02 November 2008

Who I Voted For

Of all the elections I've lived through, this one definitely seems to be the one that has people the most riled up. I've been slightly surprised at how many folks from back in the States have asked me if I've made sure to vote (yes) and pleasantly taken aback by the interest the people in the countries I've visited have taken in the US election and whom I'm voting for (Obama - Biden). In the past when I've walked through international border control the kind of questions I've gotten have been "why are you coming? how long are you staying?" whereas the last time I passed a checkpoint the question was "Obama or McCain?"

People in the countries I've visited are excited, curious, and extremely interested in the US elections and US politics in general. And for those of you knee jerkers who think all non US folks are for Obama and against McCain, well it's simply not the case. Lots of them just aren't sure what they think and some are outright scared of Obama. But having said that, I'll admit most of the folks I come across are really excited that the US may have a change of heart and leadership (I for the one do agree with the implicit assumption here that McCain won't be much of a change), inspired by Obama's message, and impressed that a man of color looks likely to be elected to the presidency.

While every person has their own unique opinion, I've found generalizations can be made. So I'll give you my very brief, unscientific, not-terribly-in-depth, and admittedly biased by-the-country impressions.

India: The average person on the street here tended to know the least about politics, although the educated knew a lot and had fairly strong opinions. With all of the bombings going on there and the Muslim/Hindu tensions there is quite significant concern with terrorism, Islamic militant groups, etc. As in most places, this tends to push the fulcrum towards a more positive view of aggressive/militant US policies and support of both Bush and McCain (by proxy). The perception of toughness and strength resonates strongly in the culture, although the better educated tend to dismiss the implicit premise that [ toughness/militancy = actually having a positive effect towards stopping terrorism ]. I'll admit though, I've come to the belief that being able to reject this emotionally appealing notion is one of the contemporary hallmarks of an ordered, logical mind - or for those of you who are geeks, a second order Turing test (the first order test being something that indicates capacity for written language and use of tools). Now this isn't too say that I don't think there aren't valid arguments for supporting specific military actions taken in specific countries (although I may strenuously disagree with said arguments), but it is to say that I complete reject the notion that being "tough" without regard to whom the toughness is directed against, nor without regard to whether such "tough actions" have any likelihood of succeeding or being sustained, is, in one word, assinine - and to the highest order.
But I digress.

Along with the Indians, there were many foreign travelers that we met. In particular, I had a very animated conversation in Coorg with a very nice Colombian couple with whom we became friends. We spent about 2 or 3 hours talking about US politics - they were really upset with their own country's leadership and thought about the same as I of Bush: namely that his actions and leadership have been disasterous. We also spent quite awhile talking about US funding of what essentially is civil war in Colombia. I've got much to say about this, but will keep my comments (relatively) short:
  1. US polititians are far too eager to declare "war" on problems than actually understand those problems
  2. we haven't won anything we've declared war on in far too long (be it drugs, poverty, illiteracy, terrorism, or crime
  3. we have injured lots of people (our own who languish in jails at rates far exceeding on a per-capita basis any other country in the world and who die in pointless wars abroad and of poor medical care since we'd rather spend money fighting "wars" than paying doctors properly, and those of our neighbors who are killed in civil wars our dollars fund and by the societal disorder our invasions engender - not to metion those accidentally killed by our bombs) and have little to show for it.
  4. Consequently, we really ought to consider trying a different tactic.
That's in a nutshell why I support Obama over McCain. McCain's a war hero and has done some impressive stuff. But aside from making himself a serious sellout over the past couple of years, and demonstrating such terribly bad judgment as to pick a VP who seems to be a female version of W (but even less informed, experienced, intelligent, and knee-jerk - which I previously hadn't considered within the realm of likelihood) when he'd be the oldest president elected, a recent cancer survivor, and of potentially damaged health from his long stay in the Hanoi Hilton: I think McCain is basically more of the same old failed policies. I tend to believe Obama might be different. And even if he isn't, honestly all I want from a US president at this point is that he (or she) doesn't do anything to screw things up further. World peace, universal healthcare, riches for all - all these would be bonuses for me. I'd be happy if we just took the time to obtain a UN resolution before invading any more countries.
Damn, I've digressed again.

Anyway, to sum it up: in India ill-educated people loved Bush, but were intrigued by Obama. Better educated people tended to prefer Obama to McCain (although not always). Most of the foreigners we met were very pro Obama.

Israel: Here the mix was similar to India, although it tended to divide down the same lines as general Israeli politics. Leftists tended to be open to Obama and Rightists tended to go for McCain. Most of the American Israelis I hung out with were strongly for Obama (and sent their ballots in). However, whereas the uneducated in India were likely to be impressed with Obama, in Israel at least one I met asked me "didn't I think he was dangerous?". When I asked why, I was told "because he's a Muslim". I explained that "No, Obama isn't a Muslim, actually he's a Christian and a fairly observant one" (I didn't bother following this up with the question "so what if he was a Muslim though?" which while more directly attacking the deeper prejudice underlying that statement, was something I simply didn't think would be productive or for which I'd have the energy). He wouldn't accept my explanation telling me, "but his father... I've heard Obama is a Muslim". I then told him that people will tell any lie they like if they think it will help their cause and other people will repeat it, simply because people like repeating crap and hardly ever check to see if what they've been told is true. He was wavering on this, so I followed up by bringing up an example that hit close to home - blood libel. I said, "plenty of people say that Jew's drink Christian baby blood and also make matzah out of it, no connection to reality whatsoever, but it doesn't stop them from saying it. Same here." I think that may have convinced him.

France: Not terribly interesting politics-wise. Everyone here (with whom I've interacted) hates Bush's guts, and supports Obama openly and loudly. Politically, it's just like being home in NY! So I get lot's of props for my answer to the oft posed question: "you're American! who are you voting for?" In my first day or two here, I snapped the picture above of an Obama-Biden sign hanging from an apartment in my neighborhood of Butte Aux Calle. Today the vendor pictured below gave us free food for our response (said he would have released the dogs if we had said McCain) although I think he was mostly trying to make a sale. He was successful. Later on after having a wonderful vegetarian brunch at La Victoire Supreme du Coeur we even saw Obama boxer shorts!

So now you know something about my thoughts on US politics and the adventures we've had traveling during this unusual and exciting election season. It's cool when the border guards are more interested in which candidate you are voting for than how long you'll be staying and whether it's business or pleasure ;-)

Post Script (P.S.): I forgot to mention that the attitudes Linda experienced in Italy mirror those we've found in France. Apparently, she needed a cab and the folks there were only willing to call one for her after she confirmed that she was voting Obama! (although, all such comments we've encountered have been light-hearted and good-natured - I highly doubt Linda would have been denied help calling the cab if she had claimed to be a McCain supporter)

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