Turns out or resident English guy, Gavin Cleaver, who drenches himself in barbecue sauce and smoke for us over on City of Ate, is actually like a doctor. In politics. University trained and the author of a forthcoming book on political ethics. We did not know that ... both that he was a Ph.D. or that there is such thing as "political ethics." Anyway, he not only likes 'Merica's smoked slabs of beef, he likes our elections too. There's gotta be a connection there. (If you want to read more of his political stuff, check this out.
That's right America. I can't even vote in your country. I hail from a land where we're still upset that you wasted all that perfectly good tea, where American elections dominate the media the same way they do here, where when elections are tied we muddle through it and create a Franken-party out of many different opposing parties because A) we recognize there are more than two options on the political spectrum and B) we don't like courts as much as you guys. A place where politics is frankly so boring that nobody cares about it. This is the land in which I completed my eight years studying politics at college, and now I am briefly going to talk to you about how the rest of the world feels.
When was the last time you heard about European elections? Exactly. Why are American elections such big news around the world? Two reasons. First, if any country is going to stick a pin in a map and then invade that country, it's America. Your military budget is larger than those of China, Russia, the UK, France and Japan put together. Frankly, we're all terrified (except Putin. Putin doesn't scare). I can see how that policy is working for you. Second, American election season is political fireworks popping left, right, and center (the pun there is intended). There's nothing outside the U.S. that can compare. It's such theater, such drama, and it is so ridiculous that I can't look away. It's like the Honey Boo-Boo of elections, if you will. Some elections have almost toxic levels of comedy gold (Mugabe's re-election campaign in Zimbabwe, with his killer slogan "Vote For The Fist" and a greater than 100 percent voter turnout), some elections are a complete farce (Belgium recently snatching the record for "Most Time Without Actual Government" from that center of democracy, Cambodia), but your election is like a car-crash of extremism, patriotism, abstract nouns and empty rhetoric.
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Let's take "freedom" as an example. There are several ways to interpret the basic concept of freedom, as any political academic will tell you. I could be free from government interference; I could be free from the demands of other individuals; I could be free from poverty; or I could be free to live as I choose aside from moral concerns over the appropriateness of my behavior. No-one's made the appropriate distinction between positive and negative freedom, because to do so we'd have to start thinking about what freedom actually is. What we essentially have during U.S. election season is two sides claiming that the way they would run the country is the best approximation of freedom, or hope, or liberty or whatever abstract noun is currently in vogue. The most popular policy espoused by a candidate during election season is "THIS GUY! AMIRITE!" The level of childish points-scoring and negative coverage of the opposition is amazing, to the point where, without fail, an advert for Romney will start with the word Obama, and an advert for Obama will start with the word Romney.
In a roundabout way, this brings me to my point. The constant need to be at the forefront of the public's mind is astonishing. The theater involved plays right into the media's hands, so that they can present the campaign as a dramatic clash of political titans who are furious with each other, and in turn the candidates will become more aggressive and less cohesive on policy, because they know that a five second clip of one of them calling the other one a silly name is going to get a lot more media attention than an explanation of how green energy can create jobs, or how a rise in taxes is bad for small businesses. It's a vicious circle. The candidates need to be visible in the media more than their competitor, but the media (especially social media and interaction) isn't set up to handle cogent political debate properly. It just doesn't come across well. What do you remember from the debates? Is it the cogent basis of policy, or comments about binders, Big Bird and bayonets?
The whole time this is happening, a simply titanic amount of money is being thrown away on getting the candidates good media coverage, money that could be spent in much better ways in a still-struggling global economy than being used to tell me that Obama doesn't understand what America stands for, or that Romney dislikes poor people and is wealthy. $20 a vote, America. $20 a vote. That's the level of spending by the parties we're talking about. There must be a better way to run this.
And I hope they never find one. Because tonight, I'll be there, beer and popcorn in hand, for my first night not having to stay up until 4 a.m. to find out who's won the U.S. election, and I will spend my time switching between inherently biased television broadcasts just to see how they are spinning the glorious victory/terrible, generation-ruining disaster unfolding in front of them. It will be gloriously entertaining in a way that no other election can hope to be. I am psyched.