Category Archives: Election 2012

Whew! That was close… But why?

President Obama celebrates re-election

Jubilation as we Americans just about manage to make the sane choice for the second time in the last twelve years (Photo from ABC News)

And the rest of the world breathes a sigh of relief. Because this is a president with whom the world likes to talk. This is a president that has built bridges and restored our image. This is a president who realizes the value of international cooperation and of pragmatically building constructive relationships, even with former ‘enemies.’

That argument won’t sway many moderates or independents, who are, after all, the gold dust that campaigns painstakingly panhandle for before elections. It does matter, but it won’t sway most Americans. After all,  it was the economy, stupid, with a few issues to do with equal rights thrown in, moron. Which doesn’t square, I know, since more voters tended to say they trusted Romney with the economy than Obama, until you look at the demographics of the voters. In times of economic difficulty, conservatives have trouble convincing those less well off, who voted en masse for Obama, that they can provide jobs and economic security. It’s summed up well in the plutocratic image that Romney projected in the 47% video. Those living on significantly meaner incomes don’t generally think the conservative, especially the rich conservative, will give a damn about their situations.

And yet…

It does baffle me, not so much that the race was close, but that so many issues that still feature so prominently now seem so foreign to me, morally. I do understand there is a socially puritanical vein that runs deep in us, but not so deep that we willfully stand knee deep in the mire of the social stone age of the world while everyone else moves on. I offer below three such examples of issues that, really, we could do without in our politics.

  • Healthcare — This is that great fantastical, fire-breathing boogeyman of American politics. Mention it and watch Rush Limbaugh foam at the mouth and Karl Rove manipulatively asking hard-working Americans if they really want to pay for some freeloader’s healthcare? Of course you don’t, you’re a God-fearing American. I don’t not get the healthcare thing because I’m an expatriate. I don’t get the healthcare thing because we call it moral to take money from sick people and refuse to take sick people with no money. Paying more in taxes for universal healthcare is not giving a handout. It’s investing in your fellow human being. It’s time to welcome ourselves as a country, my compatriots, to the rest of the developed world as well as the human race. That way everyone has one thing guaranteed and one less obstacle to individual independence and initiative.
  • God — I have to admit, I was a bit surprised that Martha Raddatz asked about both Biden’s and Ryan’s Catholicism. It’s not her fault. She’s just the moderator, but we have to get over the idea that a person’s very personal religious beliefs should in any way be outwardly manifested in the way we govern ourselves. The more I hear the left talk about it, the more I think that the separation of church and state is the worst thing that ever happened to America. Do you know who the head of state is in the United Kingdom? The Queen. Do you know who is the head of The Church of England? The Queen. Do you know, in 2012, how high profile a role religion plays in British politics? It makes not a visible difference to a single issue. John Prescott, Tony Blair’s Deputy Prime Minister used to talk about how he likes to avoid all that “mumbo jumbo” and the current Labour leader has professed himself an atheist. Political suicide in America, but a passing novelty here. As it should be. We need to leave the personal beliefs of an individual firmly in the personal world of the individual.
  • Gay rights — I’m not saying homophobia no long exists in England. It does. Nor is the legal status of gay marriage necessarily any better here. But it is indeed courageous for a British Prime Minister to come out (tee hee) in support of gay marriage and promise to the electorate to  introduce legislation by the end of the year on it. But that is also suggestive of how socially liberal conservatives have to be in order to survive politically over here. We’ve had gay cabinet members including Peter Mandelson, and high-ranking conservatives turned journalists such as Mathew Parris. According to a Yougov poll, 71% of British voters support the introduction of gay marriage throughout the country.  And yet, for nearly half of Americans, it still seems to be an acceptable prejudice for no apparent reason. Legal recognition in three states in one election gives me great hope, but it also explains why the GOP are screaming unintelligible oaths about their country being overrun.

Four years ago, Obama ran on the idea of ‘Change.’ The next four years are supposed to be allowing him to ‘finish what was started.’ I hope for the sake of the country that he continues the great work in changing Americans’ attitudes towards issues like these.

As a reminder, I am still doing Movember and have raised £135 for research and awareness of men’s health issues. We are coming into the giving season and it is a worthwhile cause. Please follow the link to give:

Pete Lawler’s Movember Page

In honour of POTUS winning a second term, here is a special list of presidential mustaches:

The Best Presidential Mustaches

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I’ve got the power! But how much Choice?

Election2012

Just look at all those Candidates!

