Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Democracy in America Part I: Absentee Ballot Blues

I'm a nervous wreck on American presidential election nights.  I've been this way ever since I moved away from the West Coast and lost the luxury of going to sleep relatively certain of the outcome.  It was already bad in Boston, where I was forced to go to bed before the states in the West could be called. I remember too well a restless election night in 2000 which turned into weeks of hand-wringing.  Not even PST would have saved me that strife, of course, but anyway. Now I live in Paris.  And now election night is much, much worse.

I doubt that I'll offend or surprise my extensive (!) blog readership by admitting that I'm an ardent Democrat.  One of the things I most love about being an expat is the tacit assumption that everyone around me is an Obama supporter, too.  Obama is popular in Europe, widely seen as the face of reasonableness in a country of baffling extremes.  Since the mainstream right in France is actually to the left of the Democratic Party on many issues, most everyone here can relate to him politically, at least when he's compared to a Bush or a Romney.  Consequently I feel like I can speak my mind here, and I do... maybe more than I should.

At work today I was an anxious mess, pontificating by the coffee machine (in retrospect, maybe coffee wasn't such a good idea today), grumbling at my desk.  All conversations with me led to the election.  My colleagues were amused, or indifferent, or irritated, but they were also remarkably patient.  The two that accompanied me on a run at lunch let me drag them at a sustained pace on the route through the forest, the one with steep hills that I thought would help me work through the stress. While we ran I went on and on about politics, both American and French.  I actually stopped at one point to scream at the trees.

I don't know why I still have such a desperate and visceral response to the American election since I now live removed from most of its direct consequences.  I already enjoy universal health care, after all.  Education, defense spending, tax rates in the US: these aren't my issues; not now, and not within the next four years.  Although I don't rule it out, I doubt I'll ever move back home.

"I don't know why I care, after all, it's not like it affects me," I told my boss today, trying to play it cool after he flippantly predicted a Romney victory.

"Now you're wrong there," he assured me swiftly and seriously.  It's true: the American president has an influence on the world so great that I almost regard it as unfair that citizens of other countries don't get to weigh in.  I freely admit it's a ridiculous thought, but consider the impact of a president that denies climate change, for example.  What can a country like France, or even all the countries of the EU, do to counterbalance (y'know, hypothetically) an American veto of the Kyoto Agreement?  Just think of the US as a giant swing state in the global electoral college.

I personally do get to vote, of course, by absentee ballot in my former state of residence, Massachusetts.   I mailed it in a few weeks ago.   That done, I now get to try to let go.  Maybe think instead of François Hollande and how uninvested I am in French politics.  That's the bizarre thing, you see.  I'm now a French citizen as well as an American one, and I'm proud to be able to vote here, so much so that I am loath to miss a single election.  Yet here I'm a swing voter, that odd creature that I never have understood in an American context.  I voted for Hollande, after making up my mind definitively in the last weeks before the election.  I like him.  But he's not my man.

Right now I'm hiding in the bedroom because my husband is channel surfing for election news and there's nowhere else in our apartment where I can escape the tyranny of CNN.   To him (though he loves the US deeply) it's just a spectator sport.  To me it's a desperate battle for the future.  I'm going to bed now and I'll try to fall asleep, reminding myself that thankfully we're both probably wrong.


hush said...

Congrats to President Obama, and thank god!!! And congrats to your new Senator, Elizabeth Warren. ;)

Lisa F. said...

Hope you had fun waking up to the good news!

oilandgarlic said...

Maybe you still feel invested in the election outcome because the U.S. is still "home" in many ways -- I noticed that you wrote "move back home" with home referring to the U.S.

The U.S. does affect the world, although the European as a union is certainly pretty powerful now, as is China.

I was pretty nervous about the results and I'm on the west coast!

Claudia said...

It's been tense here as well. You express my sentiments nearly exactly.
I also can freely state that I'm pro Obama (though I looked into 3rd party candidates after I'd mailed my ballot, and wish I'd voted for Jill Stein).
I will always be American, if I never have an address there again. That's all there is to it.

Parisienne Mais Presque said...

@hush: Thank you! I was thrilled to be able to vote for Warren, since Massachusetts always goes overwhelmingly Democratic for president, I was happy my vote did make a real difference this time.

@Lisa F.: I woke up to Romney's concession speech, which was not a bad way to wake up after only 5 hours of sleep!

@Oilandgarlic and @Claudia: yeah, it always will be home, in a complicated sense! So I'm very happy to see things in what I consider good hands for the next four years. :)

caramama said...

When I studies abroad, it was when Bill Clinton was president. I guess because of that and my political left leaning, I didn't realize that Europe was more on the liberal side until this election. It's been eye opening for me to realize that and how much other countries cared about our election.

I think calling it a "swing" country is a great analogy! In fact, my husband was saying that Florida is such an important swing state because it's like a microcosm of the US.

Anyway, I'm glad Obama won. So yea!