Tomorrow Jeff and I go to the polls to cast our votes in the Maryland presidential primary. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that the presidential race is pretty big news here in the United States. Record numbers of people have been turning out to register their thoughts on who should be the next to lead our country. We may possibly witness a turning point in American history–the election of someone who is not a white male. We’ll see. The fact that the Democratic nominee will be either a black man or a white woman is, in itself, groundbreaking.
But interest in our election is not confined to within the American borders. People all over the world are keeping an eye tuned to the race. For better or worse, American politics affects people all around the globe. Our policies on immigration, on economics, and on environmental issues travel wave-like out from our shores, impacting millions and millions of people who don’t have a vote to cast in this election. Our policies on war and defense can mean life or death for those living in countries we consider unfriendly and those living in countries that join with American forces when we go to war. It’s rather amazing to consider how important U.S. elections are to the world. Makes you wonder why it’s not more important to some Americans–particularly those who don’t vote.
The two years I spent living abroad happened to fall within a period of particular worldwide interest in American politics. I flew to Germany one week to the day before the attacks on the World Trade Center. I stood staring at a store’s TV display, surrounded by crying Germans, and watched the towers fall. (It was the middle of the afternoon there.) Over the course of that year, as we went from a country under attack to a country on the attack, I watched the tremendous goodwill of the German nation turn to animosity and anger. I lived in Greece in the run-up to the 2004 election, seeing first-hand how passionate other people were about American politics.
What stuck with me most from these two experiences is the forthrightness with which foreigners are willing to ask you about your political leanings. I can’t even count the number of times I got in a cab and was directly asked who I voted for or who I was going to vote for. Perfect strangers had no problem asking me what I thought of Bush and giving me their uncensored opinion. It was often startling. That’s not something we do here in America. It’s like asking someone’s weight or age or how much they make. Taboo. Sure, we discuss politics with friends and family. When we are fairly certain of a person’s political leanings, we might be free with our views. But we don’t ask people who they voted for. I mean, isn’t that why there’s the little curtain at the voting booth?
I certainly appreciate the idea of the secret ballot. No one should feel bullied into voting for anyone. But at the same time, don’t you think it might be productive for people to be “forced” to answer for their vote? Shouldn’t we have a reason for voting the way we do, and shouldn’t we feel strongly enough about that reason that we’re willing to stand up for it? If someone should ask us how we voted, shouldn’t we give a proud answer rather than responding that it’s none of their business. We might all vote a little smarter if we were held accountable for our vote: not, of course, by government or anyone official or threatening (God forbid), but by our friends, by our families, maybe even by our cab drivers.
For the 2008 general election, in which the 44th president of the United States will be chosen, Jeff and I will be somewhere in South America. (Which reminds me of another thing to add to the to-do list: figure out the best way for us to cast our votes.) From that far-away perspective, it will certainly be interesting to not only see how America votes, but also to observe how the rest of the world reacts.
(Our apologies for the lack of posting the past week. Hectic doesn’t even begin to describe our lives at the moment, but we plan to post more this week, including a follow-up we already have in mind to the current post. Please keep checking back and leaving your comments!)