A German's View: US Elections 2008

(This is a rather long piece. It has a point, though… so please bear with me. Danke.)

During the last couple of months I’ve developed an increasing interest in the US elections. More or less closely following the news about them, scrutinizing and evaluating their talking points and ideas, I’ve become rather familiar with both candidates, formed an opinion – slowly realizing that I am actually more interested in the politics of a country I don’t live in and an electorate system I can neither influence nor participate in than in my own nation’s.

Allow me to elaborate how I came to care about domestic US politics.

A couple of years ago, on a sunny day in September, I was sitting in my office working, when a friend pinged me and told me to turn on the TV, now. A few fanatics had hijacked several passenger planes, using them as weapons. We sat in front of the screen, staring in horror at the looped footage, and couldn’t believe our eyes. I remember very clearly turning to my coworkers, telling them that it was very likely we were witnessing the first day of World War III; someone had just attacked one of the most gung-ho empires of the World (no offense) – this was bound to have long-lasting repercussions. No-one would or could expect the USA to take this lying down. I was expecting to see the US military turning some small part of the globe into a glassed parking lot.

I remember this fear. It was a deep-seated worry for the World as a whole, as meta as this may sound.

I spent the next few months watching news from the United States very closely. The increase in domestic security, the preparations for the war, the passing of the Patriot Act – to me, the country resembled a wounded predator; maddened by pain, yet ready to throw itself against the ghostly attacker, lusting for the kill. Pretty much everything I heard in terms of news, speeches and sound bites, was not very rational.

Quite frankly, it scared the living shit out of me.

Trying my best to cope with this feeling of terror building up inside of me, I started to look for more reasonable voices from the “inside”. Surely all the hate mongering and Giulianiesque approaches to making statements1 couldn’t be the whole of it. Someone had to remember there is more to any issue than just black and white! But there was all this “If you’re not with us, you’re against us” madness coming from the US government, and it was not just freaking me out – I found it highly insulting to the rest of mankind, because it was clearly implying the other nations were either not sympathetic or not interested or just too stupid to come to their own conclusions.

So… There must be some voices of reason, no? Still shaken I started to dig deeper, ignoring the main media outlets, looking for something that could rejuvenate my opinion that not all of the USA had gone mad with pain.

To make it short: yes, I found them. Which was a great relief, because it gave me back my hope that logic and reason might prevail in the long run. I stuck to some of these newfound sources; I read a number of political blogs, for example, and I watch the fine offerings in political satire by your own Comedy Channel.

Fast forward to the 2004 US elections.

Well. We all know how that turned out. Speechless and highly disgusted I witnessed the mud shit slinging of the “friends” of the Republican candidate; the despicable and dishonorable “Swift Boat Veterans For Truth” campaign being just the tip of the iceberg.

No matter what you may think about 2004 Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry – he was a man fighting for his country in a war he didn’t start, apparently committing acts of bravery, saving his comrade’s lives, and many people took a piss at that. The 2008 version of this would be claiming John McCain was merely taking a vacation back in Vietnam, or running a brothel in Hanoi – this would be wrong, both in a factual and moral sense, and the Republicans would hang you in the middle of the Washington Mall.

So, how could this happen?! How could this possibly work out for the Republican side?

Anyways… I’ve already mentioned my disbelief and disgust. Still highly worried about the state of the Union.

Fast forward again: September 2008.

The last few years have been less than optimal for the World. I don’t say all of it is the fault of the United States; far from it. But when you have one of the major players acts like he owns the place and gives a flying fuck about everyone else, it’s causing problems. (To be fair, many of the others aren’t much better, tho.) I am very sure many things could have turned out better had more diplomatic, subtle and less arrogant paths been taken.

And the US is still scaring me. The reason for my being afraid has changed, though. Since 2001, many things have been going down the drain, both inside and outside the country, fundamentalism is on the rise, and many people acting highly erratic.

If anything, the World is more complex now, yet the government of one of the most influential nations on this planet is busy trying to “secure the borders” and beating its chest, trying to intimidate other countries and ignoring global problems.

And they continue to claim the position of “global leadership” without actually leading.

In the presidential race this time are both a 72 year old and a 47 year old man. Here’s my rundown from the outside.

