I do not advise citizens of other countries how to vote. It’s very bad manners. But there’s something very striking about viewing today’s US elections from outside that country: how few foreigners support the Republicans.
This is unsurprising amongst my own contacts and Facebook friends – they are largely Liberal Democrats, with the odd Labour supporter. In the US these would be well within the Democrat family, with an outlok that largely fits the American understanding of the term “liberal”, a dirty word to Republicans. But a number of opinion polls show that support for the Democrats is widespread right across the world. In this instance Britain is very much at one with the rest of Europe, rather than part of some Anglo-Saxon block that some Britons suppose exists.
It is not immediately obvious why this should be so. It is true that Republicans are generally more socially conservative that those outisde America, or those that are politically aware, anyway…but that really is the Americans’ own private business. Mitt Romney is a perfectly intelligent and plausible presidential candidate, when looked at objectively, with much much more experience in getting things done than has Barack Obama, in the public sphere as well as in business. Furthermore, the Republicans believe in strong U.S. armed forces, something that the rest of the world has been free-riding off for a long time, though we might not like to admit it.
So what’s the problem? Perhaps it is economics. The Republican attitude to the US financial state defies mathematics – to think that its massive fiscal deficit and national debt can be tackled without rasing taxes. But I’m not sure how much people in other countries understand this debate. Something deeper does lie behind it though: the belief that the state should provide a minimal social safety net if anything. The idea of a welfare state is pretty much consensus in Europe, so this is a clash. Republican Americans are convinced that Europe is a basket case as a result – though things look different to us. To the extent that we think about the US, we would worry about the breakdown of social cohesion as a proportion of the population gets stuck in an underclass. But I don’t know how troubled Europeans are about this really. And non-Europeans may well be more sympathetic to the Republican view on this.
I think there is soemthing bigger going on. We associate the Republicans with a particular world view that combines a sense that the US has a wider mission in the world with an almost wilful ignorance of what is actually going on. Many Americans feel that it has carte blanche to interfere in other countries’ affairs to protect their interests and advance their view of civilisation. But that does not seem to imply making any attempt to understand the complexities of what is happening in the rest of the world: simply dividing the world into good guys and bad guys. Everybody will have some example of how this paradox has led to injustice and suffering. It might be George Bush’s “War on Terror”, or the Iraq war and, especially, its aftermath. Or else it is an unquestioning support for Israeli government policies, on little more than the idea that they are “people like us”…a situation that is drawing the world ever closer to a war with Iran.
Democrats get credit for trying a bit harder to understand to understand and respect the rest of the world. Bill Clinton and Mr Obama stand in clear contrast to George Bush Junior. Mr Romney’s campaign has not reassured non-Americans that he is any better than Mr Bush – though I personally believe he is head and shoulders above him.
There is an asymmetry about all this. America appears on our TV screesn and cinemas every day. American news is world news. A lot of people outside America feel that they know about America, even if they actually know a lot less than they think. But it is not true the other way around. Few Americans seem to care about the world outside their country, except to the extent that it is a nest of vipers posing a threat to their wellbeing. Fewer still will care what the rest of the world thinks about their election.
And yes, I too hope that Mr Obama will win, though I’m not as scared as many are of Mr Romney. I also hope that the Democrats will hang on to the Senate, and do well in the House of Representatives. Except that a small part of me wants the Republicans to win all three elections, and so have nowhere to hide from the impossibility of their policies, so that a t last America can start to move on.