As the American election cycle comes to a close, I’m looking forward to being able to have conversations about things not related to the White House. In fact, I might even get around to talking to folks about the other offices that we’ve elected people to today.
But in all seriousness, I’ve found it very interesting to follow the progress of the discussion, both here and abroad. The American presidential election is the largest, most popular, and most globally scrutinized political contest on earth, and watching world opinion can be very revealing.
When I lived in New Zealand I had just come from working in American media, and I was amazed at well international television reports from the BBC and Deutch Welle covered some things and how inaccurately they portrayed others. Being away from home provided perspective our own news, and made it easier to compare cultural ideas.
Even after moving back, I’ve tended to follow international coverage of our elections, and there were a lot of international opinions that arose on a recent Quora.com question: “If the current US presidential election candidates (Obama Vs. Romney) were running in your country who would you vote for and who do you think would win?”
Of course, some statistics actually exist, and a recent Globescan poll of 21 countries resulted in a final tally of 50% voting for Obama, 9% for Romney, 31% various don’t knows and don’t cares, and an insightful 10% who didn’t believe that there was any difference between the two.
As an Australian pointed out, “I’ve been following the election and I still can’t work out what it is Romney actually stands for. I know he really wants to be president but I can’t understand what he will do if he gets in.”
As much as I would love to blame the Australian Broadcasting Corporations’s news coverage for his ignorance or take this obvious opportunity to pick on Seven and Nine’s hilariously unresearched sensationalism, I can’t say that this is a media fault. I’ve been reading statements directly from Romney’s own office for over a year, and I don’t know either.
Is that why Obama’s international polling is so high? Quora members chimed in to try to explain the breakdown, and their comments ranged from the tactless “I would be shocked if Romney wins and I would be sorry for the stupidity of Americans” to the harsh but difficult to argue with: “Republicans have proven incapable of producing viable candidates for leadership of still the most important country in the world.”
For the most part, however, they described why their nations would almost unanimously vote Obama. One Indian gentleman broke down his response to a number of platform issues, like Social Security: “Obama wants to protect and strengthen SS. Which means free stuff! Indians love free stuff! Romney wants to encourage people to create individual accounts. Who will get the government’s money then? Something is fishy here!”
Apart from not really understanding the definition of “free” or knowing where “the government’s money” actually comes from, this was a very accurate description of the board’s general feelings. Nearly all contributors praised Obamacare, slammed the free market economic system, and were oblivious to the fact that Romney’s introduced socialized medicine to Massachusetts. A Canadian described the overall tone of the discussion: “Canadians trust our government programs more than we trust the market.”
This gentleman went on to discuss gun control: “How ridiculous is it to let just about anyone own a gun. As if there wasn’t enough crime already. Clincher for Obama. Deal breaker for Romney.”
It should be pointed out that neither candidate has dared to say much about guns. In this case, Romney has been saddled with a bunch of subjective Republican stereotypes, rather than personal promises. International viewers, like American Christians, see Romney as an unshakably pro-gun, pro-life, pro-private-business, religious firebrand, rather than the pragmatic fence-sitter that his record shows him to be.
And Obama isn’t the CEO-smashing, gun-grabbing, war-stopping Malcolm X-cum-Ghandi that the secular left has been praying for, either. Ironically, he has probably driven the sale of more firearms to more private individuals than any single person in the entire history of gunpowder. And in a recession, too.
Despite the global economic crunch, few commenters mentioned the candidates’ positions on debt, budgets, or trade, and nobody ever asked for more jobs. Apart from a desire to tax the rich, there was no suggestion of making money even while demanding more Federal financial aid. A Ukrainian dogmatically underscored this: “A country is not a business and should never be lead by an ex CEO. Any business mentality is to make money… This mentality is not appropriate for running a country.”
Despite Turkey’s 34-9 Obama win in the Globescan poll, a Turkish voter disagreed: “I am not supporting Romney’ s perspectives for Foreign issues and the things like education, health, resources etc… but, till to be a super power country on the world, I would vote for nationalist people.”
The term “superpower” came up a lot, but was inconsistently used. Sometimes it meant the obvious and acceptable goal of any nation, and sometimes it was an unfair advantage that should be destroyed. A lone Obama critic piped up: “Of course the rest of the world prefers Obama because he is on the path of making the US like the rest of the world.”
And the rest of the world is more to the left than the United States. Most other nations clearly govern less conservatively than the America has, and even the labels “liberal” and “conservative” have shifted. “I’m from China and I’m now living in Canada,” wrote an Obama supporter. “I used to think myself as a conservative, albeit a moderate one. Having followed the US election for sometime, I now think I would probably be labelled as a communist in the US. Our Canadian conservative party seems to be more liberal than the Democrats in the US.”
A Brit explained: “I think for most of Western Europe ( and say nations like Canada and Australia, it would be impossible for a Republican party to ever attract more than around 10% of the vote, there are so many Republican views that are simply impossible for any remotely balanced person to ever become comfortable with.”
The “unbalanced” views he then described were things like any opposition to socialized medicine, abortion, or gay marriage. A Canadian added, “running against gay marriage in Canada is a good way to get yourself labelled an extremist and to make yourself unelectable in all but bible belt ridings.”
There were comments deriding the “religious fringe,” someone claimed Romney was bringing the “Christian variety of a Sha’ria ruled state,” and all the other tired old tropes were brought out. One Obama supporter from India described his position: “I find it disquieting to think of someone in a position of power whose decisions might be influenced by religion.”
This is an idea that I’ve heard over and over again, usually from whiny Westerners who owe almost everything they have to the Christian character of their ancestors. It is a much more understandable sentiment from someone whose country is teetering between the lunacy of Hinduism and the brutality of Islam, but it is still impossible.
All leaders, voters, and internet commenters will be influenced by religion. All ideological belief systems are equally religious and equally influential, whether they point to a god, a man, a system of government, or even just a collection of widely-adopted cultural principles.
The belief that government must not be run like a business is a moral and religious idea. The convictions that gun ownership is wrong, that self defense is right, that the State can deem what is fair, or that man should be free – these are all equally religious ideas. They are moral frameworks will direct the thinking of anyone who holds them. Everyone on earth has a cultural bias, an ideological system, a religion.
This is why moral relativism doesn’t work, and why a transcendent standard is needed. Without standards, labels like “liberal” and “conservative” can move so far that they stop meaning anything. By moving away from standards, countries and cultures will keep moving and not even realize it.
“I am from India and I say with all my heart that the day India finds its Obama we will be the fastest growing economy and well on our way to being the superpower.”