Seeing the Election from Abroad
Good News for the World
Arriving in London in early August, I expected to see less about the U.S. election campaign in the British media than at home in Iowa. The amount of election campaign coverage, however, seemed almost as great here as in the United States.
I should have remembered how intensely interested Europeans are in American politics. As was endlessly proclaimed in the media, what the U.S. president does has a huge impact globally. The British, who prefer leaders who can speak in complete sentences, were immediately impressed with Barack Obama, although they consistently mispronounced his first name as "Bearick."
In contrast, veteran TV presenters at first had difficulty keeping a straight face when discussing Sarah Palin, although they became increasingly sober when they realized that some (many?) Americans prefer their candidates ignorant and ideological.
As the campaign season went on, British interest intensified and became more worried. Obama was everyone's favorite here, or if not, people wouldn't admit it. Yet there was concern that if Europe was too noisy about its preference for Obama, the American electorate might vote against him for that reason.
All of the TV organizations had extensive election night coverage, with many Brits glued to their TVs until the outcome was clear, about 3:30 a.m. London time.
I found it too stomach-churning to sit in front of the TV that long and went to bed, intending to get up at 6 a.m. to get the news. About 4 a.m., I was awakened by groups of people shouting in the streets: "Obama, Obama!" It was safe to get up.
After the election was certain, I went to my neighborhood newsagent and bought a copy of The Guardian. A picture of the triumphant Obama, now president-elect, graced the front page of this and every other newspaper that day. Placing the newspaper on the counter and carefully stacking my coins next to the photo of Obama, I said to my South Asian-born newsagent, "It is a good day today!"
"It is a good day for the world!" he replied. It was, of course, a common sentiment globally.
"Now perhaps it will be possible for the U.S. to become respected again," he concluded, smiling broadly.
Originally published as a web extra for The Grinnell Magazine, Spring 2009