Sunday, January 27, 2008

World eyes U.S. election

Is the whole world really watching our electoral theater? Certainly many are -- and many have more urgent things to do. A few stances I've run across:

Dire horror: Popular economic writers frequently trot out the dictum "when the U.S. sneezes, the rest of the world catches a cold." Well maybe -- in some respects the health of the U.S. economy is so important to the world economy that this saying captures a truth. The journalist Helena Cobban reports a conversation with a Lebanese blogger which applies this perspective to U.S. elections.

He said that he felt US influence over the whole world is so great that people everywhere are strongly affected by the US political process. True enough. So he said he felt, actually, like a completely unenfranchized citizen of the US. (Correct me if I phrased that poorly, Rami.)

I told him about the theory I've expounded here a number of times in recent years, to the effect that the relationship between the US citizenry and the world's 6-billion-plus non-Americans is analogous to the apartheid-era relationship between the South African "Whites" and the country's completely unenfranchized majority...

Just World News

Certainly in many places, the amount of misery U.S. meddling and intrusion causes would justifies folks feeling they ought to get a crack at deciding who occupies the seat of power in Washington.

Frustration. Tonight I attended a meeting of peace activists during which we chewed over, again, the gap between the strong desire of a majority of the U.S. people to end the Iraq adventure and the minuscule effect of that wish on our elected representatives. A South Asian woman finally exclaimed something like "I don't get it. People in the smallest villages in India understand it is about oil and empire -- what's wrong with these people?" When it's "your empire," it is harder to see.

The dean of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy offers a variant of this:

Unfortunately, even as the world is becoming more predictable, America is becoming less so. It has one of the least informed populations on the planet, and the quality of the presidential debates on global issues has been appalling. Bhutto's death provided the candidates an opportunity to demonstrate their statesmanship toward a pivotal country. But they all failed this test, resorting to grandstanding instead. Hillary Clinton, for example, declared her longstanding friendship with Benazir but failed to mention Bhutto's many flaws. Bill Richardson excoriated President Pervez Musharraf and called for the elimination of U.S. aid to Pakistan, but failed to mention that Pakistan's long military rule was a direct result of U.S. support.

Such statements betrayed an apparent failure to grasp the complexity of the world. By and large, the candidates have wasted the opportunity to provide new intellectual and political leadership to America and the world. This is probably the greatest tragedy of the race. There has never been a greater need for new U.S. leadership, yet the candidates offer little hope that this will come any time soon.


Mystification. Listening to the BBC coverage of the U.S. primary season is often downright humorous. Brits interviewing Iowa farmers and South Carolina African Americans are often culturally out of their depths. Their slightly off-base coverage is a great reminder of just how large and diverse this country is.

And after all, the primary process is irrational. Why does Nevada use caucuses and not a primary vote? Because the state government would have to pay for an election process, while the state political parties pick up the tab for caucuses. Nevada's legislature chooses not pay for the expensive brand. Try explaining that to an audience outside the U.S.

And then there is the truly wacky. Some enterprising geeks put up a site called Who would the world elect? Voters name their country and are allowed one vote per computer. Unfortunately the Ron Paul nuts, unable to do anything to elect their hero, did send an awful lot of traffic to this one, producing such oddities as 441 votes for Paul from Poland. A U.S. election -- even the nuts get to play.

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