To paraphrase The C & C Music Factory, we’ve got the power. This is a cropped bit of my absentee ballot, which, after much negotiation I had emailed out to me by the good people at the Monroe County Board of electors. And with the race as close as ever, and the GOP making a last-ditch effort to throw my home state back into play, this will be in the early pickup tomorrow, post-haste as every vote counts and the latest polls have Romney and Obama in a statistical tie.

Still, I have to admit, it’s not as exciting as it used to be.

I remember excitedly ripping my envelope marked Board of Electors in elections past and relishing the long list of names and choices competing for everything from local councils right up to the top job and marveling to myself, “Ain’t democracy grand?” This year of our lord two thousand and twelve, I can’t help but feel palpably disappointed. Four candidates? Is that all? Are there are only four possible political platforms in our vast and socially diverse nation from which to choose our next leader? No, I’m not so naive as to think there’s effectively any more than two, but in theory at least, the choice is there. I still think, as I have always done, that our system needs to allow for more room for third parties and a plurality of representation of different voices, but that is a debate in which we’d have to talk about overhauling the whole election system and anyhow would that even get third parties themselves to take responsibility and learn from their European counterparts that you have to start from the ground up?

But in theory, in theory, we are supposed to have an openly representative democracy. Is it becoming less so with each election? Back in 2000, I would have had no less than seven candidates from which to choose a new president. Four years later, that number would be reduced to six. In the year in which we elected our first black president, we had a total of five candidates who had enough ballot access to win 270 electoral votes. In a week’s time, it seems we will have a measly four candidates making up our pool of potential head honchos.

My worry is this: with an ever-diminishing choice of potential candidates, are we becoming a more closed, polarized nation divided in bitterness and rancor and unable to open ourselves to the plethora of possibilities that a democracy should be? I lament the loss of Nader. He consistently brought our attention back to issues that candidates, this year especially, refuse to acknowledge as important. I feel for someone like Gary Johnson, a man who has admirably consistent, intellectually grounded freemarket, independent principles. I could never vote for him, but it is thoroughly loathsome that Republicans in some states are trying to prevent me from doing so. If we refuse to even allow certain candidates to play the election game, whose voices are we excluding? And more importantly, what are we refusing to talk about? What are we afraid to hear?

Election2012 Thirdparty candidate

We certainly haven’t heard much in the national discourse this election season about climate change, have we?

You might also like to check out this fascinating article on the marginalization of third parties in US Presidential politics from the AlJazeera website.

Within A Heartbeat of the Oval Office: The Great VP Debate

Biden and Ryan squaring up

Joltin’ Joe and Lyin Ryan square off in The Thrilla in Danville

It is fair to say there were some of us who were willing to give John McCain the benefit of the doubt in 2008. He seemed principled. He seemed to have good intentions. He seemed to stand for things. He seemed ready to oppose things deleterious to our great democracy like SuperPacs and soft money in politics.

However, It is also true that according to some leading figures on both sides of the political spectrum, you can easily trace the downward tailspin of the Republican effort that year from the moment that an apparently unhinged Alaskan separatist became their team’s main substitution in the event that their somewhat elderly (with respect) contender should take ill while in office, horrifying the nation’s voters to their senses.

We do not often think about it, but VP choices can make or break campaigns, as well they should more often (imagine Dan Quayle with his finger on the button?). This is one of the reasons why all eyes were on this year’s vice presidential debate, especially with the comparatively poor performance by the president in the first faceoff between himself and Romney, and the perceived cool unflappability of his running mate Paul Ryan versus the affably gaffe-prone current number two, Joe Biden.  And this is one of the reasons why armchair pundits on both sides are still talking about it, persistently chasing a definitive victory claim. Chances are that it will be forgotten by Wednesday morning with the two contenders for the top job having slugged it out over foreign policies, but there are still a few significant points about this debate that are well worth noting.

Joe Biden in the debate

Joe Biden has been criticized for his “aggressive” debating style

I saw the debate with the Democrats Abroad, in a special screening here in London two days after the event, so like the self-respecting politics junkie that I am during election season, I devoured all the reviews from Fox to Mother Jones in hopes of getting some picture of what the debate was like and, perhaps more importantly, what the nation’s reaction was. In much of the US media, Biden was criticized for his “in-your-face” aggressive style, which pundits had said may have been counterproductive to his and Obama’s efforts. I read that he was rude, loud and kept interrupting and rolling his eyes. My heart sank because, being a democrat and knowing what I knew from the reports in the week prior, I knew we needed a decisive win to feel even slightly at ease with a comfortable win.

