Sunday, November 9, 2008

The times they are a changing...part 2

I wrote in my previous post about the Expat perspective on the lead up to the recent Presidential Elections in the USA, today I'd like to talk about Election day itself and the reactions here in Australia. With no further ado, here are my observations:

1. Several days before the election, nearly every Australian I spoke to asked me for my prediction on who would win the race and by what kind of majority. I personally always believed Obama would win. I know that's what the opinion polls said as well, but I was basing my belief on what happened here in Australia last year. Australians went to the polls a year ago to decide who would be the next Prime Minister of Australia. The incumbent was Prime Minister John Howard who had been in office for 12 years (there are no term limits here) representing Australia's Liberal party (here, the Liberals are actually ideologically conservative and would be the equivalent to the Republicans in the USA). Howard's opponent in the election was Kevin Rudd who represents the Australian Labour Party (think Democrats in the USA). In the previous two Federal Elections I've witnessed here in Australia, John Howard didn't have to blink an eye lash. He was easily and quite convincingly re-elected. Last year, however, was different. There was a growing sentiment here in Australia that it was time for a change. There was a great deal of disillusionment with the Iraq war and Australia's role in it. Many people were skeptical of the close relationship Howard had with George W. Bush. There were also environmental issues such as the non-signing of the Kyoto protocol and John Howard's reluctance to admit that climate change might actually exist. Rudd ran a very tight campaign and seemed to energise people in a way that former Labour candidates hadn't been able to. There was a feeling that Rudd could bring much needed change to Australia. He was leading in the polls going into the election, but not by a large amount. Most people thought it was going to be a tight one, but Howard would win in the end. That's not what happened. The Labour party won the majority of seats and John Howard actually lost his own seat in parliament. That's been virtually unheard of in previous elections here. The mandate for change here in Australia was overwhelming and the voters sent their message loud and clear. Several weeks after the election day, Kevin Rudd became Australia's Prime Minister.

Seeing the people here in Australia speak out for change after 12 years of the same party in power, gave me the belief that a similar thing would happen in the USA. So my theory was an Obama victory. I was confident in it.

2. Australia is about 16 hours ahead of the USA depending on where you are. We woke up on Wednesday morning as Tuesday was winding down in the USA. There weren't many poll results early in the morning. The Australian television networks generally began their election coverage at about 10am our time. The coverage was a mix of local coverage with Australian correspondents reporting live from the various locations in the USA and live feeds from the US Networks. One channel was feeding us CNN and another was broadcasting the American ABC network. Personally I was glued to my television and was constantly checking the Internet for updates as well.

I thought the Australian correspondents made some interesting observations about the election process in the USA. One reporter was commenting on the lengthy waiting times at the polls. They were reporting that in some places in the US people were waiting for several hours to vote. The reporter remarked that because the turn out is generally much lower in the US, the polling places simply weren't prepared for the numbers. Australians found this interesting because here in Australia, voting is compulsory. That means you HAVE to vote. Everyone must vote. If you don't vote and you can't supply a legitimate reason why you failed to do so, you'll be fined. Polling here is done on a Saturday so it's quite easy to get to the polls. The Handsome Australian tells me that in his experience, you generally just walk straight in--no waiting. The longest he can remember waiting in a line to vote is 20 minutes.

3. Another observation that I found humorous was an Australian correspondent who was covering Obama's supporters gathering in the park in Chicago. He was reporting live from the park before it had been announced that Obama had won. The crowd was buzzing with anticipation though and he remarked, "There is actually no alcohol being sold here tonight. This crowd is just excited." To which the Australian anchor here in Australia added, "It's just political ecstasy then?" Then they both had a laugh. I found it really odd that he felt the need to point out there was no alcohol there, but the more I thought about it, that would indeed seem unusual to an Australian. It goes against their nature to have a gathering that large where alcohol is not involved.

