Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Proud American in Deutschland

Two years of anticipation, analysis and debate with friends in class, at parties and in the badlands. Hours spent reading opinion columns debating racism in blue-collar, white America. Sleep lost watching talking heads discuss experience and rhetoric.

The day has come. I can say "I voted for President Barack Obama."

Coupled with that statement I can now say "I am an Ohioan" without needing to duck my head from German, French, Kenyan or Britsh fists. I almost got thrown out of a cab in London for the way my state voted in 2004. The global community did not agree with America's (and Ohio's) choice. If I had a regret about going to Germany (beyond being away from loved ones for a year) it was that I would miss the battle for Ohio, the opportunity to volunteer for a candidate I believe can deliver on his campaign promises and the chance to meet the candidates in person.

Now I just wish I could be at home, celebrating this moment with people who have hungered for it as long as I have. The scale of the historical moment is mind-blowing.

This year, the world was firmly behind President-elect Obama. Here is a map put together my The Economist of how the world would vote if there was a global electoral college. Obama has a global mandate.

However, I don't believe international opinion should determine the United States' national governance. The politics of the United States is too idiosyncratic for citizens of other countries with different political systems to fully understand, informed solely by local media outlets.

Explaining that "fiscal conservative" in the States is the same as "economic liberal" to the rest of the world is always a blast. Especially auf Deutsch. Explaining the history of the Electoral College is a perennial favorite of many an ex-pat. There's also a lot of verbage necessary to explain why McCain had support at all. German coverage wasn't exactly balanced. Obama is a fascinating figure and was discussed far more frequently than his rival who was generally seen as George W. Bush, end of story. The "Maverick" brand didn't make it across the pond, I think because it required knowledge of how the legislature functions in the United States and what it means to be willing to "cross party lines." I don't know how many Germans would actually be able to discuss the policy issues that separated the candidates.

Germans were absolutely knowledgeable about Senator McCain's running-mate. Many didn't know who Obama's running-mate was. Again, Palin is a more fascinating figure. But she is an example of stereotypical America (to the international community). For many of the students and faculty I talked to, she represented the America that let them down in 2004, that charged into Iraq without international support, that continues to fixate on social issues such as abortion and gay marriage - issues that haven't seen the European political spotlight in fifty years. And, most importantly, she seemed utterly ignorant of the fact there was a world beyond the borders of The Union. To Palin America is the only country worth discussing. Naturally, this doesn't play well to an international audience.

Yesterday I had to deal with the frustration of the 6 hour time delay. I was awake hours before the polls even opened and had to wait patiently for information to finally start pouring in around midnight. I started the evening at a Cuban bar with a group of graduate students from the institute. I was a little leery of going to a place called "Havana" on election day, but decided the opportunity to mingle with Germans the day before the elections, shoring up my credentials as a supporter of the candidate they favored, was more important than trade embargoes. Plus they served a drink called "Ernest Hemingway." Naturlich the "Obama" shirt I was wearing sparked a great deal of conversation and anticipation for what was going on on the other side of the Atlantic.

I left to continue working on my NSF proposal and statements, but was distracted by checking every news outlet I could type into my address bar. I then joined Felix, a German student living on my floor who lived in Virginia for the last year, to watch the results slowly accumulate into the wee hours of the morning. I wanted to enjoy the American democratic process with traditional American cuisine, so on the way back to the dorm I picked up Budweiser, the Czech lager, not the American (turns out no American beer is imported to the grocery store near my house), Pringles and chicken wings.

Around 4 AM Ohio rolled in and Obama's lead climbed. Then Florida. Then it was bed-time. I awoke at 8:30 to make sure nothing catastrophic had happened while I slept. I was greeted by headline after headline declaring the victory of Barack Obama while detailing the historical scale of this moment.

Thank you Americans for voting. Thank you for showing American democracy is a peaceful process where political rivals trust the people's final decision. Thank you for showing that we are a country that cherishes innovation and doesn't get bogged down in the trivial issues of race, religion or gender (unless you're a political commentator).

Finally, thank you for helping me avoid the physical harm that might have befallen me in the streets of Bonn if things had gone differently.

So excited. So proud.

God bless America.


EvolutionaryBiologist said...

I hope that you got to watch the two speeches that happened while you were sleeping. At our election party (with blue cake) we discussed how the man on the stage sounded a lot more like pre-campaign John McCain (who we all like a whole lot better). It was really, really nice. I just wanted to make sure you had seen those, since they were both very well done.

Matt said...

I've actually watched each of them twice. For some reason I can't watch SNL in Germany any more, but the Obama and McCain YouTube Channels are still up. I agree. Both speeches were wonderful. I'm just bummed I missed out on the blue cake.