Just after I moved to Germany from Canada 26 years ago, Ronald Regan sent in American troops to Grenada. My parents who live(d) in Grenada happened to be visiting me in Germany at the time. In the days after the Americans landed, we were desperate to find out what was happening back at home. The American newspapers were proclaiming victory in their “intervention”. The British, French and German papers were affronted by the lack of propriety of the American “invasion”. Very few people were listening to the Grenadian points of view. It was difficult to know what was true or not.
Living through this experience made me realise, a) how tainted or biased the media is by political agenda, b) how confusing it is for concerned citizens to formulate our own opinions when hearing or reading so many conflicting points of view, and c) yet, in the end, I believe it is very important for us to make up our own minds about what is true. For the truth is a matter of vantage point or personal perspective, and not something absolute.
When Ronni asked us all to write about topics concerning the up-and-coming American election, I thought immediately about writing how the media in Germany is presenting the presidential election. But, after a few failed attempts, I realise I can really only write about how I am experiencing the election from afar. In some ways this experience is like that which I experienced long ago: wading through oceans of biased reporting, listening to conflicting points of view, and eventually believing in something new.
It might surprise many Americans to know just how interested Europeans are in politics overall and specifically in American politics. Even though there was countless media coverage on the judiciary debacle in Florida during the 2000 election, and puzzlement over Bush’s re-election in 2004, this year’s election is not so much about the American electoral system, it is about Obama. What interests the media is whether the American people will elect this intelligent, informed, and articulate politician who promises change, or his opponent who just gives lip service to it. I am not personally sure whether this is what European citizens are most concerned with. It's perhaps an over simplification of a more complex situation.
To understand the discrepancy between the information the media presents and the viewpoints of the citizens, take the example of Obama’s speech in Berlin. As much as the press would like to say that people came to hear Obama speak because they think he is a rock star. It just is not so. They are curious about his so-called rock star status, but they travelled from far and wide to hear him speak about history, politics, and his vision for America. Is it so hard to believe that hundreds of thousands of people are interested in such matters?
In Europe they do things like gather in masses. Just a few weeks ago, millions of people came to London to celebrate Mandela’s birthday. Yes, they came for the festivities, but they also came to honour and celebrate history, politics, and Mandela’s vision.
In the end, I don’t know if Obama will be elected. The American electoral system is too confusing to understand and the American voters too volatile to predict. There is also the question whether Obama and his party can live up to the promises he makes even if elected. One thing that I am convinced though, he has already made change. He has shown the Old World cynics in Europe that the American Dream is still alive. Who would have thought three years ago… that Obama could win the primaries, that a political underdog would refuse funding from lobbyists, that so many young citizens would stand up to be heard, and that Internet technology content could fuel such a lively global debate?
I’m optimistic that this change will continue. I believe it will create other changes, not only in American politics and government, but also in the politics and governments of other countries as well. And for this belief I am thankful, in part, to Obama, but more so to people like Ronni and other bloggers who have opened my eyes to new facets of your political culture.