The US election approaches and, from across the pond, I am the proverbial mother whose daughter is out on her first date: I feel dread, apprehension and am overwhelmed by the urge to do something! but all that I can really do is sit in front of the television and wait it out, frantically wringing my clammy hands. And, frankly, it surprises me that this is not true of everyone: there are few people on Earth who will not be affected by the result at some point over the next four years.
The reason for my worry is one man – Mitt Romney – and the fact that the first pre-presidential debate went so well for him last week and he is a horrifically close 0.5% down in the polls. How on earth is it this close? From my small island viewpoint, I am simultaneously fascinated and horrified by these late stages of the US Presidential campaigns. Disclaimer: As will soon become clear, I am no political pundit, I merely speak as I find.
So, to start by speaking on behalf of the rest of the world (naturally), it seems that Mitt Romney represents all that alienates the rest of us from your great and powerful nation. To my mind, the heavy capitalist, air-polluting, Puritanical church nation that he and his brethren would both create and solidify is the dystopian equivalent of the heavy-set, fanny pack-wearing American tourist who chews gum and talks at incomprehensible volume in public foreign places, saying ‘Ann, the food looks much better back on the cruise ship’ whilst consciously or unconsciously insulting, alienating and misunderstanding all he sees. I can’t imagine that anyone wants to be represented in this way, except fellow fanny-pack-wearing tourists, perhaps, but given his ‘47% of Americans’ comments, I’m not sure he wants to represent many of them anyway. For the last four years, Obama has represented to me all of the smart, clever, kind Americans I’ve met, and liked, whereas Romney now reminds me of the type of loud American I, and many others, pretend not to speak English around, for embarrassment, when we’re abroad. But then the question is, if we don’t want to speak to Mitt, and he doesn’t want to speak to us, where does that leave international relations? I think we know the answer to this already.
This is a very reductionist summary I know, but at the root of it is ignorance, an inability to relate and his party’s bullish disregard for anyone’s voice than their own, which wouldn’t be quite so worrying if the US weren’t the most powerful country on earth. The majority of countries, one might forget, are dwarfed by the US in terms of pure square mileage, quantity and scope of resources, and cultural pervasiveness, and Mitt’s throwaway comments in London and Israel earlier this year show how ill-informed, callous and even dangerous his voice could be if given Presidential license to shout for four years over everyone else’s.
His foreign policy statements also make me very nervous. His website talks about the aim for ‘an American century’, based on ‘safeguard[ing] America and…our country’s interests and most cherished ideals’. So what am I to think, Mitt, not being American an’ all? This is not a century in which we, as the rest of the world, are considered? Or maybe the rest of us are just Americas waiting to happen? I foresee four possible years of lip service and photo ops with the pale warmth of patronisation, which then descends into pity and belligerence the moment the cameras turn away. Of course, I’m not talking to you from a war-torn, crippled third world nation, but if I were, I’d expect any help received from Mitt Romney’s government to be tantamount to forced Americanisation, with no thought for difference or the cultural respect necessary to get a country back to a healthier, more productive version of itself. Having seen and heard Mitt Romney a lot over the past couple of weeks, I severely doubt that he has the requisite amount of imagination to imagine being like anyone other than himself. A worry when he might soon have the nuclear codes, you might agree.
And then there’s the question of women under a potential new Republican government, which actually seems to be a veiled question of the link between religion and the United States’ government. I’m not anti-religion, but I am anti- the combination of church and state, and I have thousands of years of history and contemporary readings of Jezebel to reinforce this viewpoint. You, as a Side B reader, won’t need telling that the only beneficiaries of that type of union are the righteous, self-anointed men making the decisions, and the biggest losers are women, vilified as we are by religion in so many myriad and uncreative ways. Violence sanitised and sanctified by historical definition is violence still, of course, and to my eyes the changes in funding to Planned Parenthood, the limiting of access to abortion and contraception, plus the ‘Protect Life Act’ (HR 358) are just that. All this thinking about it makes my blood run cold, and I’m just about ready to charter a boat, high-tail it across the Atlantic and hang out off the American coast, ready to dole out contraception and safe gynaecological and obstetric advice should the moment come when that is the only way it’s available. Should the Republicans have their way, it seems to me that soon The Handmaid’s Tale might seem less of a stretch from reality; whether the world follows where America leads or not, no woman in the world benefits when other women start to lose the right to the control of their own bodies.
Interestingly, and as a point of comparison, the UK Health Secretary has very recently called for a reduction in the UK abortion time limit, making it twelve weeks rather than the current twenty-four. I have a feeling that this proposal would gain much more traction in the coming months if Romney were seen to be working to similar ends.
And that is, of course, why this election has me up at nights, and for a million more reasons besides. Logic would suggest that all those affected would get a vote, but, alas, in this case, no; the votes of the world’s population would take half a Presidential term to count and the other half to verify. I know, as a Side B reader, you’re going to vote for Obama anyway, but make sure you do: you’re doing it for more people than just yourself.