Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Polls Apart, America and the World

The world wants change
An international poll confirms what the US's Pilgrim founders first recognised - that the eyes of the world are on America

Ian Williams
guardian.co.uk, Friday October 17 2008 07.00 BST
Article history
So, after eight years of Blair and Brown toadying up to Bush, 65% of Brits want Barack Obama to win the presidential election, according to the Guardian's international poll published today, and only 15% are rooting for the McCain/Palin ticket – and one suspects that some of those would be voting for the racist BNP given half a chance, not least when the numbers indicate that Obama is only supported by the 54% of the lowest socio-economic class, whose neglect by New Labour has left many of them clutching at racist straws.

In every country, opinions of the US have declined to record levels over George Bush's two terms as president. One can understand why 75% of the French would think so, but what do you make of the Swiss, 86% of whom think so, even though not even the Republicans boycotted Helvetian cheese or cuckoo clocks?

The world is showing what it thinks of Sarah Palin and the Bushite know-nothings who have usurped McCain's campaign. So should Americans care? Of course, they should, but more pertinent is whether it could be a factor in the election. At this stage, it could well be important.

Except in times of war, when American foreign policy happens to the citizenry rather than to others, it is often assumed that presidential politics is all local. In fact, the president, as head of state, symbolises their country, and it is important for Americans how he (or, heaven help us at this present juncture, she) represents them.

While it would be easy to dismiss French gall as a natural, well Gallic, prejudice against the Anglo-Saxons, the opinions of close allies like Britain, Canada and the rest are certainly worth broadcasting, subtly, by the Obama campaign. After all, even John McCain has invoked the world's low regard for the US as an important issue.

An earlier poll this August showed that 78% of American voters also believe the United States is less respected by other countries than it has been in the past and that 80% of voters believe that working with major allies, and through international organizations, is a wiser strategy for achieving the US's international affairs goals.

The high international regard for Barack Obama is only a surprise for six-packing evangelist hockey moms like Sarah Palin. She keeps referring to the "City on a Hill" as her vision of America – a phrase she attributes to the Prophet Reagan. And her version is indeed Reaganesque: one of the reasons people used to build cities on hills was because their sewage would fall on the people downhill. The rich usually lived at the top and the poor at the bottom.

But of course the original was from a more distinguished prophet in his Sermon on the Mount, and its American form came through the Puritan divine John Winthrop. Now one may, with justice, consider the Pilgrims to be a dangerously bigoted cult, but they had "a decent respect for the opinions of mankind proper regard for the opinions of mankind."

Winthrop went on to say (somewhat optimistically, with the self-importance of a cult leader) that "the eies of all people are upon us; soe that if wee shall deale falsely with our god in this worke wee have undertaken and soe cause him to withdrawe his present help from us, wee shall be made a story and a byword through the world."

So, far from being a declaration of isolation and disregard for where the city's sewage flowed, Winthrop had a deep regard for the opinions of the rest of the world. The attitude of the freedom-frying Republicans flies not only in the face of their forgotten and erased history, but, happily, runs against the American voters, who do care what other people think about them and their leaders.

And for its part, the rest of the world will little note nor long remember what the candidates said in the debates, here. But it will never forget what the electorate does on November 4.

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