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The Election From Overseas

I get asked this question so frequently, I figured I should write about it. I try to avoid talking about politics, because I think there are things in the world so much more important and interesting. Also, lets face it, you can only end up pissing people off when you talk about politics. This post isn’t intended to be preachy, just to answer some questions of how I have viewed the election play out over the last 18 months from outside of the US.

Did I Vote?

No. For the first time in my adult life, I did not vote. I am not losing any sleep over it either.

For starters, I’m not sure I’m legally eligible to vote anywhere. I’m no longer a resident of Minnesota. My drivers license is from Wisconsin, but I didn’t stay in Wisconsin long enough after I sold my house to be considered a resident (I think). I’m sure if I had wanted to, I could have cast a vote in Wisconsin and no one would have been the wiser, but I saw no need to go out of my way to do it. If the electoral vote is close, and Wisconsin ends up in a tie, I’ll get more joy from seeing that than if I had voted. Besides, I always vote for third party candidates, so my vote wont be missed. Unlike many people, voting doesn’t make me feel good and I don’t get a cheap thrill about being part of the democratic process. (I would have voted if I could vote for “No” or “None of the Above”)

I felt the choices this year were between the douche and the turd sandwich. My politics lean libertarian. I think Bush has been a horrible president. That, however, does not make me like Obama. The messianic following that Obama has developed is frightening. McCain I think has only one real policy, and that is becoming President of the United States. Him calling Obama a socialist makes me wonder where he has been for the last eight years as his party has increased spending across the board, more than Clinton….oh, and the small issue of nationalizing the banks, which is one of the most socialist steps taken by any president in American history.

For the first and only time in my life I donated money to a political candidate this year, so it isn’t as if I’m totally detached. But I in no way can justify casting a vote for the lesser of two evils. I don’t see a maverick or change. When people tell me I should vote, it is almost always couched in terms of the other guy being bad, not their guy being good. Arguments about the other guy being bad are not mutually exclusive with each other. I have Republican and Democrat friends, and can go easily between the two worlds. I’m from a conservative part of Wisconsin, but went to a liberal, Liberal Arts college. I can listen to Rush Limbaugh and read the Huffington Post, and filter out the crap from both sources without getting all worked up about it. Politics really just doesn’t do it for me.

That being said, more random thoughts on the election:

*As a traveler, in my own selfish way, who would probably do the most for me? Probably Obama. I am often asked if I get any anti-American feedback from people. The answer is a qualified no. Locals never do, and if anything, being an American is a plus. I did have a few Australians and European travelers who have been snotty, but that’s it. If we elect a black Democrat, it will shut them up, which will make life a bit easier for me.

*From a travel standpoint, the changes to border laws for travelers and mind bogglingly stupid rules at airports have made life difficult. Whatever rule we make tends to be followed by everyone else in lockstep. The US is now going to require citizens of the UK (our biggest ally) to apply for a visa to enter the US. This make no sense and is not necessary. I have no faith that an Obama administration will really change anything, however. Once power has been granted, you almost never see it go away. Those who hate Bush, now that one of theirs is in power, will think that the power is in safe hands, forgetting what all the Republicans have now learned: the power you grant will one day wind up in the hands of your opponents.

*Of the American I have met while traveling, I have met ZERO McCain supporters. None. Nada. Zip. Zilch. I’m not even leaving one out so I can exaggerate the point.

*Locals I have met have a detached interest in what is happening, but don’t really seem to have any preference. People in Indonesia asked a lot about Obama, because he spent a few years there growing up. It had nothing to do with policies, just having some tenuous link to a candidate was enough. I think the rest of the world is simply fascinated with our process and how complex it is. I never realized how complex it was until I had to explain primaries, party conventions, picking a VP, and the electoral college.

*I am often asked if I can keep up with what is happening. Not only is the answer yes, but it is often hard to get away from it. I have decided that it isn’t so much that Americans are ignorant of the rest of the world, it is that we suffer from the same problems as the rest of the world: a fixation with America.

*Many Europeans I meet, who think that Americans are ignorant with the rest of the world, really don’t know much about the US. Many don’t know the number of states. When I say where I’m from, I always have to add “It’s in the middle, near Canada”. I love shocking people because they assume I don’t know anything about where they are from. I met a man from Melbourne last night at a bar. I asked him if he knew who won the Melbourne Cup (a horse race on a par with the Kentucky Derby which tool place yesterday) and how Australia was doing the Rugby League World Cup. He was stunned :)

This ends my political programming.

  • 12 Comments... What's your take?

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Comments

  1. eli says:

    I gave money to Ron Paul, ended up emotionally supporting Obama, but didn't vote because I saw the landslide coming. I'm just happy to have someone who is intelligent, and seems to have good emotional intelligence, taking over the helm. I may not agree with him about everything, but I think he'll be open to different ideas and be able to change direction if necessary. I would like to see more Ron Paul style Republicans in office too however. It's too bad so many see these things in black and white terms, glad to hear you're a free thinker, even if your conclusions are a tad different than mine, it's nice to know there are other people out there who see past the accepted false dualities.

