In Spain, any piece of news that distracts the attention from the economic, social and political crisis is welcome these days. For a country that has never shown too much interest in international affairs, the US presidential campain represents a traditional exception.
As it seems to happen elsewhere, this year’s race for the White House is not so present in the Spanish public opinion as the 2008 contest was. At that time, the excitement about Barack Obama that blew over Europe was shared by most Spaniards. Today, a clear disappointment about the performance and real achievements of the US president dominates our feelings towards him. And all can't help but feel that his administration, despite all the fuss about transatlantic values and friendship, has done very little to ease the European woes, and that America has now chosen to look towards the East, somehow turning its back to its old European allies.
In spite of all that, 83% of Spanish citizens have a positive opinion of Obama, while only 29% feel the same way about Mitt Romney, according to the Transatlantic Trends 2012 survey. The Republican candidate is still a generally unknown character and some of his key features – his wealth, his extremely successful corporate career and even his religious affiliation – do not generate great sympathy among Spaniards. On top of that, his comment about not wanting to be like Spain in the first presidential debate did not help to improve his image here (not that he cares).
Interestingly enough, the US have recovered a privileged place among the leading nations in the Spanish perception. In June 2012, 72% of Spaniards expressed a favorable opinion towards North America, compared to 68% towards Germany or 67% towards France. That has not always been the case, though. A vast majority of citizens opposed the American invasion of Iraq, supported by José Maria Aznar’s conservative government. Most people were against George Bush’s preemptive war and considered the excuse of the existence of weapons of mass destruction a mere example of hegemonic arrogance. That collective mood reached its peak when then-leader of the opposition party, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, refused to stand up for the American flag in a military parade. When a few months later Zapatero arrived to Moncloa (the Spanish Prime Ministers' official residence), US-Spain relations suffered the consequences of such a gesture.
Diplomatic sources define the relationship today as “perfectly normal”, meaning that there is no significant conflict whatsoever. But there is no special relationship either. Aznar’s ambition to be recognized as an equal partner by Washington died when he left office. It took the Zapatero administration several years and much work to rebuild mutual confidence, but these efforts were ultimately halted by the crisis and its dramatic effects on the Spanish image abroad.
Personally, if I could, I would vote for Obama. It is true that his achievements have been far from the expectations he aroused. It is true, too, that the vicious circle in which American politics are immersed – like many other democratic politics, by the way – seems to serve the only purpose of self-perpetuation and that the President, despite his promise to reform Washington, has not even tried to do that. However, as an European, I think it will always be better to deal with an American president that respects and understands the role of the State - even if our concepts of a welfare state are completely different – than with one that openly dismisses and scorns it. As for Romney, I cannot avoid having the impression that the US, and the rest of the world, would go back to many of the principles that have led us to our less than desirable current situation: a completely unregulated financial and economic environment and a hawkish and more aggressive approach to foreign policy.
They say that the real value of a US president only comes out in the second term. In spite of everything, I believe Obama deserves a second chance.
This article is part of the 'How it looks from here' openDemocracy feature on the 2012 US elections. For more worldwide perspectives on the presidential race, click here.