I had the privilege of residing in Southern Spain for nearly 5 months and returned to the US in early September. In the Marbella Malaga province where I resided, there exists a mixture of cultures, una mezclaz of countries. A large number of British, Dutch, Irish, German, and more than a sprinkling of other nationalities have taken up roots and relocated to this area in order to live happier lives in the sun. When I was there for the summer, I was bombarded with questions about the upcoming election. The saying that the "world is watching" is completely true and I can testify to it personally.
My own set of friends, who consist of mostly Spanish and English people are keenly interested in the election. They believe that whatever we do affects the world. In the first place I spent a lot of time responding to the question: why Americans elected George Bush twice, and basically what is wrong with us? I also spent a lot of time explaining the difference between a "liberal" and a "conservative." I have one friend who keeps associating "liberal" with the laissez-fare economic policies touted by the Republican Party, this makes perfect sense. I keenly remember that one day I sat in another friend's kitchen for over one half hour explaining which was which, liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican. Maybe it was the deliciously cheap wine that was slowing my explanatory powers, but I think I finally made it clear.
It seems the rest of the world has figured out something that we have not, that is that peace and stability are viable world aims. To them we seem almost primitive in our twice election of the current President. Ironically, this enlightened thinking is a result of our American democracy. One German friend I had a while ago made a joke before the Iraq war that- we know times have changed when America wants to go to war, and the Germans want peace. In their eyes, we have almost lost our way.
The other question I answered frequently was why the process took so long. Well as I tried to explain Super Tuesday, the primaries, how the primaries whittled the vote down to two (excluding Independents or write in) candidates, and how the actual election was November 4, despite the confused looks I think I finally made that clear too; I can probably guarantee good wine was involved.
The questions my friends consistently asked was, is America willing to elect a black President? Seems they know about the racism too. I have one very intelligent Spanish friend who is cynical about and is sure that America will not come to its senses and will elect John McCain. The most read Spanish newspaper El Pais today confirmed what my friends said. In a poll taken of its readers, 47% of the people believe world relations would change under Senator Obama and 13% believe they will stay the same. The other, well you do the math, the others think relations will improve with Senator McCain. El Pais indicates that this reflects other European countries' opinions, including Germany, Bulgaria, France, Holland, Italy, Poland, Portugal Romania and Turkey.
None of my friends I have spoken to since my return seem too impressed with Ms. Palin either. While we are known for our appalling lack of knowledge of the geography of the world, (me included which I readily admit), apparently Ms. Palin's assertion that she had foreign policy experience because Russia was near Alaska provoked ruckus laughter which could be heard all over Europe. And El Pais reflects this sentiment. In this same article in their edition dated September 11, 2008, a straw poll vote indicated that 58% of its readers thought Ms. Palin was not a good choice for John McCain. Only 4% were undecided on the issue. An article by Antonio Cano reports that there is a suspicion Palin may get the feminist vote as Obama is accused of being sexist.
I cannot think of one Spanish person, including the local cab drivers, who doesn't have an opinion on this election. I pride myself on my fine Spanish Andalucian accent, but as soon as they found out I was American, these loquacious drivers opined about the up-coming U.S. election and their desire for Obama to win. And again, El Pais is reflective of my experience. The paper reflects that 80% of the Spanish people want Senator Obama to win.
To the Europeans I know, America is still a great nation but it's teetering on the edge. A lot of respect has been lost for our country in the last 8 years. The war in Iraq still provokes outrage, and many Europeans see the McCain administration as a continuation of the policies that led to this war. In addition, while I was there this summer, Marbella experienced a gas crisis where there was no gas for nearly a week as the truckers who deliver went on strike. While of course irate at their own government, many that I know see a connection between these events and the current administration in America.
One British friend, Deb told me that "the British opinion is always, I am generalizing here of course, that American politics concentrates too much on the glitz and glam." This may be sage advice we should heed. These are perilous times and it is critical that we pay attention to the facts and what the candidates are actually saying, and not be taken in by the "glitz and glam" my friend spoke about. The whole world is depending on us.
This week OffTheBus is publishing a variety of stories that cover the presidential election from an international perspective.