BERLIN -- An American won't easily recognize politics at home as seen from Europe. Even our British cousins often look through a glass, darkly. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, distilled to their essence, were easier to understand. Liked him, didn't trust her. But the unfolding of the American presidential campaign is understood mostly through stereotypes. This sometimes makes meaningful conversations difficult.
How wonderful, Europeans typically exclaim, that a black man in the land that fought a war over slavery (to reduce a complicated story to an easily understood stereotype) gets to be president only 150 years later (the actual election is usually understood as only a ratifying formality). Curiously, Hillary as the first serious woman candidate seems hardly to have resonated among the frauleins. After the election of first Margaret Thatcher and then Angela Merkel, a leader's sex seems no big deal in Europe.
Europeans sneer at George W. Bush for many reasons, including his openness in talking about his religious faith, but he's having a good time on his current tour of Germany, France and Italy, whose chiefs of state actually like him. They're not even put off by his religious earnestness.
The prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran has put the fear of God even into many European atheists. Israel's concern is becoming their worry, too. It's beginning to register with the most thoughtful Europeans that, as George W. Bush reminded them this week, his successor -- whoever he is -- will stick to his policy of dealing with Iran because presidents have to deal with the real world, not a world as they would like it to be.
Obama, who once said he would negotiate with Iran without preconditions, sounds more like a president as he learns, painfully, to bear a greater responsibility for pretty words. "Let me be clear. Israel's security is sacrosanct ... nonnegotiable," he told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) convention in Washington. "And there is no greater threat to Israel or to the peace and stability of the region than Iran."
Germans aren't entertained by sexual politics like we are, or as the British or the French and the Italians. They perceived Hillary as continuing her husband's cynicism of "politics as usual." They're thrilled by the surge of "Obamamania," though few expect it to last. They like John McCain as the maverick, replacing the cowboy from Prairie Chapel Ranch, and like his harsh denunciation of perceived torture of prisoners at Guantanamo.
They don't see much difference between the two surviving candidates on Israel, as almost anyone who heard or read their remarks to the AIPAC session could concur. But there's little passion for an American-like friendship with Israel.