Throughout this holiday, I’ve kept my eye on the news. It has driven my wife insane sometimes, but I do like to know what is going on in the world around me. The new iPad which I’m writing this on really helps with that, as does free wifi in every McDonalds and Starbucks!
Of course, being this side of the pond has given me a different perspective on the news. It has taken me a while to find ‘the best’ news station (although not very long to work out that it is not Fox News!), but along the way I’ve seen some interesting stories. I enjoyed seeing both the Canadian and American coverage of the Olympics, with both countries lavishing praise on London for its beauty and brilliance as a host (though an doubt they were saying the same in France or down under).
However, what has captured my attention has been the run up to the Presidential election on November 6th. One statistic I heard was that 95% of voting Americans have already made their mind up on who they will vote for, and yet the ‘Gallup poll’ fluctuates and opinions seem divided.
Presidential elections are always interesting, and ever since the disputed election of 2000, I’ve been rather fascinated by them. As I prepare for new AS units on American political history, I find the comparisons even more interesting!
Now I must confess, like many non-Americans, That I was swept up in the tidal wave of support for Barack Obama back in 2008. If you’re a non-American who has studied history past the age of 14, then your view of the United States is probably pretty negative. If you were to ask my A2 students their opinions, some would be downright scathing in their words. So to many of us back in 2008, Obama as a ray of light- a man who recognised America’s flaws as well as it’s strengths, and was ready to tackle these issues for the greater good of global policy. I played his victory speech to all my classes that day, telling them “this was history in the making”, and that they would be glad to be watching this when they were older.
Nearly four areas down the line, and Civil rights progress aside, I feel a little foolish for my comments that day. There has been little change. Obama the successful candidate, and Obama the President, are in some respects, two different men. One of the main criticisms of Obama’s campaign for reelection is that he can only criticise his opponent- he has no track record of his own to fall back on. Here I feel rather sorry for Obama. He hasn’t got it right all the time, but similarly to the UK election of 2011, it was in a way, one to lose. What I mean is that it was a bad time in the US’ history to elect an President like Obama. Economies dominate politics, and Obama would probably have faired better in a period of boom and growth than the global recession we face today (but then again, wouldn’t the same be true of any President?)
Another reason I feel sorry for Obama is because he has been let downs by many of those who support him, Forget those in Congress and on the other side of the political spectrum who have schemed to block his every move, his supporters have not been there when he needed them. they shouted for change, they quoted Bob the Builder when they said “yes we can”, and then when Obama said outlined the personal cost involved in making those changes, many turned away. It was almost like when Jesus explained how he wanted his followers to act, and hundreds turned their back on him too. I don’t for one second mean to compare the two, but for Obama, this meant that many of the changes he promised simply have not been possible- hence the lack of track record.
Now in case you think I’m supporting the other guy, you’re wrong. I find it very frustrating to watch the US election, powerless to do anything whilst the most powerful, influential country in the world decides its future, and as a result, the potential future of the rest of the world. I am not strictly a democrat or Republican, but since I became interested in US politics, I’ve fail to encounter a good Republican candidate. But I do not treat Mitt Romney lightly. What began within the Republican party as a farce has turned on its head, and Romney. Despite a few gaffe’s along the way, is a serious contender. The latest Gallup poll had Obama winning by a narrow margin, and Romney still has over 2 months to work on closing the gap further.
While I’ve been out here in the US, the biggest development of the race to the White House occurred- Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan as his running partner. I’ll confess to never having heard of Paul Ryan before, but the US news stations, combined with some more impartial reading of British newspaper apps have soon got me up to speed. Paul Ryan appeals to blue collar workers, a group which Obama struggles to connect with due to his focus on government intervention and renewable energy sources. Paul Ryan relates to entrepreneurs and businessman. He has charisma and drive, to the extent where some have questioned why he was willing to accept the fairly unimportant role of VP. Maybe he’s considered the statistic that 1 in 4 US President die in office, and believes that, like Harry Truman or Lyndon Johnson before him, he could find himself filling those big shoes one day too.
But Romney’s pick of Ryan is a very risky one. He’s a classic congressman- inconsistent and hypocritical. He’s also a classic Republican- a lot of his policies seem quite backward in 21st century society. Even Romney doesn’t agree with all of his ideas. The key to his work, his fiscal policy, would see cuts at a level that make the British governments current austerity programme look quite relaxed!
I will watch the election unfold from home over the next couple of months, and probably stay up after bonfire night to see the results come in live. Key swing states like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida may decide the outcome of this election- one that in times of global recession and austerity, could decide future US foreign policy and the world’s financial future. And as I arrived at the Los Angeles airport where I now sit to wait for my flight home, I can see by the sheer amount of magazine front pages devoted to Obama and Romney, that this election is a much bigger deal than anyone ever expected.