Friday, November 7, 2008

The times they are a changing...

Unless you've been living in a cave, you are aware that this week, Americans went to the polls and elected their next President. I don't think there is anyone among us who wouldn't call this particular election campaign and subsequent result momentous, regardless of your personal political persuasion. During the last year as the primaries were settled, candidates were chosen, conventions held and elections anticipated, I've had the unique perspective of sitting on the outside and looking in. Witnessing this election as an Expat has made for a very interesting experience and it's one I'd like to share with you. What follows is a list of my personal observations during this historic period:

1. Even in the primary stages, there was a great deal of interest in the election process in the USA here in Australia. I think because the Democratic nomination was so hotly contested, it got lots of media coverage and people began to take an interest in this drawn out first stage of the nominating process. This is my second US Presidential campaign to witness as a resident here in Australia, and I can't remember people being that interested in the primary process during the 2004 election. I suppose in 2004, there was an incumbent to consider and on the whole it never looked like much of a contest. Even still, I was surprised at how much media coverage the primaries were given here considering it is the politics of another country we are talking about. In many cases, I think Australians were really keen to see who would get the nomination--would it be Hillary or would it be Barak? During this period, I fielded a lot of questions about the US political process and how the system works from friends and acquaintances. Australia's government is a parliamentary one based on the British system and is quite different to the way things are done in the USA. So people were curious. I did my best to explain it (I did study politics at Uni so at least I had the background). What I found during these conversations with people is that Australians generally have a pretty good handle on the major players in US politics. They also have a good knowledge of what's happened historically in the USA. If you are sitting in the USA reading this right now, ask yourself this--what are the two main Australian political parties? Who is the Australian Prime Minister? Can you answer those questions? I'd venture to say that 9 out of 10 Australians could answer those same questions as they relate to the USA.

2. Australian media outlets sent correspondents to cover the nominating conventions. Many of the major news outlets here had special coverage of events from the conventions. I don't recall seeing any live convention coverage, but there were certainly plenty of media packages being presented about the comings and goings of each party during the convention weeks. Here in Australia we were kept abreast of the election news as it became a two horse race finally. I feel confident in saying that similar coverage of a comparable political event in any country outside of the USA has never been given so much coverage within the USA as these conventions were given here in Australia--certainly not in the mainstream free to air television anyway.

3. As the election neared, it became important as an Expat to make sure you had requested an absentee ballot or that you were indeed registered to vote, etc. I'll confess, I've voted in every Presidential Election that's happened since I've been eligible to vote with the exception of 2004. At the time, I had never been abroad during a Presidential election before and so I didn't put a lot of forethought into getting an absentee ballot organised. Once I decided to look into the possibility, there wasn't much time left before the election and I found it difficult to work out how and where I was meant to request my ballot. It just seemed like a lot of red tape and contradicting information. In essence, I gave up. I wasn't really that fussed because in my opinion, the writing was on the wall and it was pretty obvious that Bush was going to be re-elected. This time however, was very different. When Hillary and Barak were fighting it out in the primaries back in April and May, I decided I should look into organising my ballot. Again, the media coverage here was such that it was always in the headlines and it served as a good reminder that I needed to organise myself early. So I did. It was the easiest thing ever. I did everything online and completed the process in less than 10 minutes. Before I knew it, I was receiving ballot materials from my state. I think the online processes have come a long way in four years. If memory serves, four years ago I was being asked to submit everything via fax. So thank goodness for the Internet.

The interesting thing about this is, my story is not unusual. Amongst many American expats I've spoken to or blogs I've read, their behaviours were very similar. Didn't bother getting ballots for 2004, thought about it, but never got there. This time was different though, they didn't want to miss out. They really wanted their voices to be heard. I think it's fair to say there was an electricity amongst the Expat community in regards to this race for president. I think people recognised whatever the outcome, history was in the making and they all wanted to be part of it. At least that's very much how I felt.

Stay tuned, this list will continue in tomorrow's post! See you then. In the meantime, please feel free to leave comments or questions you might have about the Election that I can answer from an Expat perspective if you are curious.


Nathalie said...

I don't remember (in my short life) Australians being so interested in a US election. I guess Bush has made decisions that have affected us all and we were keen to see if Americans would vote in someone who can right the wrongs. I do have a question though...a very superficial one at that ;-) One of our newsreaders said that Obama's Chief of Staff was the guy that the character of Josh Lyman was based on. Can that be true considering The West Wing was made quite a few years ago? I know, I know, I'm obsessed!!! :-) Any ideas?

Annelise said...

I am not leaving this question because we vary in our political views but because it was that I honestly have been considering and trying to decide what I think about it. Having said that, here is my question: Do you think that an Expat should have the right to vote in a country in which they never intend to live in again?
And try to reflect on this not from me asking whether you should be allowed to vote but one of should people be allowed to vote if they have chosen to make another country their permanent residence.
I have just been pondering that question a lot lately and I have not come in as to which way I lean on it. And frankly whatever I do finally decide won't change the world or the way things are done here in the U.S.A. It's just interesting. I am leaning toward if you choose to move to another country (on a permanent basis) you shouldn't have the right to vote because your choices don't have any impact on you personally yet you have a voice on how I should be impacted. Think about someone who moves to another country, adopts that country's beliefs (not Australia, somewhere that thinks the USA is Satan) and begins to vote in what is not in the best interest of the USA. Anyway, I am not trying to take your right to vote away. I know that you are an educated vote and everything you do is well thought out and wants what is good for the country. Something to ponder.

Sorry for the blog within your blog!

Oh, and I still have no photos of the little ones in costume!

suzinoz said...

Nathalie--Don't know about the Josh link. Will look into it for you.

Annelise--Like your thought provoking question. Will answer it in the coming days. As for Halooween photos..check your inbox.