Archive for October, 2008

My 3rd National Election Across the Pond

Thursday, October 23rd, 2008

This is my 3rd US presidential election season spent in Europe. Although I’m certainly aware of much of what happens I’ve been mostly insulated from negative campaign ads and the constant diet of meaningless spin and posturing. I’ve also had the opportunity to view a globally unique process from outside eyes.

Make no mistake about it, the US presidential election is a matter of great attention around the world. There are two reasons for this. First, it is a totally fascinating form of entertainment, offering a compelling glimpse into American culture. Second, it is a plain fact that America has an impact on the world that far outweighs its relative population size. American foreign policy has a significant impact in Europe and Asia, and American media is consumed throughout the world. Europeans are usually aware of the national political seen in multiple countries, so why shouldn’t they be interested in what happens in our country?

I spent the 2000 election season working in Switzerland, mostly living in the Glockenhof Hotel of Zurich. Bush’s narrow victory was somewhat marred by a controversy–especially in Florida. The idea that the election for the chief executive of the most influential country in the world could be determined by hanging chads was baffling to the Swiss, if not completely distressing. Switzerland, which arguably has been a democracy for centuries longer than the USA. Although a much smaller country, the Swiss Federation has a fiendishly complex electoral system, supporting local and minority interests through proportional representation. The next time we consider sending a delegation to Zimbabwe to ensure fair elections, we need to be aware that the Swiss seriously discussed sending a delegation to the US.

The 2004 election, at least from the outside looking in, seemed very much to be a referendum on the Iraq War, a preemptive war that was deeply unpopular throughout Europe. Relatively few Americans seem to be concerned about how the rest of the world views their president, which is a ‘foreign’ attitude to Europeans, who usually have strong opinions about the leadership not just of America, but also of the UK, Germany, France, Italy, Russia, Israel, Australia and a variety of other countries. The deep unpopularity of Bush’s policies has lead to even greater interest in Europe in his successor.

This brings me to 2008, an election that continues to attract attention throughout the globe. Joe, who turns out not to be a plumber (nor is his name really Joe) has been front page news here, and everyone in the UK has seen him on TV. Tonight’s news did a story on Palin having spent $150,000 on clothing (they missed the important fact that part of that was spent on hair and makeup). They dug up some earlier footage of Michelle Obama talking about how little Barack spent on clothing, and a recent clip of Palin claiming to be a redneck, pointing out that she was wearing a $2,500 jacket at the time. The Brits know all about rednecks.

Although it was considered an insult to suggest that Tony Blair ‘wanted to be president,’ the English actually are a bit jealous about the American’s having the ability to directly elect their national leader, explaining some of their curiosity about the process. When we were still at the lapel pin controversy stage, I did think that TV in the UK was going out of its way to film Americans making silly comments. Treated to the spectacle of seeing McCain, to a chorus of boos, explaining to his rally attendees that Obama is not a terrorist, but is an honorable man (although he’s been pallin’ around with terrorists), and that Obama is not an Arab, but is “a decent, family man” (I leave it to my readers to decide for themselves if ‘decent Arab’ is an oxymoron).

One pundit suggested that this year’s campaign “might be the last great presidential race of the TV Age.” That’s hard for me to judge, because I’ve been seeing this year’s political videos on the web. We do get more US TV than ever before, so I can get my fill of Fox, which generally just shows the same stuff here that it does in the States–MSNBC and CNN have EU offices and concentrate on non-US news. We started getting Colbert Report and the Daily Show here recently, two shows that I’d heard about, but had never seen. I’m not quite sure what the Brits make of them, but they have a long tradition of deeply satirical news shows, and were doing it long before SNL and Chevy Chase.

US presidential races certainly make for a much more colorful race than Europeans are accustomed to, although Zimbabwe and South Africa have their moments of drama. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Palin is just the most recent in a long line of American politicians who started in show biz, including Reagan, Schwarzenegger, Ventura, and multiple congressmen. The Brits have had a couple of actors as MPs, and the Italians notoriously elected a porn queen, but none of these people have reached the level of national political importance (although Berlusconi has a background in media and sports) . Asking some of my continental coworkers if they could think of any entertainers or atheletes turned politician, a German somewhat indignantly replied that nobody really wanted to be a politician in Germany. Before discounting that as yet another example of eurodecadence, I would suggest that it might be possible for somebody to want political office just a bit too much.

Well, I’m going to get my news fill on The Daily Show, now, and tomorrow, Elizabeth and I are off to Rome to see what the latins think about the political circus.

Can I vote for Colin Powell?

Monday, October 20th, 2008

Colin Powell’s carefully worded endorsement of Barack Obama may well be remembered as a highly-significant political speech. In Sunday’s network broadcast of Meet The Press, this former Bush Secretary of State and Republican, very precisely states the reasons why he has become disappointed with John McCain, and why feels that Obama will be a more suitable president. He very gracefully lays out his objections to Palin, and the implications of her choice as running mate, without attacking her personally.

After the rather poor treatment that Powell had from the current administration, and his disagreements about Iraq, I don’t think anybody was actually surprised that he is endorsing Obama. Perhaps some of the specific reasons did come as a surprise.

What resonated with me was his concern that as of late, the McCain campaign has found nothing more substantive to offer in support of his candidacy beyond contentions that Obama has been “pallin’ around with terrorists.” Powell made a very compelling case that McCain has gone over a line that shouldn’t have been crossed, portraying the Ayers allegations as well-exceeding the level of mud he expects to be slung by his commander in chief.

Personally, I don’t think that terms like ‘anti-American’ or ‘unpatriotic’ should play any part in a political campaign. Its insulting when Palin paints entire regions of the country as being anti-American. What kind of a bigoted sort of worldview could possibly underlie ideas like that?

A very bizarre incident happened in Lakeville, MN last Friday, at a McCain rally when one supporter accused Obama of consorting with terrorists, and to a chorus of boos, McCain gallantly defended Obama’s honor. Then another supporter stood up and explained that Obama was an Arab. McCain again corrected one of his supporters on national TV, defending Obama’s honor by saying “No ma’m, he’s a decent family man.”

Call me the bigot now when I admit that I don’t think most of the audience at that rally picked up on the irony of McCain’s awkward defense of Obama. Powell got it, and along with American Muslim Abed Z. Bhuyan (Powell Rejects Islamophobia), I found Powell’s plea to recognize and stop anti-Islamic hatred to be one of the few truly profound and important messages delivered by a ‘politician’ during this year’s political race.

My concern is that we are in huge need of wise leadership, but wisdom doesn’t seem to be a currency that buys much in American politics right now.

Too cute to eat

Sunday, October 19th, 2008

Whackamole-3.jpg

Before dinner tonight with a group of people from church, Brooke & Tate’s precocious 2-year old, Asher, came up with a new term for a food that combines a video game with high-fat dip, “whackamole.”

In honor of Asher’s clever coinage, Elizabeth created this little guy to accompany us to the gridiron.