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The Obamas take Europe
Why Europe 'swooned' over President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama
H

e had us at “Bon après-midi,” said David Usbourne in the London Independent. President Obama this week wrapped up one of the more productive and substance-filled presidential trips to Europe in recent history—but at times it felt more like two love-struck teenagers on a giddy first date. Europeans, still blinking in joy and disbelief at the sudden end of the Bush era, showered Obama with affection from London to Strasbourg to Prague, and Obama returned the sentiment, showing more respect for—and comfort with—the Old World than any president since John F. Kennedy. “If Europe wants to be in love with Mr. Obama,” he made it clear that “he will not resist.” We admit it, said Madrid’s El Pais in an editorial: “Europe swooned” over Obama and his glamorous First Lady, and how could we not? After the “reactionary intransigence of his predecessor,” this thoughtful, inspiring man is a more than “desirable partner” for Europe in the 21st century.

Yes, but weren’t you relieved when he finally went home? said Iain Martin in the London Daily Telegraph. It was indeed heartening to welcome a U.S. president who so obviously “cares about the outside world.” But as the days wore on, it became harder to escape the observation that this famously gifted orator “does go on a bit.” The huge crowds he spoke to would start off “wildly enthusiastic,” only to be bludgeoned into yawning submission by an hour of clichés punctuated by “pauses so long it appeared he had simply lost his train of thought.” Charm can only take you so far, said The Economist. In the meeting rooms of the G-20 and NATO summits, and in bilateral talks with Russia and China, Obama proved himself an able diplomat. But it remains to be seen whether Obama will actually be able to get Russia to, say, back Western efforts to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions. And in China, Obama has much work to do to ease Beijing’s concerns about the value of its U.S. Treasury investments. There may be “some tricks that even Obama magic cannot pull off.”

But there did seem to be something magical about Obama’s hold on Europe, said Christian Denso in Hamburg, Germany’s Die Zeit. In advance of Obama’s visit, police across the continent were braced for demonstrations and riots. With the global economy in free-fall and the threat of new military conflicts looming, it was feared that unprecedented numbers of Europeans would come to vent their rage against the leader of the world’s only superpower. But even in London, where protestors effectively shut down the city, the violence was vastly lower than anticipated, and “it’s all Barack Obama’s fault.” At the protests here in Baden-Baden, even the most extreme anti-globalist, anti-capitalist firebrands were “more inclined to see Barack Obama as a figure they can trust” and were complaining that “it’s hard to demonstrate against an inspirational light.”

Especially when that beacon is married to Michelle Obama, said the London Times. There was a sense before the visit that Obama’s halo was losing its luster. But then came Michelle, hugging or being hugged by the Queen, moving the nation to tears with her inspiring speech to an audience of schoolgirls, wowing nearly everyone with her “poise and glamour, and providing a “boost to the Obama brand” just when it needed one. That’s the least of it, said Lindy McDowell in the Belfast Telegraph. Coverage of Michelle’s wardrobe during the trip, particularly her fondness for “sparkly cardigans,” easily eclipsed the attention paid to the $1 trillion her husband persuaded the G-20 to pledge to the IMF. But maybe that’s not so crazy. The arrival of “a new fashion icon on the world’s stage” could be just what we need “to kick-start the shopping mania that fizzled to a standstill when the credit crunch began to bite.”

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