French President Nicolas Sarkozy spoke at Columbia University this morning, and he delivered some words that seemed much in line with things I heard over the last two weeks in Belgium and Germany. The first point generally made is that the American “brand” has gone up quite a bit. The second is that Barack Obama may be having a rough time in the United States, but among the Europeans, his name is gold across the political spectrum. Some of Sarkozy’s remarks are quoted in the current AP wire report.
On healthcare reform—“Welcome to the club of states who don’t turn their back on the sick and the poor… When we look at the American debate on reforming health care, it’s difficult to believe. The very fact that there should have been such a violent debate simply on the fact that the poorest of Americans should not be left out in the streets without a cent to look after them … is something astonishing to us. If you come to France and something happens to you, you won’t be asked for your credit card before you’re rushed to the hospital.”
The Obama healthcare reform is somewhat less aggressive that the one that Bismarck introduced in Germany in the early 1880s. And it’s being derided as “socialist”? Not from the perspective of the Europeans, including those, like Sarkozy, on the right. I have had to seek medical care on a visit to France in the past, and I can attest that Sarkozy is not exaggerating. After being examined and getting some drugs prescribed for a tenacious cold, I explained that I had U.S. health insurance. To which the doctor responded, “eh bien, tant pis,” or “let’s just not bother with that.” The encounter overall was friendlier than anything I’ve ever experienced stateside. Indeed, the freedom with which drugs were handed out was puzzling.
On America’s role in the world—“Reflect on what it means to be the world’s No. 1 power. The world needs an open America, a generous America, an America that shows the way, an America that listens.”
This is a standard message from Europeans these days, much like the one that German Chancellor Angela Merkel delivered when she addressed Congress. Europe wants an America that assumes its natural position of leadership. That’s what they saw as missing in the Bush years: leadership.