Electoral scribblings (part 1)

Aux Etats-Unis, ils votent.

  • 2004-11-03

The big US election day is, where I live, technically over, and the first states are about to close their polling stations. This is about the worst day it could have happened: my ADSL connection is down and has been for over ten hours now. DSLAM non joignable (unreachable) says my ISP’s network status page. So I languish on a lame 33K dialup connection; at least it’s supposedly free of charge, since it’s the ISP’s emercency connection for their ADSL customers. Worse, I had to boot into the Win98 partition, because I never bothered to set up and configure the modem on Linux, not to mention the fact that I don’t remember the dialup password. Of course, by now I could easily have fixed this, but I’ve never experienced a connection downtime that prolonged before. It is analogous to the old problem of whether to walk or to wait for the bus: if the wait takes too long you would been faster on foot; but once you realize this, it’s too late and you had better wait it out till the bus finally arrives.

The logs for this blog tell me that the greater part of its readers — not an absolute or overwhelming majority, but a majority none the less — are located in the USA. So you know whom I’m addressing when I say that I hope you did, in fact, vote (or will, for those living nearer to the west coast).

This election is a strange one: over here, the degree of involvement, including emotional involvement, in the proceedings and the outcome is much higher than I have ever seen, and felt. Sure, US presidential elections are always a big deal here in Europe, and all this might just be an effect of having reached an age to have actually seen some bits of history happen, and undergone the shifts in political consciousness that come with this sort of experience. In addition, as an EU-but-not-French citizen living in France I am used to behaving as a political being, even in some senses of the term a citizen, and an activist, who at one point in her past was involved in the law-making process, without actually enjoying voting rights in national elections.

Still, this is not the whole story. There’s widespread strong feeling here, and in other European countries, about the US candidates, in particular Mr Bush, not much less intense than it would be about a local politician. To put it bluntly, myself and many of those I’ve spoken to find it difficult to wrap our mind around the fact that given his policies, domestic as well as (obviously) international, he even stands a chance to be reelected.

This attitude towards foreign politicians is, again, in itself nothing uncommon. Mr Berlusconi comes to mind, for a relatively recent example. What goes beyond the ususal, though, is that we have more of a reason, or rather a different set of reasons, to feel concerned by what happens right now in the United States of America. With Italy, we are linked together in a common political structure, however brittle, and however imperfect its democratic credentials; with the US, this is not the case (in the current world climate, I’d be laughed at if I counted the UN), and yet the repercussions of US policies and thus politics on ourselves — the cohesion of European societies, the general path the world is heading down etc. — often seem disproportionate; well, you could call it a division by zero.

There have been voices echoing something like “no subordination without representation”. Not all, of course, seriously argue for “global suffrage”, ie a vote in the US or a say in its policies. This ephemeral picture is a message from Canada. Then there was G2’s, the Guardian’s tabloid supplement’s, letter writing campaign, which quickly and cacophonously disintegrated and resulted in an entirely new perspective on some US citizen’s astonishing eloquence.

Digression: The term Limey as an invective applied to a Brit was new to me. Lime is a charmingly versatile (and bucolic!) noun, acually three, each with it’s own, private etymology. Here, it refers to sailors sucking on citrus fruit to prevent scorbut — a very reasonable idea, it seems to me. Why do grownups indulge in abuse that relies for its abusiveness on what other people eat? This behaviour might be understandable among children under the age of, say, seven, but I’d fail to be angered and would remain just bemused should someone point out that I am a Kraut who lives among cheese-eaters. There was this educational cartoon in one of my elementary school textbooks, with two stick figures looking at a wall on which you can read the graffiti “Cartofelvresser” and “Spagetifreser”; one of the stick figures says to the other, “see, they can’t even spell ‘Kartoffel’”. If you have a little German, you can see the fun or absurdity. “They”, of course, referred to children of immigrants from Italy, which shows that at the time I saw it, the cartoon was already obsolete: the main target for racist or xenophobic violence in my genereration and in Germany are descendants of Turkish immigrants and refugees of whatever origin. end of digression

My opinion on the above problem (if any reader actually remembers what it was)? No, non-US residents ought not campaign in a US election, at least not based on the perspective acquired living in societies outside the US. Whoever wins in a few hours is not going to have a direct and immediate effect on, say, how educational and health care systems, employees’ rights and social justice are organized over here. The US people have to, and are entitled to, work out for themselves what kind of leadership they want. I, on the other hand do have an opinion and am free to express it, and even may be apprehensive about long-term tendencies on social and political issues that some of our politicians might want to import from over there. There is a difference between exercising one’s intellect and partisan campaigning in a foreign democratic country. And while the G2 initiative made me cringe, some of the letters sent by European readers to voters in Ohio make an interesting read.

And who do I think will win? Well, this post is going out later than I anticipated, and the first partial results are trickling in, so this is not entirely fair. (I am mainly following the results of the very nicely done BBC Flash animation, thanks for the tip, sniffles, and on the NYT site, which is a Flash graphic, too). Anyway, this is what I figured yesterday, and still think: About every news source talks about “the closest race ever” and the candidates being “in a dead heat” (the term refers to a tie in horse racing; have to research that one further). However, the result can’t possibly be any closer, in reality, but not counting the numerous problems with who got to vote in the end, than it was four years ago. And then, the polls had Bush leading slightly just before election day…. so Kerry should win this one. Maybe not by a landslide, as some have been predicting over the day, but still unequivocally. Yet, right as I am typing, my (all pro-Kerry) chat partners are becoming antsy and worried.

On the Guardian’s electoral cheat sheet we seem to be right where we ought to have been over an hour ago:

If the Ohio-Florida-Pennsylvania axis has not yet been called - or all you can see on the television are lawyers - the swing states of Colorado, New Mexico and Wisconsin will start to look crucial.

Tomorrow, or rather in a few hours, we will know (more).

I am closing this rambling post with two quotations gleaned on online chat:

  • “Ohio is the new Florida” (and I thought that snowclones, see also here, were restricted to lazy journalists … )
  • “I need Macromedia Flash 6 or higher to know who is going to be president” (now that’s bad)

P.S.: Not long after starting to write, I got my ADSL connection back, and thus finished this up back on Linux. \

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