I have not and will not cast a ballot in the elections on November 6, for I am a member of a demographic that is reliably never pandered to in American politics: non-U.S. citizens. Yet come Tuesday, the results of the election will be plastered on headlines not only in the U.S., but also around the world. The entire globe is watching the spectacle of American democracy and all over people do have an opinion on the matter, as has been recently featured here on PolicyMic and in the Guardian. It should be no surprise that the fate of the most powerful nation on Earth is a consequential matter to everyone, whether you’re endowed with the right to choose between Barack Obama or Mitt Romney, or not.
As the magazine The Economist emphasized in its lukewarm endorsement of the sitting president, what matters most to the world at large is the economy and foreign policy. It is in consideration of this that the U.S. remains, as Madeleine Albright and President Obama might put it, the one indispensable nation. Broadly speaking, these issues make up the prism through which America sheds its influence on the world; Europe will always have to contend with the financial reality of the U.S. in its handling of the ongoing euro crisis and a country like Pakistan might just elect Imran Khan largely in reaction to that country’s current leadership’s acquiescence to U.S. drone strikes.
The campaign, however, has left many unanswered questions that concern America and everything beyond its borders. Steve Coll at The New Yorker wrote a commentary after the third presidential debate, the one on foreign policy, on six broad topics that were left unmentioned. Discussing India, Venezuela and “The Asia pivot” (the Obama administration’s decision to reassert American military presence in the Pacific and tacitly enact a containment policy regarding China), Coll might have highlighted how the broad strokes of the current and future American geopolitical strategy have largely been ignored. While Israel and Iran have been frequently (and very predictably) discussed, they are only a part of the big picture. Likewise, Mexico, its bloody unfolding amid organized crime violence and the drug war, did not come up in the debate, despite it taking place just south of U.S. territory and involving billions of dollars in U.S. government spending.
Of course, the 800-pound gorilla in the room has always been climate change. A drought season of historic proportions and the melting of the Arctic were not enough to bring the topic to the forefront. Only in the wake of Sandy has the importance of the matter taken on slightly sharper relief in all the political chatter. Although the storm might have some influence in the result of the election, I’m still left wondering, when will climate change be a part of the American public discourse? When will a candidate for the American presidency even take a position on the issue? Will it only happen once both the economy and foreign policy undeniably need to be considered within the context of a changing climate? Once it’s so late in the game that the measures that might be taken are far more dire than the ones we currently have at our disposal?
Now, I understand that what is and isn’t mentioned in the election has a lot to do with the peculiar manner in which a president is elected in America — how both Romney and Obama seem to be in a fight over who becomes the next president of Ohio. This political idiosyncrasy, the fact that so much hinges on such a small number of undecided voters in very specific places, is the subject of this foreign observer’s fascination and horror. I wonder if a Texan or a New Yorker ponders the presidential election with a measure of helplessness similar to mine. Once all the focus-grouped ads have played out in the six or so states that still seem to be in play, America beyond the swing states and the rest of the world will have to welcome the next leader of the free world.
For what it’s worth (admittedly somewhat less than a ballot cast in California), my vote in spirit goes to Obama. When it comes to the economy and foreign policy, despite everything that was left unsaid, I believe the president’s actions during his first term evidence a more nuanced and ultimately more adequate understanding of the world than that which can be extrapolated from Mitt Romney’s ever changing positions. But it’s considering the U.S. president’s role as a cultural steward on the global stage that I’d like to see Barack Obama continue his tenure. I agree with Bill Maher’s acerbic warning of what a Romney presidency might entail, a return to “all the bizarre, Bible-thumping bullshit that the Obama administration has given us a break from.” I’d like to see science and reason remain the guiding principles of the indispensable nation, and it seems to me that the Republican candidate, beholden to the party’s current emphasis on fundamentalist positions, is not the man to lead the U.S. in this direction.
So please vote, and I hope Ohio, Florida, and Virginia make a wise choice.