  2. Adrienne says:

    Ron Paul is a religous fundie…no different than Bush in that respect. The only “change” he wants is to pass all the things US congress does onto the states. This means the same BS…only on a state level.

    And the messianic following that Paul has developed is no less frightening.

    • Gary Arndt says:

      No. 100% wrong. There is only one issue that you could possibly be referring to and that is abortion. If Ron Paul was elected, the state would have no power to force people to do anything.

  3. Jette says:

    The world does not revolve around America. I'm so glad the American election is over, I have no idea why our news has been obsessed with following it as I doubt many non-Americans could care less. Your comment that most non-Americans probably don't know much about America would be true – but why do we need to know how many states there are (although I do as general trivia knowledge), and how much do most Americans know about the rest of the world?

    Unfortunately one of the impressions of Americans that I have is blatant disregard of local customs. I was dining in a restaurant in northern Bali several years ago and overheard a party of Americans who were loudly skiting about how they'd wanted to visit a particular temple, arrived to find a ceremony in progress and the temple closed to visitors, but they were having none of this so just barged on in although the locals tried to stop them…and this was from a group of mid-30s who should definitely know better and have more respect. I don't seem to bump into too many Americans in my travels so can only hope these folk are in the minority, although unfortunately Americans do have a general reputation for being arrogant. But maybe that's just a pack mentality thing; individually, I'm sure they're just like anyone else.

    Having said this, I admire what you're doing and am absolutely green with envy, I can't imagine many things better than exploring the world and taking your time to do it. I've only just found your website today but will be keeping an eye on it to share your adventures, best wishes for your travels. Having recently been to Ireland, let me share one of their blessings with you…
    May the road rise up to meet you.
    May the wind always be at your back.
    May the sun shine warm upon your face,
    and rains fall soft upon your fields.

    Politics and religion…best avoided, internationally :)

  4. Jac says:

    Everyone is entitled to their opinion.

    Opinons are just that; statements of belief, not statements of fact. And that includes what I am about to write.

    As a traveller, I learned that democracy doesn't travel well. It doesn't necessarily bring benefits to all countries, eg Cambodia. However, it is an integral, and important, part of the West.

    My belief is that democracy has brought benefits to my country (UK) and I would take to the streets to defend my democratic rights. I have used my democratic rights to raise issues of importance to me and it is my belief that with perseverance, it is possible to challenge and change the establishment.

    It is also my belief that as privileged members of Western society, we must recognise that our governments have a disproportionate impact on the world. As Western citizens, therefore, we have a disproportionate responsibility to ensure our governments actions in the world are responsible.

    Which means the more impact our governments have on the world, the greater our responsibility to check the actions of those governments and use the tools and systems available to us to direct their actions and limit the damage, deliberate or inadvertent, they cause to the world. In my opinion therefore, American citizens carry a lot of responsibility to vote – one of the major tools and systems available to help you check the actions of your government.

    In my opinion (statement of my belief, not fact) it is easy to say the choices are too poor to bother voting. It's a cop out. Doing nothing is a choice too. It endorses the status quo because doing nothing changes nothing.

    Just my opinion…

  5. Two Crabs says:

    Wow. With those kind of opinions, maybe it's good that you did not vote. But IMHO, voting is not just a right, it's a civic duty of all Americans. It's the apathetic that give Americans a bad name.

    And for the record, you could have easily and freely found out where you are registered to vote simply by calling or emaiing one of the many voting registration websites and voting activist groups. Even the third party candidate websites had information for registering to vote.

    • Gary Arndt says:

      I thought I made it very clear I could have voted if I wanted to. I didn't want to.

      I disagree profusely that it is a duty, especially given how the process works and how it gives only two real choices, which are so beholden to interest groups.

      To quote Emma Goldman: “If voting could really change anything, they'd make it illegal”.

  6. Anil says:

    You last point is fascinating and happens to resonate something similar which I myself posted today, that the rest of the world is generally ignorant of America and Americans.

    The rest of the world is expecting major change from Obama, but there is one constant about the two major parties – they promise whatever they need to in order to get elected, once they do, very little happens.

    So, voting is great, but of little consequence if citizens don't hold their leaders accountable after elections, then votes are taken for granted.

    • Chairman Mow says:

      Actually . . . research tends to support that presidential candidates keep more of their promises than not. The tendency of presidential candidates to keep more promises than not has been discussed for quite some time, but for recent coverage of the issue, see the National Journal (note: this is not the conservative National Review): http://www.nationaljournal.com/njmagazine/cs_20

  7. M says:

    I think the only reason Obama has developed such a devoted following is because people really want to see something change. And since McCain is so much like Bush in many people's eyes, the only thing to do is to put your hope in Obama.

  8. Cole says:

    Well, I am slightly disappointed. It really is more than a cheap thrill but to each his own. But, of course you are a resident of someplace. Establishing that is easy if you are consistent with your Id/license, previous voter registration, car titles, etc. Unfortunately, most people are not consistent. I had to do a bit of research now that we're in TX but because I haven't filled out some federal form, I am still a resident of WI.

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About Gary Arndt

My name is Gary Arndt. In March 2007 I set out to travel around the world...
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