Sometimes you don’t realize just how green your grass is until you’re looking at it from the other side. I am in the midst of a two week speaking tour in Germany where I’m delivering lectures on the use of the internet and social networking technology (Facebook, Twitter etc.) in the 2012 presidential elections. My audience is primarily composed of German college and high-school teachers that teach English courses as well as a few journalists and political junkies.
My colleague Torben Schmidt starts off our talks by explaining how and why German teachers can use SNS better to teach kids English, especially during a presidential election year, and I finish up with a presentation and Q&A about the history of campaign tech. Riding incredibly efficient (and always on-time) trains from Frankfurt, to Hamburg, Nurmburg, Kiel and Berlin I have gained a very different appreciation for President Barack Obama from the questions and concerns of German teachers. Some of it was expected.
But some reactions were downright shocking.
Crush on Obama
While not nearly as enthusiastic as they were during his first two years in office, Obama remains incredibly popular in Germany. During the Q&A sessions, Germans consistently tell me that Obama is very well regarded here and that Bush is pretty much universally hated. Germans tend to have a much more long term view on economic trends than Americans do which is not surprising given the transformations brought on by the Euro and East German integration. Many Germans I speak with seem baffled that Americans lay so much blame about the economy on Obama’s lap when it is clear the recession was a long term problem long before he took office. The only answer I can give them is that we in the United States are pretty short sighted.
Knowledge Beyond Borders
Teachers in Germany who use English as a second language have reason to follow American news, culture and politics. However, it is astounding just how much about American politics these teachers are familiar with. After just about every talk someone in the audience asks if the influence of Super PACs makes the presidential election a foregone conclusion. Super PACs??
That’s an incredibly obscure notion for citizens from abroad to be aware of, yet I get more questions about these new PACs than I do about the electoral college or the two major parties. Just about everyone in every audience has known who Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum are. Compare that to most Americans where I doubt most public school teachers know that the German president Christian Wulff RESIGNED last month amid scandal. Yes: occasionally some of the audience thought they knew America better than they did (most Europeans really can’t fully comprehend how large or racially diverse America is and how it affects politics) but by and large they’ve got much more knowledge about our system than we do about theirs.
Your issues aren’t mine
The sex and morality issues that monopolize American political discourse on politics are foreign or downright foolish to most Germans. Why are Americans still arguing about abortion, gay marriage or contraception? These are pretty consistent questions that I face. Part of this stems from the fact that Germans are quite a bit more sex positive than stuffy old Americans. Watch any German network station past 10 p.m. and it’s soft porn with nude women advertising phone sex lines. Our political sex scandals seem even more trite. One official I met told me that they had a nickname for Bill Clinton’s administration in Germany: Sex between two Bushes. That speaks volumes.
Of course other issues that don’t matter to Americans mattered to Germans a great deal. The German public is quite concerned about privacy issues online, something most Americans only give cursory thoughts to. Moreover I have been asked various versions of the following question several times through this trip:“Will Obama’s failure to close Guantanamo Bay as promised harm him in the fall elections?” I always get a slight chuckle out of this question. To many Germans I’ve worked with in this program that is a major failing of the Obama administration. I quickly point out, however, that Americans don’t care about Guantanamo because Obama killed Osama. Period. The left cares, but they’re going to vote or not vote regardless. The center and the middle are so buoyed by the Al Qaeda leader’s death that Guantanamo seems like a distant memory.
This article originally appeared online at Politic365.com.