Editorial: History from a distance

Last updated 05:00 08/11/2012
US election
VOTING: "The ability to make an individual choice to influence the future of one's country is a profound and inspiring thing."

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OPINION: Yesterday, as I watched my home country's political drama unfold from thousands of kilometres away, I wondered how Americans still manage to care so much about elections.

That's a cynical thought, but politics is an overtly cynical business. Together, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney's election campaigns and their supporters pumped about $US2.5 billion into the quest to put their man in office. The campaign process stretched into two years, and by its end, US residents were being inundated with relentless political advertisements, emails and telephone calls, playing on - and sometimes stoking - their fears about the nation's future.

It was a long, divisive campaign for a nation that's already got a lot of other things - a damaged economy, a recent natural disaster, years of war - to worry about.

The next administration would have to deal with all of that, of course. The choice of president has far-reaching implications for both the US and, yes, the world. But it seems almost incredible that voters can remain invested as the rhetoric becomes increasingly bitter and they slog through campaign fatigue.

And yet, scattered through my frenzied Election Day Twitter feed were messages from people proudly declaring they'd voted for the first time. News articles described prospective voters waiting in queues stretching down city blocks. A 21-year-old Chicago woman was en route to the hospital to give birth when she stopped to cast her ballot.

Election campaigns are inherently divisive, but somehow, some Americans still manage to feel connected through the process. To them the act of casting a ballot is the chance to be part of something important.

Four years ago, when Barack Obama was elected the 44th president of the United States, the streets of Washington, DC, erupted in celebration. I know because I was there.

A graduate student living in the District, I watched the live election coverage from my apartment, and when the results seemed certain I went out to see the city's reaction. I drove a meandering route through neighbourhoods, witnessed people rushing from their homes and embracing strangers, dancing, banging pots and pans together - even city sanitation workers flashing the headlights and blaring the horn of their garbage truck as they moved along their route.

Obama's election marked an important historical moment for the US, and his supporters were, in part, celebrating that. But they were also celebrating something personal - the small role they'd played, individually, in making that moment possible.

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The ability to make an individual choice to influence the future of one's country is a profound and inspiring thing, win or lose.

I don't know what it feels like to vote in a New Zealand election, but I hope it feels something like that.

Footnote: Megan Miller is a Timaru Herald journalist and an American who left her homeland for New Zealand a year ago. She voted from a distance in this election.

- The Timaru Herald

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