American campaign rhetoric stuns overseas observers

Player utilities

Listen to the story.

Marco Werman: You’re listening to The World, I’m Marco Werman. It’s a big country, this America, but someone’s got to cover it. When you’re a foreign correspondent based here, even when there’s midterm elections like the ones coming up tomorrow across the country, it is quite often literally someone -- one person reporting it all. In the case of Rory Carroll, who is covering the midterms for The Guardian newspaper in London, he’s bouncing all over the place. Today, we found him in Des Moines, Iowa, where he was reporting for his readers back home on voter disillusion here on President Obama.


Rory Carroll: As a European, I’m very aware that the United States has done so much better economically under Obama than Europe has in the past six years. I think he does get very little credit here on the streets. Now economists actually do give Obama quite good points for averting a depression and pulling, yanking the United States out of what could have been a much worse, more painful recession. Yet for Europeans, the shine has worn off of “Obama, no drama” and the guy who won the Nobel Peace Prize and those huge crowds that greeted him with euphoria in the early years. Even in Europe, that’s certainly faded quite some time ago and there is a sense of disillusion with him. But I still do think in Europe there’s a residual affection and respect for the man, which you don’t often find nowadays in the United States.


Werman: The last time we spoke with you, you were in Ferguson, in Missouri. Are any of the concerns you’re hearing from voters these days, are they dealing with some of these black/white issues or about how police departments have become highly weaponized?


Carroll: Absolutely not, where I am. I’ve been in largely, almost exclusively white areas around Des Moines, and so as white people in the midwest, they tend not to worry or think too much about race issues. Now of course, if I was to skip over a few states, over to Missouri or even in Los Angeles, which is where I’m based, there people do express concern and anxiety about the militarization of US police forces. It all depends on which part of the US you’re in.


Werman: Is that just a weird juxtaposition for you as a foreign reporter, to be so deeply immersed in this quintessential American race issue and then you kind of go to another part of the country and it’s not such a big deal?


Carroll: Yeah, it just reminds you just how big the US is. As a European, I’m constantly surprised by that. I get on a plane and I’m flying for 3, 4, 5 hours and I’m still not at my destination within the US. In Europe, everything just seems a bit smaller. Here, it’s just the fact that it really is a continent and the fact that Americans speak English and culturally we all kind of feed from the same trough of books and television and films, and yet there are really profound differences in the US and US perspectives. For example, Joni Ernst, who is the Republican candidate for Senate here, of course she famously is an occasional castrator of pigs. She is on record as saying that she’s a proud gun owner, no surprise there, but also that one of the reasons she likes to have her Smith and Wesson always close to hand is lest the government come for her or come to try to take away her rights. Therefore she wants to keep her gun close to her side in case the government threatens her. Now, that just passed almost without comment here. People just think “Yeah, that’s fine.” From a European perspective, it’s like “Really?” If you’re concerned about your government coming against you -- I mean, we’re not living in a dictatorship. And yet, of course, she had earlier in the Primary campaign, she did actually call Barack Obama a dictator and called for his impeachment. These are very strong statements and, again, to European ears it sounds a bit like that sort of stuff you would say when your country is in grave crisis or there’s a really dark era upon you, which is not really the case for the US at the moment. All of that said, I should say that Joni Ernst has since walked back some of those comments and as we go into the General Election campaign, she has not repeated those things about Obama being a dictator, so she’s kind of softened her position. So, it’s a lot for a European to get your head around, to appreciate all of these nuances.


Werman: Well Rory, thanks for your perspective on tomorrow’s elections, we appreciate it. Rory Carroll, who’s been covering the US elections for The Guardian newspaper, has been speaking with us from Des Moines, Iowa. Thank you so much.


Carroll: It’s been a pleasure, thank you.