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A foreign view on American politics

Dominique Taylor

It’s funny being a foreigner in America around election time. For one I can’t vote because I am only a Green Card holder and not a citizen. I’m from New Zealand, which is also a democracy. I come from a fairly politically minded family where politics was an encouraged topic of conversation around the dinner table. I always voted because not voting was considered lazy, like not making your bed. Living in America at election time feels like I am looking in a window at a really juicy party that I am not invited to. The funny thing is most of my friends are invited to the party, but very few are showing up and I’m not sure why.

I usually get three main excuses when I ask about the lack of voter enthusiasm in the U.S. The most common excuse is that they don’t know enough about politics to vote and they don’t see how it will affect them – until it is too late. Knowing about politics is really just a matter of taking some time to find out what issues are out there that will affect you. In New Zealand I didn’t know everything about each party but I was interested in a clean environment. With that in mind I found out basically what the Green Party stood for and where the other parties stood on green issues. I also found out about any other issues that I knew related to me and I voted accordingly. It seems that information is easier to get in New Zealand than in the U.S.

People don’t want to talk about politics here, either, because they don’t want to offend each other. Ever hear the rule “Don’t talk politics or religion at a dinner party because someone will end up crying”? Sweet. There go the two most interesting topics of the night and our freedom of speech. Now we’ll just have to talk about an absent friend behind her or his back. The fact is talking about politics is one of the best ways to share information and find out about issues that relate to you. You never know when a good argument will lead to a change of opinion. Or just an opinion. In countries like Afghanistan and Iraq, people are fighting and dying for the right to talk politics and religion. Meanwhile Americans are not talking politics because they are afraid of offending someone. Is that really a mark of a successful democracy?

The second most common excuse I hear is that their vote is only one vote and won’t count. The whole point of democracy is that every vote counts. The only vote that doesn’t count is the vote not cast. That is why we vote for our next American Idol. In fact more of us vote for American Idol than for the President. Maybe if we ran a talent show for candidates more people would be interested in voting. I’d like to see George Bush’s trick.

The third most common excuse I hear is that they don’t like either the Republicans or the Democrats and a vote for the independent candidate is a wasted vote. If that is the case and it really is only a two-party system, then it isn’t a very good example of democracy and we have to wonder about exporting it to countries like Iraq.

Americans have only one more major political party than Iraq had to choose from under Saddam Hussein. Maybe it is time to consider a system like proportional representation where each party gets as many Congressional seats as it got votes.

Part of what makes countries like America and New Zealand so desirable to live in is our right to vote and our freedom to choose who makes decisions on our behalf. While neither New Zealand nor America’s political system is perfect, the alternatives are often much worse. What we don’t want to do is take democracy and our right to vote for granted because one day, while we are not voting, someone could get voted in who takes that right away from us. Then we may as well live in North Korea. Of course, the nice thing about living in a country like North Korea – no immigration issues. Something to consider. VT

E-mail comments about this column to dtaylor@vailtrail.com.


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