- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 30, 2008
ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Few people on either side of the Atlantic Ocean live the globe-trekking lifestyle of artist and author Barbara Chase-Riboud.

This native Philadelphian, as a “citizen of the world,” divides her time between an apartment in Paris, a sculpture studio in Milan, Italy, and a Renaissance-era palazzo in Rome.

With dual American and French citizenship, she votes in U.S. presidential elections through an absentee ballot sent to her hometown voter-registration office.

Even so, this world traveler says she doesn’t “think anybody in America or Europe anticipated the amazing reception” Illinois Sen. Barack Obama received last week. “I didn’t, but I believe the person most surprised was Obama.”

Ms. Chase-Riboud points out “everything is different when viewed from the other side of the Atlantic.” And hers is just one perspective of the whirlwind seven-country tour that the presumptive Democratic nominee just completed.

“I hope it doesn’t backfire, because you know how Americans can be if they think he’s overreaching,” she says.

During the trip, Mr. Obama was greeted by a crowd estimated at 200,000 in Berlin, but Ms. Chase-Riboud says there were throngs in the streets of Paris who started riots because they couldn’t get to “eyeball” him when he visited French President Nicolas Sarkozy at Elysee Palace.

“I don’t think he had his thinking cap on, because he didn’t speak to them,” she says.

In his 27-minute, furrowed-brow speech at the Victory Column, Mr. Obama, 46, told the crowd: “I came to Berlin as so many of my countrymen have before, not as a candidate for president, but as a citizen - a proud citizen of the U.S. and as a fellow citizen of the world.”

Back home, where the presumptive Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain, was in a grocery store to highlight high food prices, lots of folks don’t understand or care for that “world citizen” stuff - except one reader who commented on Atlantic magazine’s Web site that the “world citizen” phrase “dates back to Thomas Paine and originated with Diogenes.”

Still, the one-term junior senator still must convince American doubters that even though he may look like a presidential “world citizen” standing in front of 10 Downing Street, he also has the ability to deliver on the role in the “real world.”

In fact, polls indicate that Americans view Mr. McCain, 71, as better equipped to be commander in chief. Polls show that most Americans are more concerned about domestic issues, particularly the high cost of energy, than about foreign policy, national security and the war in Iraq.

Ms. Chase-Riboud says “foreign policy is important because the world is not made up of Americans gazing at their navels.”

Americans can no longer think in isolationist terms, especially “when you wake up in the morning in Colorado and realize that your mortgage is being held in some Swiss bank,” she says. If “Americans are upset about high gas prices, well, so is the rest of the planet.”

“The president of the U.S. is the president of the world, the free world anyway, and that’s just the way it is,” says Ms. Chase-Riboud. “Americans have to realize that the rest of world has a stake” in their choice for president.

She obviously supports Mr. Obama over Mr. McCain, like most Europeans. That favored status figure reaches 85 percent in France and 65 percent in Germany and in England for the Democrat, according to recent polls.

“Obama represents everything that Europeans want an American president to be and to say and to promise, and for them, he is the new Kennedy, and it’s just that irrational,” she says.

But she offers a caution: “The world is waiting, so he better have something to say, and if he does have something to say, people are willing to listen and follow, but if he’s on some messiah trip, I hope it doesn’t last long.”

Last week was the first time in a long while, Ms. Chase-Riboud says she saw “more Europeans waving an American flag instead of burning it.” She is among those who believe an Obama presidency will help repair the image of America abroad.

While the Europeans apparently have made up their minds, Americans are still undecided.

Mr. Obama enjoyed a bump, probably short-lived, in the latest Gallup Poll the day after he returned from London that put him ahead of Mr. McCain 49 percent to 40 percent. But among likely voters, Mr. McCain was slightly ahead.

Ms. Chase-Riboud says she talks to lots of people from Europe to the Middle East who seek her opinion as an American, why U.S. voters “would even consider voting for McCain.” Her answer: “I don’t know, either.”

She says Mr. McCain is viewed as “a surrogate and another four years of [President] Bush.”

“Anybody would be popular who is not Bush. They hate Bush,” she says of Europeans.

Stereotypes are global, too.

Europeans, by and large, do not realize how close the presidential race is, Ms. Chase-Riboud says. Nor do they realize that there are no liberal, socialist or communist parties here, as well.

Europeans, she adds, “think Obama is center-liberal, which is like most of the governments here.”

“They don’t know that there are two conservative parties in America, the Republicans and the Democrats, and that’s it. But they’re going to find out soon enough,” she says.

An award-winning author, poet and sculptor, Ms. Chase-Riboud is best known for her fictionalized biography “Sally Hemings.” She also is known for accusing “Amistad” director Steven Spielberg of plagiarizing her 1989 novel, “Echo of Lions.” (The lawsuit was settled out-of-court for an undisclosed amount).

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