Ever wonder what our nation looks like to folks from afar? Here we look at how a uniquely American story--the kind of news we have trouble explaining even to ourselves--is being told overseas. Want to see a particular topic covered here? Let us know.
Following yesterday's candidacy announcement, foreign newspapers are trying to explain Michele Bachmann to their readers. Their first tactic was similar to that seen in the U.S.: invoke the name of Sarah Palin, then toss in modifications. For example: "Michele Bachmann, a Palin double ... " reads Fabrice Rousselot's headline in his blog post for French publication Libération. "You know Sarah Palin? Here then is Michele Bachmann, representative from Minnesota, and second muse of the Tea Party, who today announces her candidacy for the Republican nomination," he explains, going on to talk about Bachmann's background, but also speculation as to whether Palin will enter the race. "Although she talks a lot softer and less often exploits sharp tones, one can't avoid talk of her as 'the new Sarah Palin,'" chimes in Silvia Pisani from Argentina's La Nación. She's "the post-Sarah Palin," declares the Italian La Repubblica. "The post-Sarah Palin." That sounds a little more appealing and differentiated. Sort of like postmodernism, perhaps.
If Bachmann was hoping to distinguish herself from Palin on the world stage, though, the John Wayne/John Wayne Gacy mixup from yesterday didn't help. "Republican compares herself to a serial killer," reads the headline from Germany's Die Welt. "Wayne, she says?" reads the coy Süddeutsche Zeitung.
Okay, so everyone loves a gaffe that involves trying to tie oneself to the "spirit" of a Western film hero, but instead invoking a "Killer Clown" who stored bodies in the attic. But does it signify anything? Unfair though it may seem, the answer appears to be yes. Take a look at how the Süddeutsche Zeitung is now describing Bachmann: "Next to Sarah Palin she is the hope-bearer of the Tea Party movement in the USA. And she ... seems to share something else with the former governor of Alaska," notes the paper: "a tendency towards embarrassing blunders." Adds Die Welt: "In past years the earlier Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin has repeatedly caused a stir with significant knowledge gaps and other embarrassing gaffes."
Die Welt's Konrad Putzier goes into the logic of the gaffe's impact in greater detail in his analysis titled "Michele Bachmann is looking more and more like Sarah Palin." Bachmann starts out at a disadvantage, he explains. "Both come from the country, both style themselves as hard-working mothers, both are heroines of the arch-conservative Tea Party movement. Even the brown, shoulder-length mane, set in a rolling wave, they share." Why is this a problem?
Whomever wishes to be the Repulibcan nominee for president needs his or her own profile. In this sense Michele Bachmann's mixup Monday could turn out to be a serious error. In the official announcement of her candidacy she strived to compare herself with the Western hero John Wayne, whom she thought came from the same small town as she did.
The only John Wayne, however, that ever saw the light of day in Waterloo, Iowa is John Wayne Gacy, its iconic serial killer. The mixup could be laughed off did it not press the parallel to another Republican politician: Sarah Palin, the woman who is known for exactly these sorts of missteps.