Wednesday, October 31, 2012

People in Other Nations Don't Obsess Over Domestic U.S. Politics?

Okay, so that's not news to you, but it appears to be news to Anne Applebaum.
“Is this presidential election really the most important in our lifetime?” That was the question asked, in so many words, by a concerned Brit at a discussion here a few days ago. His words were directed at the political analyst Larry Sabato, whose countenance had been beamed onto a conference-room screen like some giant electronic guru. Sabato didn’t blink. “This presidential election,” he replied, “is definitely the most important since 2008.”

Appreciative laughter followed, but the audience wasn’t entirely satisfied.
Perhaps that should read, self-satisfied laughter followed, but the audience didn't entirely appreciate the joke? Applebaum continues,
For the British — as for most Europeans and, indeed, most other foreigners — that aspect of this election is extremely hard to understand. Is the 2012 presidential race “important”? That is, will it mark a momentous change in U.S. foreign policy and attitudes toward the world — or will its result make no difference at all?
Here's the thing: people in other nations pay more attention to U.S. presidential elections than we do to theirs, because the decisions of the U.S. President are more likely to affect them in some way than the decisions of their leaders are to affect us. It's also, frankly, a bit fun to be appalled by the low quality of one American politician or another, the crazy issues that Americans based their votes upon, and the staggering sums of money expended on the presidential race. A fair retort, in the U.S., it's unlikely that Silvio Berlusconi would have been able to buy himself into a higher office than... the U.S. Senate. A Canadian was giving me a "Mitt Romney, seriously", line the other day to which there is now an easy two-word retort, "Stephen Harper.")

Applebaum goes on to describe past elections in which... Europeans enjoyed being appalled by some of the politicians and their conduct, the money, and a larger indifference - as if they realize that the choice of President is more likely to affect our lives than theirs.
There are multiple reasons for this indifference, starting with the fact that people no longer believe, as many once did, that an American president can solve all of their problems.
You'll excuse me for asking, in what alternate reality did Europeans believe that our choice of U.S. President could result in a solution to "all of their problems"? I've lived in two other countries, have relatives who live in other countries, and have traveled internationally, and yet I've never met such a person.
The myth of America as an all-seeing, all-knowing superpower persists in a few places — ironically, one hears it most often in the Arab world — but most everywhere else it is long gone.
I have to wonder... Applebaum doesn't get out much, does she....

In my experience, people in other countries have long recognized what is only now dawning on Applebaum: That they have no say in U.S. elections and that, although U.S. elections may affect them and the policies of their own government, the primary effect of a U.S. election will be on the people of the U.S. - there, just as here, it's fun to watch the horse race coverage and make condescending comments about the candidates and system, but at the end of the day the elections they most worry about are their own.

In her slow recognition that the outcome of the U.S. election won't matter much to Europeans, Applebaum appears to also be suggesting that the outcome won't matter much to us. That's true to a degree - certainly true to those like her who are fortunate enough to live their lives in a gilded bubble, and it's certainly true that a change of President has no material impact on most international issues - but there are many domestic issues that will affect the middle class and less fortunate individuals in our society, and while a joke along the lines of "this is definitely the most important election since 2008" may seem funny to those who think the election is about a 3% tax increase (vs. a 20% tax cut) for the wealthy, it's not as funny if you're slipping out of the middle class, unemployed, or on Medicaid.

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