All the world has a stake in the U.S. presidential election, but only U.S. citizens can vote. You don't have to be a citizen to have an opinion, however, and non-Americans are expressing their preferences in the race like never before.
'It's not good to interfere in another country's election'
For example, Russian President Vladimir Putin has come out in favor of George W. Bush, which was a bit of a shock to me, but not so much to anybody else because the news of Putin's Bush endorsement barely got reported. If it had gotten any notice, a lot of our patriot ancestors would be rolling over and over in their graves at the very thought of a Russian leader -- any foreign leader, but especially a Russian one -- trying to influence our election, let alone publicly endorsing a candidate.
It's a wonder the dearly departed aren't spinning faster than a campaign spokesperson over another foreign leader's support of Bush, but this one got even less coverage than Putin's plug for Bush: Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi pulled off a classic flip-flop when he endorsed Bush, then retracted that endorsement. "I don't want to interfere with another country's election," he said in announcing his support for Bush; when he retracted that statement days later, he explained that "It's not good to interfere in another country's election."
The readers of the British newspaper The Guardian, on the other hand, tend to support John F. Kerry: hundreds of them have written personal letters to undeclared voters in Clark County, Ohio, making the best case they can for the Democratic candidate. While those letters from strangers may influence some, they also might backfire. One woman who received such a letter was apprehensive. "Is this really a letter from a guy in England, or is it from a terrorist?" she told the Dayton Daily News. Yes, Guardian readers, that's the level of xenophobia we're dealing with. (Note to Ohioans: xenophobia means "fear of foreigners," not fear of the southwestern Ohio tornado-target town of Xenia.) The same recipient told the same newspaper that she had already voted for Kerry, however, so that particular letter didn't cost him a vote. Another recipient quoted in The Village Voice did not appreciate the missive: "Keep your f***in' Limey hands off our election. Hey, s**theads, remember the Revolutionary War? Remember the War of 1812? We didn't want you or your politics here. That's why we kicked your asses out." (Asterisks mine.) Presumably, that particular expletive aficionado is extremely elderly, as the events of nearly 230 years ago are still fresh in his or her mind. The foulmouthed voter may not be keeping up with more current news, and thus may be unaware that Britain is our ally and has been for some time. And he or she surely hasn't heard about Putin's throwing his weight behind Bush, or Koizumi's support-yet-nonsupport for the incumbent.
Meanwhile, residents of 8 out of 10 countries surveyed by a consortium of newspapers strongly support Kerry. People in Canada, France, Britain, Spain, Japan, South Korea, Australia, and Mexico, were staunchly behind Kerry, with only Russians and Israelis in the Bush camp.
An average of 57 percent of those polled in every country but Russia (they weren't asked) said their opinion of the United States had worsened in the past two to three years. Mr. Koizumi notwithstanding, That breaks down to 74 percent of Japanese, 70 percent of French, 67 percent of South Koreans, 64 percent of Canadian and 60 percent of Spanish respondents said they had a worse opinion of America now than two to three years ago.
Israelis, however, said their view of our country had improved in that same period.
When asked about their view of Americans, as opposed to our government, 68 percent said they had a favorable opinion of us.
(Note: the following paragraph is only about American citizens.)
Contrary to rumor, neither Australian-born media magnate Ruport Murdoch (#43 on the Forbes list of the world's richest people) nor Hungarian-born philosopher-philanthropist George Soros (#54) is a foreigner. Both are naturalized U.S. citizens, with all the rights and perquisites appertaining thereto, just like governors Arnold Schwarzenegger of California and Jennifer Granholm of Michigan. As a descendant of some of the people who fought to establish this nation, let me point out that although they are not eligible for the presidency, naturalized citizens have as much right to participate in our country's political process as anybody else, even if they just got their citizenship recently, like the newly-American Muslim woman who told reporters in South Jersey last week that she can't wait to vote. My family has been here since before 1713, hers just arrived, and we each get one vote. I have contributed money to the political process -- $100 to Howard Dean's campaign -- a tiny fraction of the money Soros is spending (more than $18 million), which in turn is small change compared to the money right-wing billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife (#514) has given to various conservative causes -- $600 million as of 1999, much of it spent in an attempt to destroy President Bill Clinton. All of the aforementioned are citizens and get to vote exactly as many times as I do. Due to the Electoral College, our votes won't count equally, but that's another matter for another day.
(And that was the paragraph about American citizens.)
Other foreigners who might hope to influence our election include the Chinese, according to Spain's El Mundo newspaper, which reports that Saudi Osama bin Laden is living there and that representatives of the U.S. and possibly other countries are secretly (not anymore) negotiating with China on the matter.
Then there's The Rev. Sun Myung Moon, a South Korean citizen who owns the Washington Times and the once-respected United Press International, a longtime friend of the Bush family who has literally, and inexplicably, been crowned by a bunch of U.S. congressmen.
Not all foreigners have stated their preferences, which allows us to guess. Do you suppose the Saudis, whose U.S. ambassador is nicknamed "Bandar Bush," support the incumbent?
Any non-U.S. citizen can express a preference through a site called World-Vote.com, though proof of citizenship is apparently on the honor system.
Closer to (cyber)home, the Rocky Top Brigade has its own Damn Foreigner, a Canadian now living in Tennessee. Canadians, as you may or may not know, are significantly less likely than Americans to have Canadian flag patches on their backpacks when traveling overseas, because by now everybody is onto the trick of American travelers trying to pass for Canadian that way.
There's another group of foreigners interested in the U.S. presidential election, and all good citizens of any country are hoping they succeed in their task. They are the election observers, coming to our country just as we have gone to so many others to ensure that our election is free and fair.
posted by Janet Dagley Dagley @3:50 PM