A more balanced look at the US election

Seattle Travel Blog

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Tuesday was amazing. The like of which I have never seen in America before. Everyone was full of nervous energy and perfect strangers were first partners in anticipation and then in celebration. I yelled myself hoarse with joy, and I was not alone.

It was certainly a big day for America. They repudiated the extremist policies of George Bush and John McCain and turned to an outstanding man, Barack Hussein Obama, for leadership. It was America's finest moment in forty years. But let's be completely honest - the bar has dropped pretty low over the last 40 years. America has been behind the rest of the developed world, and in fact has often dragged the rest of us backwards. The election of Barack Obama does not make America a leader again, it simply gives America a chance to catch up. The election of Barack Obama does not cancel out the mistakes made by George Bush, it simply allows America the opportunity to work towards forgiveness.

The result of the 2008 election was a huge win for progressive America. But the campaign showed just how sick America's electoral system is. The actual system itself is archaic, and desperately needs updating. But beyond the electoral oddities, the system is simply undemocratic. Just as a typical example, in Virginia state law requires one voting machine per 750 people. If each person takes only five minutes to vote, it would take 750 people three days to vote. Of course, Republican districts have far more voting machines than Democratic districts. Then we have dirty campaigning - not just telling lies about opponents, but telling lies about the electoral system, such as Republicans sending out fliers to college campuses telling them that due to the massive turnout expected, voting has been extended to two days, with Republicans voting on the 4th and Democrats voting on the 5th. This type of rubbish is beyond the rough and tumble of politics and reduces America to a pseudo-democracy.

And another thing - for a transformational election, one where America could finally turn out and vote against a President who allowed war, rape and torture and for a President who represented change, the turn-out was pathetic. There are 218 million eligible voters in America, after you count out the young, foreigners and felons. Yet only 130 million people turned out to vote on Tuesday. Sure, this was the most ever to vote in a American election (in absolute numbers), but still, it was only 59.6% of eligible voters. Among youths the turn-out was even worse, only 57.1%. This marginal increase was enough for America to move up from 35th out of 37 countries in voter turn-out, to 34th. Hardly a stunning increase, and still lower than Russia on a 61% average and well below Venezuela on 85%, let alone Australia, Malta, Austria, Belgium, Italy and Luxembourg at over 90%. Both Obama and McCain called Russia and Venezuela undemocratic. By what standard are they so much less democratic than the US? What more needs to happen for the American turn-out to reach the 85% Venezuela regularly manages? I mean seriously, here there were people offering to pick you up, drive you home and literally give you a free coffee and ice-cream into the bargain. All to do the bare minimum of duty a citizen owes their country.

Barack Obama will be a great leader, but even with an outstanding Democrat and an incumbent Republican who did more to destroy America than any terrorist, the election was only won because of the changing demographics of America. White America voted against Obama, 55% to 43%. Christian America also voted against Obama, 51% to 48% (and 54% to 45% among Protestants). It was only because of the growing proportion and hard work of Blacks (95%), Hispanics (67%), Asians (62%), Jews (78%), Muslims (89%) and atheists (75%) that Obama won. I hope Obama appreciates that. There were also significant failures on Tuesday. Alaska re-elected a convicted felon for Senator rather than elect a Democrat. Gay marriage was banned in Arizona (56% to 44%), Florida (62% to 38%) and, most distressingly, California (52% to 48%), while Arkansas banned gay or unmarried couples from adopting or fostering kids (57% to 43%). This was an election which took rights away from people based only on their sexuality, a complete disgrace in the 21st century.

Barack Obama is an amazing man. For him to become President with every institutional barrier in his way is astounding. It is progress for race relations in America, but it does not fix them. This does not magically solve the institutional racism in America. One vote will not eradicate the gap in illiteracy and life expectancy. America is going to need to continue to work hard, and Barack Obama will not solve America's problems by himself. Obama also has his flaws. He sees America with the same pair of deluded rose-coloured glasses that every other American President has. No Obama, America is not the only place where your story could take place. In fact, the chance of poor immigrants working their way up to wealth through hard work is lower in America than in Europe, Australia or New Zealand.

I was estatic with Obama's win on Tuesday. It was the most memorable and iconic day of my three years in America. I bought a copy of the Seattle PI on Wednesday and I will frame the front page to always savour that day. But pure joy and pure celebration is unbalanced in a world where Obama's achievement is so sweet because of just how low America has sunk.
the_bill says:
Overall, very well written Adrian. I think it should be pointed out that some of those numbers are based on exit polling of about 18,000 people according to CNN, so this only a very small sampling of those that voted. Exit polls are also flawed and often highly criticized for their ethics and accuracy.

Thanks Adrian!
Posted on: Nov 06, 2008
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