4. Once Obama was pronounced the winner of the election, my phone began to ring. Many of my Australian friends rang to congratulate me on my country's new president. They used words like, "momentous" "historic" "unbelievable" "proud" "impressed". It seemed most of them felt Obama was the right choice, but they weren't sure that Americans would actually elect him. I think they were quietly relieved.

My 4 year old daughter and I sat down to watch Obama's speech. I felt the need to impart to her the importance of such a historic moment in the history of my country and the world. My daughter is an American citizen too and this moment is now a part of her history. Little did I know my neighbours were sitting down with their children and doing exactly the same thing. My neighbours who are Australian citizens were sitting down with their children and trying to explain why this election in a far off country was so important and why this man, Barak Obama, was do different to all those before him. They related their stories to me when I saw them later that day and later in the week. I was astounded. I'm not sure people living within the USA can actually appreciate how closely the world watches all that happens there. If you didn't know better, you'd have thought it was the Australian President that was being elected.

5. On the whole, Australians have reacted very positively to the election of Barak Obama. I haven't come across anyone yet who has indicated otherwise. The Australian Prime Minister added his positive view of the election the following day by saying he plans to work closely with the Obama administration to maintain the close ties the two countries share. Several people here even commented to me that Obama's election has almost instantaneously changed the feelings people here have about America and Americans. It wasn't until Obama's win that I fully realised just how extremely unpopular the Bush Administration has been here in Australia and I'd dare say in the wider world too. I was reading an Associated Press article about an American Expat's perspective on the election (he lives in Austria) and it truly summed up how I felt here in Australia. He remarked, "Suddenly, it may be cool to be American again."

It will be many years before time will judge the performance of Barak Obama as president, but his mere election to the office of President has left a tremendous impression on the people here in Australia.


KLS said...

I am in awe that voting is mandatory there. And can't wait for my new T-shirt to arrive.

suzinoz said...

KLS-Nice shirt! Yeah, I'm mixed about the mandatory voting. In principle it seems like a good idea, but in my experience it isn't something people always put a lot of thought into--it's just another thing to do. I do think it's important for everyone to have a voice though.

Annelise said...

I thought the mandatory voting was interesting too. I am not sure how the States would even go about that and enforcing the payment of a fine. Seems like a good idea in theory but the uneducated vote scares the hell out of me.
Obama has the gift of beautiful speeches. The man can talk, and people want to listen. Even if you don't like the man you can't help but appreciate the way he says things. I do wish that McCain would have been able to communicate as well as he did in his concession speech. That man (McCain) truly loves America. And hopefully the people who hate him so will see how much he loves his country.
I would like to let the Australians know there has been no consumption of alcohol while typing this comment.

bw said...

I think you have it wrong about McCain. I don’t believe many people dislike him. The Gallup Poll showed that he was very well respected by a huge majority of our country. The choice, as made in this election, was not who people disliked or miss-trusted, but who shined the brightest light on the core problems facing our country and offered a reasonable plan to solve them. Certainly the ability to communicate this was a minimum requirement and coming across as honest and very bright certainly did not hurt. Those are three attributes that our country was starved for after the famine of the past eight years.

There were certainly efforts to discredit Obama and many voters cast their ballots against him based on these efforts or other discriminatory values. Almost none of this negativity was directed at McCain and it is not probable that any significant degree of negative voting took place against him. If he accumulated any negativity it was probably due to the low road that his campaign and the RNC chose to take in this election.

McCain did espouse the same trickle down economic theory that has failed the working class of this country for 20 of the last 24 years. This link with the past was perhaps his biggest downfall. That does not mean that he is not a good man who truly loves his country, just that his economic theory has not served the majority of the voters well in the past. Issues were the basis for his defeat, just as they should have been.

Obama won because the majority of the people of this country saw him as the best opportunity to improve their lot in life and as a protector for the future of their children. He also stood out as a breath of fresh air in a very smelly business.

suzinoz said...

Annelise--The Aussies will be disappointed about the alcohol consumption =)

bw--thanks for your perspective on the election