LONDON — If Sen. John McCain thinks the American media have treated him unkindly, he ought to see how he has fared in the British press.
The day after his final presidential debate with Sen. Barack Obama, British papers gave huge play to what must have been the year's most unattractive photo of McCain — a closeup shot of him with tongue hanging out, as if he were about to gag or throw up.
In fact, it was a simple expression of frustration as McCain realized he was heading the wrong way to shake the moderator's hand. But it was a pictorial metaphor for how millions of people worldwide regard the thought of another four years of Republicans in the White House.
If everyone on Earth could vote in Tuesday's election, Obama would win in a landslide, according to an online poll by the Economist, the respected London weekly with a global circulation. In a play on those red-state, blue-state maps so familiar to American TV viewers, the magazine has divided the world into "red'' countries (McCain supporters) and "blue'' countries (Obama), with the latter so overwhelming in number as to make a global map appear almost entirely blue (www.economist.com/vote2008).
The Economist, which has supported both Republicans and Democrats in the past, said it would vote for Obama if it could.
"The Democratic candidate has clearly shown that he offers the better chance of restoring America's self-confidence,'' the magazine said. "Given Mr. Obama's inexperience, the lack of clarity about some of his beliefs and the prospect of a stridently Democratic Congress, voting for him is a risk. Yet it is one America should take, given the steep road ahead.''
If the United States has one ally it can wholeheartedly count on, it is Britain. Former Prime Minister Tony Blair was so supportive of President Bush's decision to invade Iraq that critics called him "Bush's poodle."
But many Britons feel their country's image has been tarred by close association with a Republican administration widely condemned for Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and other perceived abuses of power. In 2004, the Guardian newspaper was so aghast at the idea of Bush's re-election that its readers sent letters to 14,000 Clark County, Ohio, residents, urging them to vote for John Kerry. (It backfired: The "swing'' county went for Bush.)
Britain's current prime minister, Gordon Brown, got off to a rocky start, but has improved his own ratings by distancing himself from the unpopular U.S. president.
Many commentators who slammed Brown as a failure just a few months ago now call him a hero for upstaging the Bush administration in dealing with the global financial crisis. They gleefully note that the administration meekly followed suit after Brown pumped money directly into beleaguered banks, seen as a smarter approach than the convoluted U.S. plan to buy up mortgage-backed securities.
Better regarded than Bush, McCain is generally viewed by Britons as brave and honorable, but also cranky and short-tempered. With the economy the No. 1 global issue, his bumbled attempt to take leadership of the U.S. bailout plan made him seem "all at sea, emitting panic and indecision,'' the Economist said.
And McCain doesn't fare much better on foreign policy despite Britain's own experiences with Islamic extremism (the 2005 London bombings; the foiled 2006 plot to blow up U.S.-bound airliners). In a country that has suffered significant casualties in Iraq, McCain is seen as too eager to exert U.S. power abroad.
On the other hand, many Britons are genuinely excited about Obama. One reason is that Britain, like America, has an ever-increasing nonwhite population.
With an Obama presidency, "a generation of black children would grow up with a different sense of what was achievable,'' Daniel Hannan, a conservative member of the European Parliament, wrote in the Daily Telegraph. "Some white Americans, too, might reconsider their attitudes. Bad news for white supremacists and black grievance mongers.''
Contact Susan Taylor Martin at email@example.com.