As low as it gets

Having spent many years in the United States, I am often treated like that doctor who goes out for dinner and finds himself overwhelmed by questions about asthma or blood pressure. «Who do you think will win America’s next presidential election?» and «Will US foreign policy change if Hillary becomes president?» are the FAQs these days. The answer to both questions of course is «I don’t know.» American politics loves surprises and the media can turn the most boring contest into a nail-biter. America’s primaries retain some elements of direct democracy out of the pages of Alexis de Tocqueville. A candidate can be seen spending hours going door to door in a place like New Hampshire, saying things like «Hi, I am so and so and I want to be your next president.» That’s all very well, you may say. But how is it then that this country elected Bush for president? I have no ready answer. Bush disguised his extreme profile in the first race and hid behind the 9/11 hysteria in the second. Sure, his flaws reflect deeper problems such as the power of religious conservatives and the influence of the Israeli lobby. Those who know America know that the large pendulum of history has a way of restoring balance, even after crises. Politics is already becoming more pragmatic. Hillary, Obama, Giuliani and McCain are all more or less champions of realpolitik, moderate and rather cosmopolitan figures. «And does it really matter who wins the presidency?» one may ask. But who can deny that Al Gore would have made a better job of the post-9/11 situation. Bush has made a mess. America has lost its luster, even for people who looked to it for fresh ideas. The deeper, structural problems will always be there but no matter who wins the 2008 vote, it will be for the better. It can’t get any lower than this.