It was evident from reports that Biden had not scored that decisive win and that there were many who found that Biden’s style was off-putting. So I went into this special screening with a heavy heart expecting Biden to bluster in and charge around like an aggressive animal. I sat down in a darkened theater watching the debate and I kept looking for it. And I looked for it. And I looked for it some more. The more I watched the debate the more I asked myself the same question: How could anyone have thought that Ryan won this confrontation? The next question? In what single moment in the debate did Joe Biden do anything rude, ignorant, or beyond the terms of a political engagement of this magnitude?

For a nation that the world thinks is aggressive, we certainly seem to like our politicians to be pretty timid and reserved. Biden’s style was energetic. He was full of zeal. And he was human. Ryan was cardboard and looked uncomfortable. With what did viewers take issue?

Let’s compare with the kind of healthy and energetic exchange you might see in The House of Commons during the weekly event of Prime Minister’s Questions, when the leader of the opposition and other notable political figures pose questions to the PM with the overt goal of taking apart his policy decisions and exposing them as wrong-headed, weak and generally railroading the nation towards a path of destruction. It’s an incredibly useful tool for continuing to scrutinize the government’s decisions.

Have a look at this one from January of this year in which the Labour leader, Ed Miliband, accuses the prime minister of complacency over the economy:

Note they have to shout to be heard and there is a joy about the robust exchange of ideas and in part, invective, so long as that invective is aimed in the direction of a policy or terrible decision of some kind that affects the public in a pretty awful way.

Compared to Miliband and Cameron on an average day, Biden was a pussycat. In the context of American political debate, he wasn’t. In the context of American political debate, he was more of a fire breathing dragon, but his style certainly wasn’t “mean”, “rude” or uncalled for.

When I watched David Dimbleby, the great national treasure and BBC presenter, hosting John Bolton on his coverage of the 2008 election, they switched briefly to a reporter doing some vox pop at one state’s Republican HQ. The reporter had managed to rile up one of the Republicans in charge and when they flashed back to the studio, we were presented with Bolton in great state of umbrage over the way the impromptu interview had been conducted saying the Beeb’s reporter should be ashamed of himself, to which Dimbleby, very dryly replied, “It was a spirited interview,” which succinctly shut Bolton up, thankfully.

It strikes me that Biden had more to say, as is borne out with an actual examination of the words of the debate and it strikes me that the debate was an entertaining, “spirited” exchange of ideas. I just don’t think Paul Ryan had the spirit.

Quick! Vote! A Short Guide to Voting from Abroad

Voting from abroad

(image taken from blacktokyo.com)

1986 is a monumentally important year in American history. Not because the Giants won The Superbowl for the first time or because The Mets won The World Series for the last time, though those are both significant and arguably historic near-unique events. Actually, 1986 is politically significant for granting the last group of unenfranchised Americans the right to cast their vote and have their voice heard “across the high seas of this democracy.”

In 1870, blacks were given the right to vote through the fifteenth amendment, prohibiting denial of voting rights based on “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” In 1920, Women won their political voices with the nineteenth amendment stating: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” And in 1986, President Ronald Wilson Reagan helped to enfranchise the last political margin of American citizenry by signing into law the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act, enabling those of us who are living abroad but still deeply and passionately connected to our homeland to cast our vote and help decide our next commander-in-chief.

Absentee voting has a funny sound to it, as though us expats are controlling America by proxy like some strange Castle Rackrent scenario, which is charming, romantic, and less officious than the reality of the whole process of voting from abroad. Though I was eight at the time that it was enacted and probably cared more about Dwight Gooden and Phil Simms than any dreamy notions of crossing the Atlantic, now more than ever, I hold dear my right to cast my voice into the national discourse and use what power I can to shape history. Now that my home state of Pennsylvania was one of the last to end the retrograde, Jim Crow era voter ID laws controversy (Texas actually beat us. I mean, no offence Texas, but where was The City of Brotherly Love there? Where was Warhol’s working class Pittsburgh, huh?) we can get down to the business of doing just that.

Whether you are a Democrat, Republican, or none of the above, you know from recent history that every vote counts and that it can come down to several hundred or indeed, a count from overseas votes. For many states, there is still plenty of time for you to cast yours. Here’s how.

