US Elections: Why they matter to me

US Presidential Ballot

Twelve years ago my political sap had just started rising. I was still at school, and I wasn’t old enough to vote, but Scotland had just established its own Parliament and I was starting to pay attention to what was going on in the world, and starting to have opinions on that. I no longer referred to the debates as ‘boring talking programmes’. I had watched Bill Clinton lie through his teeth about Monica Lewinsky, but I still believed that he was one of the good guys. I didn’t stay up to watch the election results, but over the coming weeks my vocabulary expanded to include terms like hanging chads, Electoral College and Supreme Court.

Eight years ago I was still at university. I had marched against the Iraq War; carried a placard and sat down in the street to sing angry songs about Bush and Cheney. On November 2nd, the student union secured a late license, and I stayed up all night with my friends, watching the results come in. At some point, someone mistakenly announced that Kerry had won Ohio, and we all cheered and jumped up, spilling our pints on each other. When it became clear that Bush was going to be elected again, we all cried, and slunk off home to sleep.

Four years ago, I was pregnant with DorkySon. During the primaries, my computer screen at work had been plastered with post it notes, keeping tallies of super delegates and highlighting key dates. I bought a Scotland for Obama t-shirt, large enough to cover my bump, and sat up all night, snuggled under blankets on the sofa. When Obama won I didn’t stop smiling for days.

This year – tonight – I will go to bed before the polls have even closed. But I care more about the result than I ever have before.

Here is why.

I believe in equality of opportunity. I think your ability to get a good education, to secure a job, to have food on your plate and to access healthcare should not be decided by how much money is in your parents’ bank account when you’re born.

I believe that when you look at how countries across the world have dealt with the economic crash, it is pretty clear that stimulus packages help the recovery, and austerity measures do not.

I believe in women’s rights and LGBT rights. I want my American friends who are women to have easy access to contraception, and if that contraception fails I want them to have a genuine choice about whether they have a child or a safe abortion. I want my American friends who are gay and who are in a partnership with someone they love as deeply as I love DorkyDad to have the opportunity to demonstrate that love by committing to each other in marriage.

I care very deeply about a lot of people who live in America. I care very deeply about a lot of people who live in other parts of the world too, and the results of today’s election will have a profound impact on many of them. I care about the people I met in Palestine who, despite what Mitt Romney thinks, desperately want to achieve peace. I care about the people in Greenland, who stood in front of me and asked why the world isn’t doing more to stop the ground from melting beneath their feet.

Like it or not, the choices of the US President have a bearing on the lives of people way beyond their geographical borders.

My husband is American. My son has an American passport. As he grows up I want him to feel as much American as he does Scottish, and I want that to be something he is proud of.

It is not out of the question that we will one day pack up our life in the UK and move it to the States. If we move to some small, sweet town in America, and DorkySon goes round to play at a friend’s house, I don’t want to be sat at home wondering if his friend’s father has remembered to lock his gun up securely. I want to know that if DorkySon falls over and smacks his chin off the pavement, I can take him to the emergency room to be stitched up rather than having to do a DIY job with superglue because we forgot to renew our health insurance. I want him to have friends with black skin and not feel like that’s an issue. I want him to feel he can practice any religion he likes, while also understanding that he has no right to impose the rules and beliefs of that religion on anyone else. If we are unlucky enough to ever be caught in a hurricane, I want his class teacher to explain how that happened using science, not ideology.

We have seen in the UK what happens when a right wing party is elected on the back of mild dissatisfaction with the more moderate alternative . Compassionate conservative. Vote blue go green. Hug a hoody and kiss a husky. Bullshit. Two years in power and the people that are hurting in this country are the vulnerable ones – the poor, the disabled, the young and the old. Equalities legislation is under threat, women’s rights are under threat, workers’ rights are under threat. All the safety nets provided by the state are being slashed into pieces and sold off to further fill corporate pockets.

The Republicans are the same – with a lot more more money and a lot more power – which means that electing them is an even more scary prospect.

I love America. I’ve been shocked by how much I love America, and how comfortable I have felt there. From the low country of South Carolina, where they queue round the block for Publix fried chicken, to the hipster bars of New York and the pine-covered mountains of Maine, I have never been made to feel anything other than welcome. It’s because I love it that I care so much.

Do I think that Barack Obama can single handedly shape America to be the place that I’ve imagined, where I can see myself making a home one day? Of course not. He has been disappointing and weak on many key issues. There have been times when I have been as angry with him as I was at times with Bush, perhaps even more so because my hopes were so high.  He has let the world down by showing no leadership on climate change, or Israeli settlements, or drone strikes – but goodness me he’s better than the alternative. He at least gives the impression that he has thought carefully about a decision before he makes it, sought alternative viewpoints, and tried to take into consideration how it will impact people other than his closest allies.

I don’t think Obama is perfect, but I think he is the only person can help America take faltering, fumbling baby steps towards being a fairer place, and right now I’ll settle for that.

Please, America. Please make the right decision today.

44 responses

  1. I would LOVE for America to keep Obama but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if ‘The Bad Man’ got in. It’s not a case of ‘It doesn’t affect me, it’s over there in the US’ because ultimately it will have some impact at some point in the our lives and out children’s. And for that point alone even those who claim not to give a flying fig about them really should.
    Beautiful post.

    • Someone used a great expression over on my Facebook page, which is that when American sneezes, we all catch a cold. I like to view it in a much more positive way though, because there are so many brilliant American attributes – how nice it would be if it could be a shining beacon of all that is good, and an example to those countries who don’t have such good records on things like human rights. Lead by example and you’ll be taken much more seriously x

  2. Such a passionate, well written and thoughtful post – really made me think, and reflect on how (ashamedly) politically apathetic I can be. Like you, I want Obama back in as well – the alternative doesn’t bear thinking about. I remember when Bush got in for a second term – that was so depressing ….

