The night he won the New Hampshire primary, Mitt Romney struck a responsive chord in his victory speech when he accused President Obama of wanting to “turn America into a European-style entitlement society.” Then he turned up the volume in a reprise, saying that Obama “takes his inspiration from the capitals of Europe” while Republicans “look to the cities and small towns of America.” This line of attack is good stuff, and Obama had it coming.
Let’s look back. In April 2009, during the first couple’s triumphant tour of Europe, Michelle showed the Obamas’ true stripes. Magazine headlines screamed, “European Designers Elated That Michelle ObamaMichelle ObamaMichelle responds to Barack with her own Valentine's tweet Obamas' former Harvard law professor: Michelle should have been president Obamas sign with agency for speaking gigs MORE Wore Their Stuff,” and the ensuing coverage made clear that “Michelle Obama wore labels by designers who were (gasp) not American, including Azzedine Alaïa, Etro, Gunex and Moschino.” It’s a little thing, yes, but presidents and first ladies are tasked with understanding that symbols and symbolism matter. And they thought it more important to cater to the Euros than the already-conquered Americanos. Under withering criticism for not wearing made-in-America couture, Michelle Obama later sputtered, “Look, women, wear what you love. That’s all I can say. That’s my motto. I wear what I like because ... I gotta be in the dress, so … ” OK. You go, girl.
Fast-forward to today. Several times each week, for months it seems, the early-morning sensibilities of daily newspaper readers are assaulted with headlines like “Europe Faces New Greek Test” (Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal). If it’s not Greece, it’s Spain or Portugal. And then the New York Stock Exchange bell rings and stocks plunge. Poor retirees who thought it safe to put their IRAs and 401(k) funds back into the market are having flashbacks to Enron days and the 2008 implosion of the Dow. Americans can’t catch a break because Europe is a mess. And the president doesn’t seem to have any response. He’s too much of an admirer of Europe, it seems, to call them out for their financial problems constantly roiling the global economic recovery.
The public polling community has let us down on this, seldom asking Americans what they think. A noteworthy exception is the poorly known work of the YouGov poll, affiliated with The Economist. Its polling from November 2011 says, “Nearly eight in 10 Americans have heard about the European debt crisis — and most of them worry that what happens in Europe will hurt the American economy.” Nevertheless, the YouGov pollsters found that 80 percent of Americans would oppose offers of financial assistance to countries like Greece, a negative sentiment that cuts across party and class. Wouldn’t those Americans be surprised to learn that we are providing financial assistance through various aid and international loan programs?
President Truman’s desk plaque said, “The buck stops here.” Does the euro stop on Obama’s?
David Hill is a pollster that has worked for Republican candidates and causes since 1984.