Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Watching the US election from Moscow

Coverage of Election Day in the USA today dominates the airwaves in Moscow. This morning, I saw a wonderfully detailed explanation of the Electoral College, and thought how much better served the American public would be by having the media provide such basic civic information than subject the public to the flatulence that passes for political discourse in the United States. There was a clear map & numbers to explain the system – which I’d venture about 10 percent of US citizens understand.

One of the stations also has been running little thumbnail biographies of both candidates. Not surprisingly, the bias is not too subtle toward Obama. Kremin may have been undecided earlier, but McCain has earned the steadfast enmity of the Russian government by his strident defense of Georgia this year. I’ve seen this segment on the candidates several times now. When was the last time you saw the US media present detailed information about the background of a Russian leader in the US media? You can say – “well, it’s not an open competitive political system” – but that does that mean that US citizens should be ignorant about these people?

(OK – Time magazine named Putin “Man of the Year” last year, and devoted the cover story to him. But in general, the US media do a horrible job of informing the US public about foreign affairs. Is it any wonder that US citizens were so easily duped by the Bush administration in so many areas?)

Of course, we get some equally silly commentary here – but perhaps it’s more amusing when it’s in a foreign language. Over breakfast, I listened to Zhirinovsky, for example. Yes, I have a strong stomach. (For those of you who don’t follow Russian politics, Zhirinovsky is a former presidential candidate and current member of the Duma, the Russian parliament. He enjoys his notoriety as an anti-Semitic and ultra-nationalistic racist.)

Zhirinovsky’s perspective: Obama will be the US version of Gorbachev, leading to the dismantling of the US empire. The Mexicans will flood over the border. The blacks will take control of the country.

While this might be the occasion for some glee on the part of US foes, I also detected some ambivalence in Zhirinovsky. For any real racist, the idea of a despised race coming to power has to be disturbing, even if this is occurring in a foreign country.

I thought about the racists in my own country. There are many. But Obama is winning the election on the pledge to change much in the country, and a majority of people in the country recognize that major changes are needed. (I forget the current percentage of how many people tell pollsters that the country is heading in the wrong direction. A sizeable majority has felt this way for years.) The problem is – getting the people to agree on the changes. Major changes are needed & major changes are needed. I have absolutely no reservation in stating that Obama is the right person for this job right now. It’s a historic opportunity, and I hope he can use it.

Tonight - I'm going to an election night party in Moscow. I expect mostly expat Americans- perhaps with some curious Russians mixed in. More on that tomorrow!