Tuesday, November 11, 2008


It's been quite a week, what with two elections and all.

First, unless you've been hiding in the crawl space for the last week, you'll be aware that America did indeed elect Barack Obama to be the next president of the United States. I went out on Sunday night with a few friends and posted some hand-made Obama signs around town (see pic). Come Monday morning and most of the signs had been torn down but there are still a few up here and there a week later. Tuesday night was rather fantastic, and Obama's acceptance speech was really uplifting (in contrast to that of John Key's). I went to a party and there was a lot of drinking and cheering to be had, and some crying. Honestly, in the circles I move in, had Obama not won I don't know what would have happened. I think there might have been real despair, and it's finally nice to live in an America that at least seems like it wants to live up to its ideals.

Incidentally, when I switched my phone service over to Comcast today I had quite a good conversation with the operator who, despite being a Tennessee football fan, was happy to talk politics. He wanted to know what New Zealanders made of the election and I said, I think the World has fallen in love with America again. He really liked that, and I could tell he was proud to hear that.

Of course, Obama has a lot of work to do. It's easy to like the man: he's intelligent, young, hopeful, etc. I'd like to point out that he's smart. Did I mention that? He has created a lot of expectations but I do think he will do a good job.

And, yes, I must mention the NZ election, which NPR told me had gone to National when I woke up on Saturday morning. The reporter seemed genuinely surprised that NZ had ousted Labour and, what's more, puzzled with John Key. I'm disappointed because I've lived in a right-wing governed country for the last seven years and I've seen what I believe are the really bad side of right-wing social economics: users pays, expensive health care, underfunded public education, to name a few things. That's the direction that NZ once again finds itself moving in. I hope that National is moderate in its governance.

Russell Brown, of Public Address fame, wrote quite a good column leading up to the election about how this Labour government will be looked on favourably in the years to come and I think this is true. Helen Clark did a good job, a very good job. It's sad to see her go.

I won't finish on a down note, though. The Alabama Crimson Tide is ranked #1 in the country for football and we're going to the SEC championship. They beat LSU this weekend in Overtime. My heart can't take this.

Saturday, November 1, 2008


It would be remiss of me not to mention the upcoming American election. To some it may seem funny but I have been here almost the entirety of George W. Bush's presidency. When I talk to people in New Zealand about New Zealand's election (Saturday, November 8th) I try to impress upon them the idea of what it's like to live in a country dominated by conservative and neo-conservative ideology. New Zealand seems to be moving right (in the way it moved left in 1999) but not for any real tangible reason. Certainly, the past three Labour-lead coalitions have had their moments, but for the most part I think Helen Clark has done a good job restoring many of the social values and economic fairness that was wiped away by the Labour government (1984-1990) and the National Government (1990-1999). It just seems, then, like New Zealand is tired and wants a change.

I have already voted, by the way, via post.

People wear politics in America on their sleeve or place it at the tip of their tongue whereas New Zealanders tend to treat politics in a much more private way. We just don't advertise what we think politically. Voting is a private, personal thing. I like this, in some ways. On the other hand, here politics is about engagement but the ideals of that engagement and debate have been merely turned into shout-a-thons lately.

I went to an Obama rally in Ohio about a month ago and had a thoroughly good time. I hope he gets elected, and if every person who could vote, votes and all of those votes are counted he will win. The problem is that not all those votes will get counted and not everyone will vote. Instead, there will be a fair amount of acrimony on both sides as voting day begins. In the last election, almost 2.5 million provisional votes weren't counted and given that Obama represents so many of these people expect to see similar numbers again.

It can come down to a discrepancy in addresses, no ID, no driver's license, and so on and so forth.

Also, keep in mind that America elects its president through the electoral college system, so we know, for example, that New York state and California will send all their votes to the college for a Democrat candidate, whereas Texas and the Southern states will send all their votes for the Republican candidate. In reality it comes down to a few number of "swing" states; those are the states whose population tends to switch allegiances from time to time. Thus, you should watch for the results in: Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida and Nevada. Further, Obama has made gains into traditionally non-Democrat states, so watch for: North Carolina, Colorado, Virgina, Missouri and New Mexico. Whoever wins needs 270 electoral college votes and each state gets a certain number of votes based on population.

I'm quietly confident Obama will win, but I don't doubt the resilience of the Republican party to tighten things in the last few days, or failing that, use whatever tactics possible to suppress the vote. This statement makes me sound like a cynic, but, hey, I was here in 2004.

Anyway, I hope Obama wins and Helen Clark forms a new coalition government.

Let me leave you with the quotable Winston Churchill who once said: "Show me a young Conservative and I'll show you someone with no heart. Show me an old Liberal and I'll show you someone with no brains."

Remember people this was the man that planned the Gallipoli campaign.