Monday, November 3, 2008

Happy Election Day, USA!

On the eve of Election Day, I urge all Americans to get out and vote! I don't care whom you vote for -- well, okay, I do, but I'm not going to push -- as long as you put some thought into it and do what you think is right. My wife and I already voted, nearly a month ago, before we left the US to come to the Netherlands. We filled in advance absentee ballots, declaring that we would be out of the country on Election Day, and sealing them into official envelopes to wait for the big day.

I've spoken quite a bit to my Dutch and non-Dutch colleagues about the US election, and it really is amazing how much they know about US politics and the US political and government systems. It is humbling, really, because while I suppose I know the prime ministers of a few nations that are often in the American news, such as the UK, Russia, Italy, Israel, and the Netherlands (and the latter only because I just moved here!), I honestly don't know a whole lot about opposition parties, the various coalition governments, and such. I doubt that many Americans do. Granted, US policy has more effect on the Netherlands than vice-versa, but their awareness still seems humbling, in the same way that everyone's excellent English language skills make me feel both lucky and embarrassed that English is my only language, not counting my classroom-level Spanish.

Currently, there is strong support for Barack Obama here. It is well-documented that the European community has been quite critical of George W. Bush's policies, especially the Iraq war. Remember Freedom Fries, the American response to France's reticence to participate? Now, it is clear that Europeans by and large want change, and it is also clear which of the change-proclaiming candidates they believe. The following table shows the result of one recent survey of sentiments in France, Germany, UK, Italy, Spain, and USA. Coincidentally, lest you fear that this was biased in some way, the poll was done by Harris Interactive, a well-respected market research company from Rochester, NY! The entire poll report can be found here.


Look closely at the numbers. In France, 78% favor of Obama, which sounds pretty impressive, but when you see that only 1% support McCain, that's a serious landslide! France is the most extreme example, but Germany, Italy, and Spain show a similar trend, and even in the UK, where Obama's number falls below 50%, McCain's is merely 11. Unfortunately, the Netherlands was not included in this poll, but I can report that my personal discussions with people gives me the impression that the attitude here is much like that in France: serious support for Obama and the change he promises.

Today at work, I was chatting about Election Day with two colleagues: one Dutch, and one Macedonian. They asked me to explain the basic differences between McCain and Obama, so I listed taxes, health care, and the Iraq war, and tried to put the candidate's platforms (and vague proposals) into the context of what is typical of Republican and Democrat positions. Interestingly, they both see the Republican pro-business, unbridled capitalism as characteristically American, and see the Democratic ideals of tax-funded social programs and regulated economics as less "American," in fact trending more toward Socialism. It seems that the USA is viewed as somewhat of a young, brash, frontier-oriented nation, one that may dig itself a pretty big hole (for example, via financial crisis) if it's not careful. Interesting insight, eh?

So as I said, I already voted, and yes, I'll say it -- I voted for the one who starts with "O" and ends with "bama" -- much to the relief of my Dutch friends! Because of a timing quirk in when I voted in Monroe County, an absentee ballot had already been mailed, so now I have it at work to show to my colleagues. We discussed the sad hilarity of the "hanging chads" fiasco (and this poor guy) and the many different voting machines and methods in use across the United States. In defense of many confused-in-2000 American voters, my workmates did agree that the ballot layout, with candidates in a column and some offices allowing multiple votes across two adjacent columns, pretty un-intuitive. But alas, they won't be voting tomorrow, nor the hordes of Obamaphilic French... So, if you have the right to vote in the USA, get out and do it. Don't let the opportunity pass you by. And really, vote for whomever yOu think is Best, no mAtter which Man it mAy be!

5 comments:

Steve said...

I love foreign insight on our political process. The utter lack of knowledge on our end is depressing and what you've pointed out it what scares the living hell out of me about our electorate... people have NO CLUE how bad our government and leaders are perceived worldwide and how important is is we fix that!!!

/rant

One more day until we're finally headed in the right direction, I really really extremely insanely totally hope! And yea, I voted for Obama last week - woohoo for early voting.

justin & sophie said...

I always found it so interesting to discuss our politics with the Dutch. I felt humbled like you and tried to get information on their political system but they were much more interested in our system so that proved difficult most of the time!! At least you will have an easier time than I in discussing politics - we now have a president everyone (currently) likes!! i was there with bush in office...

But i was so proud of our country Tuesday, it was just so amazing to watch history unfold in front of my eyes.

Brittan said...

While I respect Europeans’ opinions and certainly want America to be perceived well overseas, should we look to them for guidance on who to elect? I think not. We lead the world in almost every way for a reason. Why do they love Obama? Because he’s like them. I don’t want to be like them. For example, I’m glad less than 50% of my earnings are NOT paid in taxes. What mostly ticks the Europeans off about us is exactly what we should be proud of; we live the American dream and should be proud of what we've accomplished in such a SHORT time. We didn't do this by modeling ourselves after them.

OK. Off my soap box. Don't let them guilt you into feeling bad about America! (Maybe they pull our pony tails because they like us?)

MJM said...

Thanks all for the interesting [strong] perspectives. And, happy Veterans Day!

justin-n-sophie said...

To Brittan:
I can speak for myself and say that I always stuck up for America and even Bush when i lived in the Netherlands.

We need to get off this idea that America is #1 and that our way is the "best way". Remember, our country was founded on a collection of beliefs and doctrines that were not invented here but from what our founding fathers considered the best ideas from the time and of history... What we need now is another hard look at ourselves and our country and determine which ideas could helpe us move forward, even if these ideas exist in other countries or not...

But i don't wanna ruin Mike's wonderful post with political arguments...