated.

What's going on, then? Isn't it that, from our millenarian history, we Europeans feel the clichéd scorn toward the nouveau riche or the arriviste, the best student, who beats us out in so many things?

If I may make a personal reference, I consider myself a fervent Europeanist who has had the immense luck to put into practice, in some of my political posts, his Europeanism. But I have always thought that one is not less European by being pro-American and favorable to the strengthening of the trans-Atlantic link. If we weaken that link, Europe will establish itself more firmly on the real periphery of the world. The planet's center of gravity is no longer on the Greenwich meridian, but in the Pacific. And it is an unchangeable and irreversible trend. Whoever is not conscious of this is gravely wrong. And this can only be partially compensated for if we strengthen our relationships with the Americas and Asia simultaneously. This is what is in our interests as Europeans, not isolating ourselves in our bubble of well-being and defending ourselves as we can against the enormous pressure of immigration so that our societies will continue to be reasonably organized and integrated, and thinking that in the long run, if there is some threat, we'll always have the Americans, although they may see us as non-contributors regarding our own security.

I remember a headline of a very important newspaper of reference which, on September 12, 2001, ran on the front page a headline, not about the attacks or the victims of terrorism, but the "fears" of the world about Bush's eventual reprisals! Think about the logical reaction of an American citizen to that.

The United States feels threatened by an invisible, unpredictable enemy which has attacked, for the first time in its history, its continental territory. And it seeks solidarity and cooperation. And I should express a conviction: foreign and defense policy will not change whether either Bush or Kerry wins. Democratic presidents--with the arguable exception of Jimmy Carter-- have never been "soft" regarding foreign policy. Think about Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, or Clinton himself, who I believe was President when NATO bombed Belgrade, with no resolution from the United Nations Security Council, with Javier Solana, the future European Union Foreign Minister, as the secretary general of the Atlantic alliance.

The differences are more tangible in domestic policy, though Bush is presenting himself as the best guarantor of American security and Kerry is putting more emphasis on relations with the allies.

Because of all this, I think our attitude toward the elections should transcend our personal sympathies or antipathies based on stereotypes--remember what was said about Reagan in Europe and today, everybody admits he was a good president who won the Cold War and managed the economy well--and base itself on objective factors that will have real repercussions on our interests as European citizens when it comes to defending our collective security or thinking about our economic growth or our capacity to generate jobs and well-being. At least that way our analysis will be more complex and much better supported, less vain and more realistic regarding our limits.

Europe is in the middle of a very difficult time of construction as a political and economic union. We have advanced enormously in the last fifty years, much more than it seems due to constant governmental crises. But we have not only lost strategic and political influence, in relative terms, to the United States; we have also done so regarding culture and economics. One fact to think about: in the last thirty years, since 1975, the United States has grown at an annual rate of 3.2%. The European Union has done so at a rate of 2.3%, a difference of nine percentage points annually, though the most worrying aspect is that the difference has been growing over the years, marking the trend that widens the growth gap between the US and the EU. The reasons for this are diverse, but a lot of it has to do with the entrepreneurial mindset, business dynamism, less public intervention, and more market flexibility, and, in any case, with a capacity to create jobs that is very superior in the United States. Therefore, Washington's economic policies affect us in a very important way, as much or more so as its foreign policies, which, excluding minor changes, will continue down the same path as it's been on since September 11. And there, in economic policies, is where Bush does not have a good record. What we don't know is whether Kerry would offer better solutions.

So let us leave the American citizens to decide what, although their decision affects us all, they are the only ones capable of doing. And, by the way, did you know that the publication of the surveys that I mentioned at the beginning increased the support for Bush? I think we Europeans ought to think about this a little."

Thank you, Mr. Piqué. That was very reasonable.

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