Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Rock the Vote!

I watched the 2004 returns in Prague, at a restaurant so packed with expatriates that the servers could hardly squeeze between the tables. The majority of my American friends (fulfilling stereotypes about young Americans who spend a year or two in Prague) had voted for Kerry, but were almost universally confident that Bush would to win. My foreign friends and students had obviously not voted, but were surprised by the results, and I spent a good part of the next week trying to answer the question: How had Bush been re-elected? None of the people who asked were experts on U.S. domestic policy--and neither was I, for that matter. But I did my best to explain. Mostly, I was surprised by their passionate response to the election.

The fact is, the rest of the world pays far more attention to U.S. politics than U.S. citizens pay to politics in any other country. I've been thinking about that today as the U.S. seems poised to elect a body of inward-focusing politicians. Novelty--and its implication of purity--and domestic growth have been major themes in many campaigns, which means that experience in foreign policy isn't exactly at the top of the agenda for many candidates.

The Economist, like many papers and pundits, argues that Americans are voting in anger. U.S. voters are hardly alone in their disappointment with President Obama. The Right thinks he's done too much. The Left thinks he's done too little. And just about everybody has observed his failure to match rhetorical strength with action. Politico claims that U.S. voters are sending a message to the President with their ballots today. But their message will travel beyond the White House and even beyond the U.S. border. But until the ballots are tallied and the new political line-up is revealed, it's unclear what that message will be.

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