On Friday, I went to lunch with my work colleagues. One of them, a composer from Arizona now living in California, was talking about the upcoming elections. At the end of the conversation, he said “I wish you could vote”. I think he was commenting on my general intelligence and likeability factor.. 😉 … but also because there is a feeling in California that America’s next election is impending with no clear frontrunner. Perhaps there’s a general view that parts of the country are not educated about political things, and so should abstain from voting. In Australia there are certain minority groups (Pauline Hanson supporters!) that I wish were unable to exercise their rights, and I’m sure this does apply. But I think my friend was mainly lamenting the mudslinging matches night after night on television and radio.
Well, it is interesting for me to ponder. One huge, immediate difference I’ve noted is that in Australia everyone has to vote. We don’t have a choice – you either vote, or fork out a relatively expensive fee (over $100 last time Tim forgot, which was five years ago). And they have your address and all personal details, because, well … that’s the point of a government. While this could be considered a limit of one’s freedom to opt in or out, what it does do is ensure the selected government is representative of the majority of voting public at the time. In our last election, the vote was so close it almost toppled off into unmanageable chaos, but nevertheless, an unmanageable chaos every voting adult in the nation had caused.
Well, I gave my friend a couple of these thoughts on Friday, and then today had lunch with a Biola Professor of Intercultural Studies, who laughed with us about elections from her long-term experience of living in Eastern Europe and Asia. After talking to her, it was confirmed…
Americans, here are some reasons you do NOT want me to vote in the upcoming American election:
1) I refuse to demonize one politician over another. Let’s face it – we’re talking politicians, right? The people who attempt to use the media in order to sway your vote? … they are not always good, and, on the other side of the coin, they are not always evil. The media campaign before an election is actually pretty irrelevant to the job they will do. Perhaps my culture causes me to be cynical in this regard. I’m sorry, but we have more jokes about lying politicians than any other profession. I’m sure some do tell the truth, all the time. But the government has a vested interest in its own – and rightly so. I appreciate a stable dollar, and an increasing all ordinaries index. I have been told by a number of Christians in the last few weeks that Obama is the devil incarnate. I find this quite confusing, as it doesn’t seem to fit with the same theology they profess in the pulpit. Is not ALL humanity both sinful and redeemable? Let’s just take that as a foundation before we get to political debates.
2) I actually can’t see a correlation between religion, morality and governmental leadership. In this specific U.S. election, I see people on one side critiquing Obama for a particular stance on contraception, and other people down-casting Romney for being a Mormon.
In the first case, I think of the role of a government (looking after its people) and in particular, the hopeless inadequacy of governments to deal with sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV, chlamydia, and even genital warts, which are rampant among certain populations (married to a youth mentor I’ve witnessed a huge amount of devastation from STDs despite our continued stand for abstinence). Also, I have seen the social cost of unwanted pregnancies (heartbreaking!!) – and, in this day and age, most married Christian couples I know use contraception, so it seems very strange to object to its use only outside of marriage. Thirdly, I wonder how on earth a dispensing machine equals “forced contraception” – as claimed by a number of my Texan friends. I don’t know, I’m just an Antipodean from a large island, but forcing an institution to have a condom dispenser is to me is a long way from “forced contraception”, which seems to devalue the horrific accounts of those who have lived through forced sterilization in the United States. If my response lacks morality, so be it.
In the second case I mentioned, I see Christians divided on whether it matters that Romney is a Mormon or not. Well, I appreciate the sentiment – if someone shares your religion, they are more likely to represent it and you in the public sphere. The problem is that you can fake nominal religion. Every single Australian Prime Minister I can remember (until this one) has released pictures of themselves coming out of stone Anglican churches… which reminds me of the formation of this church – set up in order to allow Henry the Eighth the ability to divorce wives without having to chop off their heads. No, I’m not particularly worried about where the Prime Minister (or President) wants us to see him or her worshiping. The church was born under Roman oppression, and seems most vibrant, ironically, when under persecution. I think most liberal democracies are a long way from persecuting the church, so I’m pretty sure Mormon is fine. Ethical business practice, however, is a biblical theme I’d be looking for evidence of.
3) My PRIMARY objective is to vote for the best foreign policy. Why? Well (aside from my moral stance as a pacifist) because war is terrible for a nation. Development Studies books I’ve been reading show that conflict is one of the main reasons people end up in poverty – perhaps the worst possible evil that can befall a nation, yes, even worse than having a jerk in leadership for four or eight years. And war affects the poorest citizens most seriously. Perhaps it does provide an initial boost to the economy, but that stimulation is soon over.
In this day and age, the President (or, Prime Minister) is the most visible public representation of a nation. They are on the circuit, so to speak, giving a visual and cultural impression of everything that the nation stands for. Within a nuclear age, I would not be looking for someone who can defend their corner of the schoolyard. I would be looking for someone who has an invested interest in seeing our globe stay on its axis, and helping reverse environmental problems we’ve accumulated to this point. Just admit it, immigration is inevitable. So I’d prefer good systems of processing immigrants over big fences and shotguns. A policy that processes refugees humanely would be a great start. But I’m not for endless spending of money – so perhaps in return we could simultaneously cut back on military spending. The U.S., for example, spends more on military than the next eight countries combined (China, Russia, UK, France, Japan, Saudi Arabia, India and Germany). At this point it is pitted at $711 billion dollars a year of tax payer money. As a voting American, I would start with spending cuts. I would look for a candidate that displays an openness to work with Mexico to stabilize the regional economy – and reduce the crime and drug trade, which seems to be having a large impact upon California.
I’d be looking for a President who is aware of the perception of “what it means to be American”, and choose someone who is prepared to ensure that the government is not taking short cuts overseas by putting bases in countries that are not ecstatic about American presence. P.R. is a big deal inside America – well, I’d vote for a President who could use these skills to convince the Middle East that other Islamic factions are more of a threat than the West. I’d like a President who takes one for the team and eats snails with the French as though he is a pro, even if he despises them. He’d better also be into dog – I’d like to see pictures of him hugging as many Chinese diplomats as he can in his four year tenure. I’d want a bit of Southern charm – and I’d like it to correlate into an immediate positive response when I travel, or attempt to do business in another country.
See America – I told you that you wouldn’t like it if I could vote on your behalf…. but likewise, I am SO glad I don’t get to vote in your election as you go to the polls in less than a month. This has been a funny account of how an Australian would vote in your shoes – but what I do know is that I’m hoping and praying that you turn out with some knowledge of the policies of the candidates and vote with integrity – as if the world was watching. Because it is.