How did Obama lose the Germans? Up until now, my fellow countrymen were his die-hard fans. 200.000 showed up when the candidate spoke in Berlin in 2008. “We need someone like Obama,” we Germans said – our own politicians seemed so boring. Two years into his term, the Germans defended him when the going got rough for him at home. “Poor Obama,” they still said when I visited Berlin last summer. “Congress and the Tea Party don’t let him do the things he set out to do. Why don’t they give him a chance?”
In the summer of 2012, the Germans have turned their backs on the “Black Kennedy” as he was called in a German-language biography. Meeting friends in Berlin, Munich or Frankfurt this June, I cannot order a latte macchiato as fast as they blurt out: “Looks like Obama blew it, right?” The news magazine “Der Spiegel” sets the tone in its cover story of June 10. “Schade”, reads the headline, “it’s a shame”. “Obama’s failed presidency.”
The article gives the talking points for a new consensus. Obama made mistakes in dealing with Congress, he flunked his climate change legislation while his health care reform is on trial. He did not unite Republicans and Democrats as promised. And what about that Nobel Peace Prize? The prison camp in Guantánamo still exists and the drone war in Pakistan and Yemen is an extralegal monstrosity.
Fair points, but they could have been made two years ago. Why have the Germans fallen out of love with Obama? Four years into Obama’s presidency America does not look like Europe, and it was never intended to. The drone war might be wildly unpopular with a majority of Germans, but a majority of Americans agree that it is the best means to beat al-Qaida. Should Obama lose his reelection campaign, the drones will not be the reason.
Still, one can only speculate what soured the German mood towards Obama at this particular point in time. Maybe his attitude vis-a-vis the Euro crisis is to blame? The U.S. president is reduced to the position of a helpless bystander and nagging lecturer while others will decide over boom and bust of the world economy. China with its enormous reserves. And Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel with her power to dictate the conditions of a European bailout.
But then again, why should Obama care about the cranky Germans? They don’t vote in US elections – and if they did, he could stop campaigning now. In spite of all the complaining and Schadenfreude over Obama’s unfinished business, his polls in Germany would be any candidate’s dream. His approval ratings worldwide may be in decline, but according to a recent Pew poll 89 percent of Germans would still like to see him reelected.
After all, the German hubris forbids any consideration of the alternative. Nowhere does “Der Spiegel” discuss the platform of Obama’s Republican opponent. Only at the very end of the Obama-bashing article, the authors ask whether “Mitt Romney, the mysterious, filthy rich Mormon” would make a better president. The answer is: “Certainly not.”