Election, American style

Election, American style

I love American elections. Every aspect of them. The spin, the manoevering, the PR, the coverage, the political humour (Daily Show, Colbert Report and Fox News), the candidates, the campaigns, the lot. I’ve been following this political election since before people were saying “Barack who?”, and when most ‘commentators’ reckoned it would be a straight fight between Rudy and Hillary. Boy, they got that one wrong.

We have a lot of coverage in the UK but, not surprisingly, once in the US it’s wall-to-wall and in your face. There are 65 channels on the TV in my hotel room. Last night I went through them in one sweep and found 21, at the same time, with some kind of election coverage, news, opinion or comment. Add on that the newspapers, other media, and the posters, stickers and signs. Which are everywhere, and range from hippy lefty stuff (below) through to right wing stuff, and libertarian stuff (which seems to be “We don’t need any government whatsoever”).

More bumper stickers

There was one key moment in this election campaign when things went from fifth gear to hyper-turbo drive in terms of opinion, publicity and comment – it’s the moment when Sarah Palin was announced as the Republican VP pick. And it’s been interesting that talk (many conversations) between four random strangers thrown together at meal times has always been civilised and respectful about the politics and election, even when you have staunch Republicans and Democrats at the same table.

Until SP comes up in conversation…

Example. Breakfast on Monday morning on the train consisted of me, a friendly typical 50-something cowboy (18 stone, hat, big white moustach, “Howdy”) and a timid-looking older lady, similar to the stereotypical bun-of-white-hair image of librarians that isn’t actually true. Me and Mr Cowboy got talking. It was going fine until Mr Cowboy made a comment about Sarah Palin being “real smart” and having much more foreign experience than Obama and Biden.

Mouse-like women next to me practically spits out her omelette and states SHE IS AN INSULT TO ALL INTELLIGENT WOMEN in a voice that could be heard several carriages away. Mr Cowboy, spotting the butter knife she’s now holding in a stabbing action, rapidly backtracks and declared he was an Independent who voted for Kerry in 2004. At this point, the announcer blurbled that we were pulling into Whitefish, so I left them to it.After listening to a lot of people, reading and watching the coverage, I’ve come to my own conclusion. The Republicans are basically the playground bullies, who like to shove other people around and steal their dinner money. The Democrats are the school geeks; smarter but wimps when it comes to one-on-one battles. That’s a massive generalisation, I know. I’ve met several quite reasonable and friendly Republicans.

Obama '08

…though I do note that the one occasion I got an unfriendly welcome was when I wandered, out of curiosity, into a Republican party county office, to be met by an unsmiling assistant who asked me “Are you a commie?”. I remembered then that I was, by coincidence, wearing my Che Guevera t-shirt (oops), and I probably compounded any faux pas by saying the first thing that came into my head. Which was “No, I’m with the Woolwich.” (My head is full of junk pop music and tv ads from the 80’s and 90’s). I exited, which was a really good idea.

Librarians may play a key role in this election. Eh? Well, take a look at how many qualified or certified librarians there are in the US. The American Library Association has 65,000 members alone, and that’s only a small fraction of them. In 2000, there was some anti-Gore feelings in the library sector due to the censorship ethos of Tipper Gore. This time, I haven’t yet found a Republican-leaning librarian, an issue not helped for them by the book censorship controversy of Ms Palin. If there’s one sure-fire way to really piss off massive numbers of librarians it’s to start messing with censorship in libraries.

Street stall

One thing I like about the US Presidential election is that they get to choose the top guy. Twice in the last two decades, we in the UK have ended up with a Prime Minister who we didn’t vote for. Hmph. Another thing is that it isn’t just the President and VP who are being voted for. Far from it. The dazzling array of signs for court judge, police super, airport board, fire dept controller, just about every position of tax-payer funded authority, the residents get to vote on. Which leads to signs everywhere across the country; it’s common to come across a major road intersection and see a dozen or more signs for candidates. Though I’ve yet to see one for “Head Librarian”. Wouldn’t that be so cool, if we could have elections to determine who was in charge of local libraries? Or even University libraries :-)

Vote for me! And me!

Local candidates don’t just confine themselves to signs. Turn on local TV and the ad spots are taken by very local candidates slagging each other off, in professionally made commercials. I’ve already got a rough feel of the main issues between the competing local candidates here, which is bizarre. It would be like, in the Outer Hebrides, members of the Comhairle running TV ads bashing each other come election time. Which, bearing in mind the current bout of in-fighting, I’m surprised some haven’t tried yet.  As well as being able to vote for all manner of people, you can also vote on propositions. These are on all manner of things, such as whether to fund public swimming pools in a particular county, do various things with parks, or even determine whether same-sex couples have the right to marry in California. Again, various TV ads from coalitions of supporters or detractors fill the airwave.

Meanwhile, back in Britain, we have … sod all in the way of referendum. I’m still waiting for this vote on the Euro/EU they’ve been talking about for years. It would be interesting in the Outer Hebrides if we had “What do you want to spend the money on” propositions that we could vote on e.g. “Do you want X percent of local taxation spent on Gaelic preservation and the arts, or on building five new schools?” That would let the councillors off the hook and force the issue onto the residents/taxpayers – which may be a good thing? More on who will win, here in the US, in a few days.

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