The former has a lot of experience in the inner workings of Washington, D.C., agrees with most things still-president Bush has said and done, and doesn’t know how many houses he owns. I’ve seen him in interviews a few years ago, and he seemed decent and honest enough. I liked the old John McCain better than the new “100% P.O.W.!” version; obviously his strategists have decided that having him retell his prison years over and over again is policy enough. Which I find a bit sad since it reduces his whole life and accomplishments to those 5 years in a Vietnam prison; on top of that, in the current context, it’s just political fluff. He is very vague about what he’s planning to do should he end up being elected. Topics like the fight against poverty (both domestic and global) and climate change are marginalized points of his campaign, at best.

The latter has not as much Washington experience, but spent a good amount of his years working for the disenfranchised, is a professor in constitutional law, and seems to rather spend his time talking with people and about actual issues (like fighting poverty or climate change), while refusing to return the slander thrown at him by his opponents.

And they are doing it again. They mock his work as community organizer, which in my book is something that you couldn’t disagree with by any standards. It’s basically one of the Christian virtues – I know that, and I am an agnostic. Why do these self-proclaimed Christians mock somebody for showing compassion? What is wrong with these people?

It pains me to witness hypocrisy on such a scale.

Obama '08 badge

So why do I, a German in Germany, root for Barack Obama?

Because the World is a closed system. While I don’t believe in the Butterfly Effect, I strongly believe in setting a higher or lower standard for yourself and thereby giving others the idea to follow suit. Leading –or failing– by example. What works for small groups will work on a global level as well.

A change in leadership in any bigger country in the World will indirectly have an effect on me. This is why I care. (Some issues are more important than others, of course.)

So I was very, very delighted to hear a presidential candidate of one of the biggest countries in the World stand up and say: “These are the problems. Denial doesn’t work anymore. Listen, I have kids, so do you, so we’ll better fix this shit for their sake – and here’s a rather detailed plan.”2

Yes, I feel strongly about the impending climate change. Everyone should. We are talking about man’s homestead among the stars. This is our house. Our only house. If we burn this place down, then we’re truly, really, utterly fucked. I am puzzled why anyone would hesitate talking or thinking about it, let alone working on preventing it or slowing it down. These people are delusional idiots.

Please take a minute to compare both Obama’s page on fighting climate change and McCain’s page. One is a finely formulated plan which gives the impressions people thought about and discussed it at length; the other is a rephrased version of “Someone should do something at some point in time …oh look, an adorable kitten” an intern was asked to put up so the number of 404 errors in the log files would go down.

(On a related note: let’s assume Senator McCain actually believes in climate change and the need to do something about it – the man is still 72 years old. I wish him a long life, but statistically speaking, chances are much higher that he’ll die a natural death within the next four years than someone who is 25 years younger. Should he die in office, we’d all end up with an US president who doesn’t believe in man-made climate change. That’s basically what we have already.)

Now, the European Union is working on fighting climate change, too. Yes, not all EU countries are good at it. But I am proud to say my government seems to care. Still, the EU is just one major player, and a bit limited due to its internal structure. The more big players stop with the lip service and start actually working on it, the better.

So, to sum up:

There are two candidates in the current US presidential election cycle. I believe both are decent and honest men. It’s just that one of them seems to care about the actual issues (both domestically and globally), appears to have the fundamental understanding of what’s going on in the World, and the right mind set to actually get to work.

I don’t think Barack Obama is the second coming of Jesus. That thought is ridiculous. I think he’s just a guy with the right ideas. I also think under his leadership the US would ask more of the EU, which is fine with me. I prefer a real, actual partnership over the “We’re heading this way, just follow, suckers” methods of the past.

It is my belief that he (working with his VP) has the potential and tenacity to not only nudge the World in the right direction, but to restore the moral standing of the USA – and to have everyone calm down again. It is my belief that others will follow.

This is the 21st century. I’d really see the US move forward again, for it would actually help the World as a whole.

Well.

Thanks for taking the time to read this.

If you’re an US citizen, come November, I’d like to ask you to make a choice based on logic.

Please, keep the big picture in mind.

Please, do not get fooled by the sepia-tinted pictures of the good old, simpler, imaginary times in small town America.

Please, use your right to vote.

Thank you.


  1. “Eat your broccoli! …9/11.” Well. [return]
  2. Paraphrased. [return]