6 October 2008
In February, I traveled to a country where only 5% of the population has electricity. The road from the capital to the second largest city consists of a two lane, potholed strip of pavement. There is very little traffic on this road, because cars are a rare luxury. It’s a country that has no free speech. Knowing this, I was careful only to talk about subjects that other people wanted to talk to me about.
And guess what was on the minds of the people I spoke with? It was right in the middle of the Democratic Primary season. Everywhere we went, I was asked, "Who do you prefer, Hillary or Obama?"
If you are an American reading this, how many candidates’ names are you familiar with, in a country other than your own, before an election?
I mean, sure, you know who Vladimir Putin is now, but what do you know about the candidates who might succeed him? Had you ever heard of him before he was announced? Here’s another one, I’ll make it easy for you. Name the only female Vice Premier of the Chinese Communist Party? She’s one of four, and she came to the White House and met with George Bush in 2006. Feeling ignorant yet? I hate to confess, I’m ignorant, too! (Click HERE for chart of Chinese government leadership, and HERE for photo of Vice Premier Wu Yi. )
Everyone in China knows who George Bush is, it seems. How many Americans know who Wen Jiabao is?
(okay, I confess, my photo op with the #1 Guy in the Chinese Government occurred at the wax museum, along with my small talk with Eddie Murphy)
I think most Americans would think it normal for an American to know the names of the candidates, but we don’t expect to learn the names of candidates from other countries so often, do we? Why is the world so interested in our candidates, do you suppose?
I point to the rest of the world’s preoccupation with the USA presidential race, even in places where most people don’t have access to radios or television, to illustrate the influence of America in the world and the significance our leaders have for people all over the world. In almost every conversation I’ve had with people in other countries, when the subject turns to American policy positions, people in other countries almost seemed to feel as if they were the subject of taxation without representation. I don’t mean literally, of course! I’m not really talking about tax.
What I mean is, they feel as if they are being forced to live with the consequences of decisions made by a government that is not accountable to the rest of the world. I believe this fuels a lot of the resentment the USA feels coming from the rest of the world but which we Americans don’t really understand. When others resent our country and say that they want to see the USA toppled off its pedestal, we wonder what we have done to inspire such animosity. The answer is, I think, simply that it’s because the decisions of the United States on policy bear so heavily on the rest of the world that everyone is affected. We are like the bull in the China shop, or like a giant tromping across the countryside. The effect of our policies is felt far and wide.
Yet, only Americans get to vote and have a say in choosing the leaders who will influence the lives of almost every citizen in the world. The rest of the world envies us our privilege of having a say in this matter. And the rest of the world resents it that the USA seems not fully cognizant of the weight our every step carries elsewhere in the world, especially in matters of economics and world resources.
Give just the current banking meltdown as an example. If the U.S. banking system goes down, the rest of the world is so interconnected with it that everyone else is going to have to scramble and pay, as well. And we are talking about countries, like Sweden, who have already taken care of their business and cleaned their own houses (enacting strict regulatory reforms and demanding accountability) and who really would be innocent bystanders being forced to bail out the irresponsible big guy. Why, the Swede asks, should my currency suffer because you didn’t clean your own house?
In rambling on about how important the USA government and policy, economic system, and military presence is to the rest of the world, I don’t mean to say that other countries aren’t important. I do not intend to imply that other leaders or other countries are not important. And I don’t mean to imply that the USA is fully incognizant.
But the choice of our leaders is of such paramount significance for the rest of the world that global citizens everywhere wait with baited breath. One of my friends from Singapore wrote me an email just this morning, "All these financial choas in the States is keeping everyone on edge and the coming election should be quite interesting to see who wins (action packed indeed)!"
Who will we choose? I think Americans need to have more perspective on the seriousness of this cause and its impact around the globe. Of course, some countries want to influence our election so that our foreign policy will be favorable to them or their interests. But for the most part, I feel, ordinary people– the small folk of the world — are afraid. They are afraid that McCain, with his temperament for rushing to rash decisions, will lead the world into a hot tempered war. They are afraid of Palin, who lacks not only experience but who has a world view that pits "us" against "them" in an extremist sort of way. They don’t someone in the Oval Office to kill sensitive negotiations with Kim Jong II by hurling personal insults at him. As for Obama, my finger-in-the-wind guesstimate is that many outside the USA see him as a junior senator who seems to have potential but who hasn’t really been tested. People do like the fact that he has lived overseas and been exposed to other cultures, however. They seem to think that he will at least be cognizant of some of the issues and be less likely to polarize and demonize "foreigners" than would McCain. I suspect more people would vote for Obama if they were given the opportunity, not because they know him so well but because they are afraid of another Republican ideologue in the White House.
Regardless of who is elected, many of the citizens of the world who are not citizens of the USA care deeply about this election. They worry over the potential consequences. They just don’t have a say, and they wish they did! How do they respond? Well, they talk about it. And, let’s be honest, some of the wealthiest and most powerful of them devise ways to influence our election process with money. They make campaign contributions, or give money to others to do that, or tinker with economics (e.g. by changing the price of oil). But most of the ordinary people of the world, the ones who don’t have power or resources, can only use their pleas to us.
The movie below is a YouTube video that someone in another country took the time to create. Can you imagine feeling so strongly about an election in a far away land that you would take the time, make the effort, and spend the money, to create a video endorsing a candidate?
All I can say in response is this, to "My Fellow Americans." Take the time to learn the issues and sort out the truth, and then take it seriously to vote. Given our position in the world, I believe that exercising the privileges accorded us through democracy is the solemn duty of every American.
In that country where only 5% of the population has electricity? Guess what. They would give anything to even vote for their own leaders. Don’t you think we owe it to them to vote wisely for ours?
I was told that the civilians as shown in this photo deliberately surrounded the monks to provide them a human wall of protection from police who might otherwise have opened fire. Approximately 1,000 of these monks, beaten and arrested after the protests a year ago, are still in prison. (Would we take such risks for our right to speak against the actions of our own government?) And this highlights one thing I would like to point out to any readers from "out there" in the rest of the world. That is, in many respects, the difference between Obama and McCain are negligible in terms of the big picture. Both are Americans. As those two men illustrate, Americans are a diverse group, and they do not always agree on everything among themselves. Nevertheless, the vast majority of Americans — and certainly both McCain and Obama — don’t just give lip service to certain ideas embodied in our government, they really believe it. I have confidence that either man, if elected, will do his best to ensure freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the rule of law, sovereignty of peoples (including the people of YOUR land), and the dignity of the person.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are
equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain
unalienable [inalienable] Rights, that among these are Life,
Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these
Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just
powers from the consent of the governed.