March 6, 2008

Presidential Politics

At least once a day I get an email, SMS, or forwarded article about the US Presidential Election. For all who know me and my love of politics, there is both a sense of immense excitement in everyone’s messages and a nearly equal amount of awe that I’m “missing it all.”

The truth is that I calculated this trip so I would be away specifically during the primaries. I knew it was going to be crazy, and I wanted to step back and gain some perspective. Although I could have never anticipated it would be as crazy as it’s been, being on the outside looking in has been incredibly interesting.

For one, it’s much easier to see all the media bias. South African newspapers don’t believe America is capable of electing a woman or black man, so they’ve placed their bets on John McCain, “the old white man” as they say. (This coming from a country whose likely next President, ANC-Chair Jacob Zuma, faces charges of corruption, fraud, money laundering and racketeering. Not to mention he has four wives and eighteen children and is likely to marry a fifth soon.) The New York Times, on the other hand, clearly loves Barack. I used to think it was just the op-ed page, but now I see it pretty much everywhere. Part of that is Obama’s charm, part is the public perception of Hillary’s lack thereof. And part of it, from a true objective (and well documented) perspective is that the media has never exactly been friendly to Hillary.

As for my thoughts on the race - honestly, I don’t know. Every day, every poll, and every (generally useless) pundit brings in a new frame on what this race is about. More interesting to me than those reports are the stories I’m hearing. My twenty-two year old younger brother, for example, recently told me he’s become a Hillary fan. A self-proclaimed moderate who consistently disagrees with my progressive views, particularly when I wax poetic about women in politics, I was a little surprised.

“What brought you to that conclusion?”

“She really seems to have her act together, and I think she can get stuff done.”


“Yeah, but I can’t really tell anyone, because as a young person if you’re not a Obama supporter it’s sort of like you’re a traitor.”


Politics is rarely polite dinner conversation, but it’s much more unique for it to have infiltrated the social lives of America’s college age set.

This brought me to my second thought from SA – the surge of young people in politics this election cycle. I spent the last two presidential elections talking to tens of thousands of young people about why voting is important. The overwhelming apathy was resounding, no matter what cool new free stuff I was giving away. But with the right inspiration and the right candidate, a lot of that has seemed to change. Young people simply wanted someone who speaks to them. Makes sense.

And I am thrilled that young people are engaged and inspired, but I’m also a little bit worried, because I’m not sure it’s sustainable. Not all elections can be historic (In fact, local elections, which affect one’s day-to-day life most, are the LEAST historic. They’re down right boring.) And all candidates simply will not have the oratory skill of Barack, Bill or JFK. (Again, when’s the last time your Senator, Governor, or Mayor got you excited about something?) It is true that we expect the most from our Presidents, and to some degree they have a duty to inspire, but I feel like we’re all tuning in to watch Michael Jordan on the court without having a clue as to how the game of basketball is played.

So as I sit and watch the show from a continent on the other side of the world, I am both thrilled and frightened by the excitement of this year’s primaries. Everyone is plugged in like it’s the Super Bowl, but what happens when the game ends and the real work of governing has to begin? Will anyone stay tuned?

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