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Friday, October 31, 2008

Halloween pictures! Maximal cuteness. (And I'm not talking about myself.)

Actually, I didn't post the pictures yet, I just needed a snazzy title to ensnare you in this post that is again about - uh, politics. Sorry.

The pictures will be up soon though. Go check.

This post is inspired by the global electoral college page from the economist magazine online. While an average poll in America might put Obama up 52-47 in the popular vote, and 350-190 in the electoral college, the economist's thought experiment imagines what would happen if, in addition to 150 million Americans (just assuming half of the country votes), another 3 billionish people from around the world were eligible to fill out a ballot on Nov. 4th? Doling out electoral college votes to other countries the way the Constitution apportions them to states, the result is apparently that 9,053 votes go to Obama and 185 go to McCain, so far. Of course, the only people whose votes are counted are people who can and want to go to the economist's website, so the sample is hardly accurate and the results aren't necessarily meaningful.

Nonetheless, the idea has fluttered across my mind more than a few times and kind of freaks me out. Recent years have brought on an ever-increasing need for nations to coordinate policies and actions - whether we're talking about military efforts, humanitarian aid campaigns, financial regulations, economic policies, or the rules of war. In all of these cases, we realize that each country, and America in particular, can have have huge effects on others, and that we need some way to monitor, mold, reduce, or offset such efforts. But what American action affects the rest of the world more than the choice of a president?

I'd be willing to bet that as a college-educated, upper-middle class white male, my future is relatively secure. (Not to mention the fact that if you speak English as a native language, regardless of your other qualifications, you can probably live your whole life without truly worrying about unemployment, if you're willing to travel.) Or at least that, no matter what goes wrong, it probably won't hurt me as much as it hurts anybody else. Immigration policy will surely affect any number of Mexican citizens more than it will me, and trade policy will help or hurt more Chinese or south-east Asians than I'm comfortable thinking about. Not to mention military policy. Of course, in principle all of this could be said about any country, since no single country contains a majority of the world's population within it. (India and China each have about 17% and 20%, respectively, and the US is next with a paltry 5.) But it's especially true of America, the influence and consumption of which are grossly disproportionate to its size.

So, what gives me the right to vote for the American president? If the idea is that some politician is supposed to represent me, why is it me that s/he should represent instead of someone that needs more help? In fact, the reasons I chose Obama over McCain are hardly related to self-interest in the first place. For one, I'm simply disgusted by McCain and Palin's social policies (in this arena, my above argument falls through, since surely an American abortion ban would a more likely affect me than it would any citizen of another country), religious affiliations, militant nationalist bravado, deceptive campaigning, tendency to appeal to people's basest instincts, and annoying speech habits. While those are all kind of personal things, they're only related to self-interest insofar as I'd be happy with someone I could respect being in office. The reason I prefer Obama to McCain is that he strikes me as more altruistic, more inclined to cooperate with other nations a little more, to think about what we do to them when we make whatever choices and decisions we do. He seems more cognizant that America is not really some great nation of great individuals with a great destiny, but rather, as all countries always have been and as they will all always be, a work in progress, only as good as the policies and lifestyles and lives of its citizens and representatives. Of course, this is all self-serving in the sense that playing nice now may pay off later, but that kind calculation doesn't really run through my mind when I think about whom to vote for.

So, to go back to my question, why me? Given that my voting is already an attempt to help out people other than myself, people I'll never meet living in places I'll never get to, why not skip the middleman (me) and just let one of them pull a lever somewhere? Just because I happened to be born in California? A hundred years ago, or even fifty, your birthplace was probably pretty highly correlated with the role of that country's government in your life. But what if that's no longer the case? Especially given the universalist tone of the Declaration of Independence - you know, unalienable rights, government by consent of the governed, etc - there seems to me to be, logistics aside, a compelling argument for letting people in other countries vote, considering that the status of being "governed" by any given government is pretty hard to pin down without the help of circular logic. Isn't it conceivable that someone in Iraq is more "governed" by the President than I am? Or at least that, in the rest of the world, any given 20 people are?

I realize that there are of course enormous logistical difficulties, as well as difficulties in deciding exactly who is so affected by American policy that they should be granted some share in directing it. But surely someone could have voiced the same worries in 1775, right?

Sorry for the rambling. I couldn't really figure out how to organize my thoughts.

Don't forget to look for super-cute halloween pictures!


Bob said...

the pictures are up... and they are super-cute.

Also, I'm in love with your kids' dinosaur comics. Brilliant!

Jamal said...

I'm not sure about your argument here. I think I would make a distinction between those who are affected by American policies and those who are governed by its laws. If we were to accept that those who are affected by a country's laws ought to be able to vote in that country's elections, it would follow that almost anyone should be able to vote in most any major country's elections, I would think. Moreover, even though one country's actions interrelate with other countries' decisions (as you said, wars now depending on alliances, etc.), it's still the citizens of that specific country that bear out that policy (meaning that in case of war, it is the soldiers of each specific country that decides to go to war who go, or in the case of a country giving financial aid, that country's tax money is used). Just my initial thoughts...

thesnowleopard said...

I think whenever someone votes, they should be required to produce a DC strip illustrating their rationale for voting for that particular politician.