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Thesis & Antithesis

A critical perspective on energy, international politics & current affairs

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Location: Washington, D.C.

greekdefaultwatch@gmail.com Natural gas consultant by day, blogger on the Greek economy by night. Trained as an economist and political scientist. I believe in common sense and in data, and my aim is to offer insight written in language that is clear and convincing.

07 November 2005

American tragedy, European comedy

What are we to make of the way that Europeans and Americans are coping with their current woes, Europe over its stagnated continental politics, America over its embattled presidency? Increasingly I am drawn to this conclusion: European politics are comic; American politics are tragic.

The cast of characters is one reason to think so. Jacques Chirac is supremely comical; his hyperbole and silliness is hard to match. To take him seriously would be too burdensome, too pessimistic. A few days ago he said that, “Liberalism is as dangerous an ideology as communism and, like communism, it will not prevail.” Take this soberly, and you might as well give up on politics.

Then there is Silvio Berlusconi. He has evaded public attention lately, primarily because his government is falling apart and he has decided that this is more urgent a matter than entertaining the crowds. But he will be back; he is the guest star of the show, always coming back, unanticipated yet thoroughly expected with a memorable performance that never fails to please.

On the other end of the Atlantic is George W. Bush. To listen to him for a considerable amount of time without a fleeing smile is daunting. His struggle to put together a coherent sentence (don’t even try paragraph) is funny. But he is not comic. Why? Because he can launch the nukes. He has started two wars in the past five years. While you are laughing, Bush could invade your country. No so funny anymore, right? But even if you were to have a laugh with W, there is always Dick Cheney. No laughs here, period. This is the uber-candidate to play the villain in any play.

American politics are sufficiently dramatic. There is cover-up, lies, deceit. The country is engaged in a “false” war. A conservative cabal is taking over. Democracy is under attack. And so is the American way of life: under siege from Muslim extremists, from Iran and Syria, from North Korea, from the wrath of God, recently manifested in the vengeful Katrina and Rita.

European politics are different. They lack the Hollywood touch, though not necessarily for lack of trying. The Europeans are too cynical to believe in the scaremongering that bedevils Americans. They may fear that their “social Europe” might be fading, but they lack the energy and stamina to sustain an assault. While American debaters beef up with energy and zealotry, Europeans answer with wit and ethnic slurs. The word “Anglo-Saxon” comes to mind. Oh, and the French. America’s black and white politics show intensity, Europe’s gray politics are just that: gray.

Take bird flu. Bush vowed to detect outbreaks anywhere they may happen (fight bird flu there instead of here—preemption, again). And he talked about pandemics. He also advertised a website: http://www.pandemicflu.gov/ in case you weren’t paying attention to the speech. And what did the European Union do? It held an emergency meeting in Brussels. On the EU website, you can now find a nice 19-page summary of the day-to-day actions that the European commission has taken since September 1 to protect Europe. See what I mean?

Politics to laugh at are always preferable to apocalyptic debates. It is no wonder that Americans are increasingly turning to Jon Stewart’s Daily Show for their news. But this is a sorry state of affairs, in either end. At least, modern communications offers the comfort of comparison: depressed Europeans can enjoy that they are not scared to death by their media while Americans can find solace that their leaders are not as comical as Messrs Chirac or Berlusconi. Some consolation …

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