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?
You might also like to check out this fascinating article on the marginalization of third parties in US Presidential politics from the AlJazeera website.
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.
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.
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.
2. Follow their very easy step-by-step process to request a ballot.
3. Print out your ballot request form at the end.
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.
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.
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.
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…
|Team USA (taken from People Magazine’s website)|
|Obama Vs. Romney (Taken from Caglecartoons.com)|
|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.