1. Go to the very useful and informative website Votefromabroad.org.

Homescreen for Votefromabroad.org

2. Follow their very easy step-by-step process to request a ballot.

Requesting a ballot through Votefromabroad

3. Print out your ballot request form at the end.

Download your forms

Ballot Request Printout

All Set to Vote!

4. Mail your ballot request into your local municipality and wait for your ballot, which you also have to send in for it to count. You can’t just enjoy the fun of counting all the presidential candidates we never hear about (N.B. this post will be updated. It really is a lot of fun) without standing up to be counted.

sending an absentee vote off

Democracy in Action! (image taken from about.com)

5. And that’s it. Democracy in action. The long arm of liberty reaching across the Atlantic or the Pacific or from parts unknown to cast a lot in that great and wonderful collection of voices we call America. It’s our right and responsibility. Vote.

For information on various states’ deadlines as far as ballot request and reception are concerned click here. For other information and resources, go to the Democrats Abroad website here. In the spirit of equal time, Republicans please click here.

Happy Voting!

Closer to Barack than Berlin

Yes We Can

Yes We Can!

Several weeks ago, after I had got back from spending the end of the summer in Ireland, I blogged about native Irish wit and the ability of our Hibernian cousins to take something that has become commonplace and squeeze it with a fresh twist of something subtle, unexpected, and intelligent. There is something of the same spirit in the slogan that Obama (I’m going to say he did it, likely as not it was one of ‘his people’ but I’m just going to pretend) coined or rather gave new life to through translation into Irish last year on his state visit to trace his family’s Irish roots to Moneygall in County Offaly.

Not to be outdone by HR the Q in her visit four days earlier – the first by an English monarch to The Republic of Ireland, when King George visited in 1911, it was still part of the UK – when she opened her speech in Dublin with “A Uachtaráin agus a chairde (President and friends)”, Potus closed his speech “as gaeilge” with the now famous “Is Feider Linn” (Colloquially, “Yes we can!” Say it with me, IS-Fayder-lin).

Like the French, the Irish like it when foreigners at least make an effort to speak the language that has been so neglected for so long by its own people and the Irish certainly like a president who is willing to come back home to find his roots. A cynic might say that he knows how to pay homage to the old Kennedy Irish American lobby, which there may be a bit of, but I think he did genuinely really enjoy himself and he certainly endeared himself to the people of Ireland by going one better than Dubya and sipping some of the black stuff in Moneygall local Ollie Hayes Pub.

Obama tall dark had some

The President sipping ‘the black stuff’ (Taken from post-gazette.com)

There’s a perpetual debate in Ireland about whether the nation’s policies and politics in general should be closer to Europe or the North Atlantic, succinctly put as “Are we closer to Boston or Berlin?” I think it’s clear how the Irish felt on this occasion.

What I didn’t realise until my recent visit is that the above image is now doing the rounds on postcards all over Ireland, commemorating the occasion with the phrase, “Tall, Dark and Had Some”. Irish wit.

Especially with the Romney campaign starting to look desperate, I think it’s worth popularizing the Celtic version of Obama’s tagline and chanting it at rallies as it is so indelibly associated with hope and possibility. Like some secret victory code. You start. Go ahead. Is Feider Linn. Is Feider Linn. Is Feider Linn…

Mitt Romney: Truer American Historically? Possibly, but we are still making history

The Republican Presidential Nominee 2012

I’m on my way to the Meeting House… I mean White House to take charge around here (Photo taken from the Wall Street Journal’s website).

Many years ago, when I was a slip of a youth attending history lectures at Penn State University, one of my most brilliant and dynamic lecturers, Dr. Harold Aurand, said something that’s stuck with me. He probably didn’t think about it much at the time; it was more by way of instruction that he told us that America’s first two colonies were The Virginia Company and The Plymouth Colony. The first, founded in 1606, was a commercial venture, driven by the need to make money out of fertile unexploited land in ‘the new world’. The latter, founded in 1620, was a group of ‘pilgrims’ fleeing religious persecution and setting out to create a perfect puritan society, a low church utopia.

What struck me was that there you have the twin pillars upon which our fine nation has been founded: Religion and Profit. In the 90s, when I was attending university and ever since, it’s been a helpful filter through which to understand a lot of what goes on in my homeland, including the increasingly bewildering alignment of the extreme right with big business and major American corporations financing people like the moral majority and charter schools that have an austerely puritanical ethos.