  3. Yes Ruth well said. We have led parrallel lives, I was once married to a Texan and I did a deree in American literture and studied american plituics as part of it. I also sadore the country and worked there for several years with people with learning disabilities. Equality of opportunity is vital for everyone and we should care about every person and every country you are right. I too stayed up all night and rejoiced at Obamas win. lets hope America keep caring and keep the Republicans out!

    • I love American literature! I accidentally did a module at university that was basically about cowboy books. It was called Western fictions, and I thought it was going to be all East/West, Orientalism, British colonialsm kinda stuff, but nope. It meant Western in the John Wayne sense. I would love to sit down with a glass of wine and natter to you about your days in the States sometime xx

  4. Man I hope we do too! I hope it’s encouraging to hear that all my liberal friends are getting out to vote even though it meant standing in an early voting line for two hours for a couple of them. (Ridiculous!) I’ll be taking my 6 week old babe to the polls to vote today. Hoping that my state sees through Romney’s lies and misleading ad campaigns and does the right thing. As an Ohioan, I cried and raged too when Bush was re elected. Here’s hoping we get it right this time.

  5. I care passionately about who wins this election. Ten years working in the City have ingrained in me how important this is, the impact the right or wrong person may have, not just financially, but in the tems of which you speak so eloquently. My step father was American. I worked in New York and Los Angeles. I think the people will return ‘the devil they know,’ which hugely undermines what Obama stands for, but is the ‘right thing, ultimately.’ Go America!

  6. Thanks for writing this wonderful piece, I feel the same way but couldn’t have put it into words like you have. President of the USA is a job with influence on so many countries in the world, yet the republican candidate doesn’t seem to know many other countries (how else can you explain his very basic geographical mishaps?). I am a german passport holder living in Scotland and really hope America will make the right decision and not fall for a man with a colgate smile and a hidden agenda.

  7. Yes, many thanks for writing this thought provoking piece. I lived in the US for over twenty years before moving to the UK several years ago with my husband and young family . I remember how euphoric we felt when Obama was elected four years ago and how thrilled we were that many people outside the US were rejoicing too. Unfortunately Obama has been disappointing and not always done the right thing e.g. renewing the tax cut for the rich. However, the alternative is very scary. Having see the damage that a Republican presidency can do, we need Obama to win.

    • Hopefully if he gets in for a second term, he’ll feel more able to take a stronger position on some of the issues where he has been weak in the first term. Thanks for your comment x

  8. Great piece, DorkyMum. It’s good to remind ourselves that the elections and politics in other countries does affect us. You have a more direct connection to what’s going in the U.S. but America is also a player on the world stage. I suppose one of the groups I get most frustrated with are Obama supporters who aren’t going to turn out and vote because they’re mad that he didn’t fulfill or live up to campaign promises. I understand people are mad about certain issues but that doesn’t take into account how devastating a Romney/Ryan team will be to the environment, to women’s rights, to the economy, to widening gap between rich and poor.

    • Oof too true. Loved your piece on HuffPost. It must be tough as an expat watching it all going on but not being able to participate in any of the campaign work. Hope you get some sleep tonight and are happy with the result tomorrow x

  9. Ruddy marvellous post, the best post I’ve read in a while – and I’ve read plenty of good ones. Let’s face it, anything / anyone is better than Mitt Romney taking leadership of the States and all that that entails. Unfortunately, I don’t feel wholly confident that Obama will get to keep the top seat. I have my fingers crossed that he will though.

    • Thanks for such a kind comment, really appreciate it. It’s going to be a tight one for sure, I’m not going to harm my blood pressure by staying up to watch x

  10. Ruth this is such a beautiful post, your passionate leaps out off the page. Obama has created a fairer America than the one he inherited 4 years ago. The progress on LGBT rights and healthcare being two major areas of progress. Although like you I am bitterly disappointed with his lack of leadership on climate change and continued drone strikes. A Romney presidency would see a return to hawkish extreme neo-liberal politics it would be a 3rd Bush administration in all but name. He has the same advisors as Bush and touts the same discredited economic policies which created the financial collapse. It has been shown that austerity doesn’t work and tax breaks for the rich and deregulation of business leads to the divide been the rich and the poor growing wider. For better or worse America currently lead the world and you know despite his faults I trust Barack Obama to make key decisions which generally put the interests of majority of people above those of corporations. With Romney there is no decision for him to make he only represents the interest of the elite and corporations.

  11. Brilliant post. A brilliant summation of the state of affairs in the US and at home. Here’s hoping we wake tomorrow to find Obama still at the helm and we can all breathe a sigh of relief.

  12. I spent years living and working in San Francisco and have lots of family in the US… Not sure if I’ll sleep tonight until I know Obama, with all his faults, is safely stil there. As a woman, Romney terrifies me. As a human being, Romney appalls me. Thank you for such a great post x

  13. Well, for us expats over here it’s all a bit tense. Seriously, I know I come from a “communist/socialist” country as far as Romney and his crew are concerned, but I can’t believe how far right this country has moved. Unfortunately, if you listen to a lot of his supporters, who claim that Obama is a Muslim (so what?) a heathen, an atheist, and a socialist all at the same time, they are uneducated politically and are simply driven by their need to get the black man out of the White House. At a recent Romney rally, a man was photographed wearing a t-shirt that read – “Put the white back in the White House.” I hope Romney is damn proud of his base, that’s all.

  14. Absolutely wonderful post, it summed up the convo I’ve been having with so many people over the last few days so much better than I could articulate.
    I was jumping for joy and went to work with a massive grin on my face this morning and I’m guessing you would have been grinning too!

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