And so it is with the GOP’s offering this year for the highest office in the land; he happens to be the two things most beloved by reactionary America: severely Christian and rich. I’m not holding either of those things against him personally, but extremist elements of the right have been misquoting history for years now starting with the “Tea Party” (terrorist act against the crown anyone?), so it is no surprise that the North Atlantic Tories have a special place in their hearts for Mitt.

I just worry.

Great as our nation is and great though our forefathers were, I have no desire to return to a society that outlaws general rabble-rousing, hunts down non-conformists as witches, and declares the church to be at the centre of society. Nor do I want to be a remote cog in some grand business plan, for I fear I would not last long as a cog always wanting to spin in different directions and fit into square holes as a round peg and whatnot. I want neither a business or a city on a hill out of my America and frankly, I’m sure there were many in Plymouth and Jamestown who felt the same.

And besides that, we have accomplished so many things since the days of cash crops and the intolerant north. From basketball to Broadway, tall tale to short story, Great American novel to Hollywood, Jazz to trip hop, the Hudson school to Ivy League schools, there is so much in our rich history in which we can take pride. We can acknowledge where we came from without embracing the baser parts of our origins and be a better nation for it.

So while there’s nothing innately wrong with Mr. Romney’s profession or his religion, what he seems to be peddling to us is old school Calvinism at its best. He may have got his sums wrong, but clearly, 47% of us are not of the 144 chosen that will ascend with him in the rapture and sit at the right hand of that great CEO in the sky. 47% were not born to greatness.  Our destiny has been written with no possibility of veering off of a course of victimhood and sloth and we are clearly not worth Mr. Romney’s effort or campaign advertising. But if my country is to be cynically turned into a business and run like one, with the ‘unprofitable’ cogs in this great vision left behind, I shall proudly stand with the 47%.

But let us hope it doesn’t come to that. Even as we ponder these issues of the past, we seem to be living history. The Wall Street Journal, no puppet of the liberal left-wing media, wrote this  earlier today, and it seems to me as good a reason as any to spread the good word.

Moving Right Along

Team USA (taken from People Magazine’s website)
The time has finally come, gentle folk, to move from the glory of the games, to the grit of fear and loathing on the campaign trail 2012. 
Obama VS Romney
Obama Vs. Romney (Taken from Caglecartoons.com)
If you haven’t already, the tune we’re all singing now is ‘let’s get political’ and fast. For some, this period in the election cycle can never come too soon. I miss political seasons in America. You don’t seem to get that intensity over here, waking up and poring over figures and gallup polls whilst you pour your morning coffee. Voters are concerned here, but oddly enough, the result feels a bit like a foregone conclusion. In America, for every election since Bush’s first, the excitement, the intensity, the levels of vitriol flung with venomous rage between people from particular camps has been just thrilling. I feel like it started with Bush, our most divisive president, a superlative that I have often wonder if he takes pride in wearing around the world. 
The presidential race and American political attitudes in general puts me in mind of a much more local anecdote from two summers ago when, on a visit back to the homestead, sitting outside on the back deck, enjoying a beer or coffee with my father, he asks me, with wonderfully sincere innocence, but also more than a hint of paranoia, ‘Do you ever see any of those Muslims in London?’ 
I nearly spat out my Bud Lime (Why oh why try for the Corona drinkers’ market) before I checked myself and remembered I’d been living in one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world in London, shoulder to shoulder every day with people of all creed and colo(u)r, even those whose beliefs are easily vilified by the American media. 
I patiently explained to both my parents that one of my best students was a Muslim named Hamza, to which my mother’s gloriously provincial, and blusteringly racist response was, ‘Well, I’ll be darned. I guess if he’s studying hard he must not be making bombs at night.’ No no. She was serious. 
American political attitudes are like that though, either wonderfully open or wonderfully ignorant and sometimes ignorance is bliss. 
On this and many other events in the political season will I have much to say, but for now, The American Londoner is off to Ireland, where my wife is from, to thatch cottages and drink Guinness and sing shanties until I embarrass myself atop the spire at the top of O’Connell Street. ( I don’t want to disabuse you of any romantic notions of Ireland). I will be rejoining the nonline community though for the two weeks, not because Ireland is still in the dark days of pre-internet developing civilization, but because my mother-in-law refuses to get a computer and data package fees when abroad are tyrannical. But I like being unplugged. It’s shocking how much conversation gets had.

Emigrants leave Ireland
Bon Voyage (taken from the Salem Press Website)

Before I go, I wanted to point out, I am now on a brilliant website called Internations.org, connecting different expat communities through blogging and a variety of social media. Check me out here.

See you in September.

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