Not That This Could Ever Happen, But …

An economics student in Portugal, who grew up in Angola, recently wrote to say he was disappointed that we’ve never written anything about Africa. He is right. But, I told him, in our upcoming N.Y. Times Magazine column (due out Nov. 5), there is a short but intriguing bit about the causes of civil war in African countries. He wrote back to say he’d check it out — and, in passing, he wrote that even in Europe, Asia, and South America, “people only care about what’s going on in the States.” So much so, he said, that “people even think everyone should have the right to choose the American president.”

Now that’s a fun scenario to think about, isn’t it — the American president being elected by the citizens of the world. Not that this could ever happen, of course, or should, but can you imagine how U.S. politics would change if voters around the world who are directly or indirectly influenced by U.S. policy had some kind of say in who was running the country?


IanM

I have a bugbear with the US Presidency - that's the way US Americans have a habit of refering to the post as "Leader of the Free World". To which my response is always "Why? No one in MY country voted for him". So perhaps, if they want to keep and use that title, they should be elected by the citizenry they claim title over...

reyitocazador

Please tell me your title is sarcastic. To wit: http://www.opensecrets.org/pacs/foreign.asp

Also, consider how much of our debt is owned by other nations, it's not that much of a stretch.

badger99

re: "leader of the free world". c'mon - it is not about claiming title over anyone. It is merely a scrap left over from the cold war era.

back on topic:
Remember during the last election when there was some big hew and cry about *foreigners* trying to influence the election? If memory serves, it was mostly British people writing to people in Ohio to tell them to vote for Kerry. Yeah - that really worked! pretty funny stuff.

I just found a link:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/uselections2004/story/0,13918,1326033,00.html

Jun Okumura

I know a certain US senator with presidential aspirations would apologize to a certain Indian-American citizen.

dpm

To be fair, other countries would have to give Americans a say in their running as well, especially when those countries have an effect (direct or indirect) on the U.S. Is France, Iran, or Japan ready to let Americans vote, or even to try to influence their elections?

Perhaps it would be better just to set up a separate, international assembly where countries could meet to hash out problems. We could set up a building in Manhattan, say, on the east side of Midtown ...

egretman

The joke that europeans should be allowed to vote for the US president is as old as the cold war. I remember hearing this at least as far back as the early 1980s.

Wouldn't it be a great test of the "Wisdom of the Crowd"?

Craig

I kind of agree with Leader of the Free World title. I mean, of all of the major industrialized democracies, the US is the only country on which the ENTIRE world is dependent. I mean, if the US just disappeared, all economies would crash (because they are some way or another linked to ours), the UN would collapse (25% of funding from US in addition to over $13B in other direct foreign aid), major advances in medicine, space exploration, higher education...all gone, North Korea and Iran would probably do something crazy, and all of the movies and TV shows would suck. Now, if the UK or Germany or Japan were to cease to exist, the world would definitely be shaken up, but civilization would continue.
And I am a liberal democrat and I do not support Bush, so please don't reply with something like: "that is just a conservative fascist speaking."

George S

What is interesting is that many non-Americans are more informed about the major political issues in the US than are many Americans, especially as it pertains to foreign affairs. Likewise, US-based MSM seldom provide politically neutral news and seldom give any real background on important events. Current Events, civics and US history are not priority subjects in the US education system.

On the other hand, I have met very few non-Americans who truly understand how our system of government works, especially the concept of checks and balances and the three independent branches of power. While the president is the most visible symbol of the US government, few people realize the power of Congress and the judiciary in directing US policy. Non-Americans being permitted to cast a vote only for president would therefore not influence US behavior quite as much as they apparently believe. An internationally-elected president might very well be completely ineffective in getting anything accomplished.

As for the appropriateness of the title 'Leader of the Free World', that is simply just a reality of life, evidenced by the fact that virtually every tyrant, dictator, terrorist and megalomaniac in power around the world count the US as their #1 enemy. You can tell a lot about a man by his enemies, they say, and it's probably true for nations as well. The biggest danger to world peace is not that the US is considered the leader of the free world. It's the possibility that the US might decide one day that they don't want to be.

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brit

I've heard that idea before, too. It would certainly skew things. First of all, most foreigners probably wouldn't care so much about domestic issues (gay rights, healthcare, crime, taxes, etc - except to the extent that they affect the global economy), but would be much more interested in the foreign-policy issues (military spending, internationalist foreign policy, etc). Foreigners who think the US is behaving too aggressively would probably advocate a reduction in military spending to keep the US "in line". And some foreigners who resent the US might even vote for politicians that they think would harm the US. Chinese and Indian citizens might advocate massive outsourcing to their countries and keeping the US' imports tariff-free. It would also be an odd thing to have US tax dollars being controlled by people not in the country and who don't pay taxes. It wouldn't be surprising to see foreigners advocating lots of money towards foreign aid (either directly or through the UN) - leading to a situation where US citizens feel angry and powerless over their tax dollars being controlled by foreigners, for the benefit of foreigners.

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Gaijin51

reyitocazador: "Also, consider how much of our debt is owned by other nations, it's not that much of a stretch."

As long as the US has the biggest economy and the biggest military, foreigners will never really be able to tell us what to do just because they hold our bonds. Besides, when a person has a huge debt that they cannot pay, who's problem is that really? The debtor's or the creditor's? What if the debtor is bigger and stronger than the creditor? Say we defaulted. What would they do about that? Sure, they would stop buying our bonds, but that would only mean that Amercans would finally have to start buying American-made goods again. It could revive the US manufacturing sector. We have these huge trade and fiscal deficits because foreigners especially in Asia want to sell us goods and not buy our goods by devaluing their own currency. If they ever want their money back, they have to let their currencies rise in value.

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miladyinsanity

There was a tongue-in-cheek Time magazine essay a few months back, I think, in which the writer suggested that voters around the world be allowed to take part in the US presidential elections.

alexpearce

just imagine the TV advertising budgets! greater than GDP of a small country!!

cisne

I've heard that old complaint about Europeans knowing more about the issues than Americans do more times than I can count, but I really haven't found it to be true in my own experience. Some Europeans are better informed than many Americans, but just as many, in my experience, are far less informed. When I lived in Spain, I seemed to know just as much about current issues in Spain as anyone, and more about the European Union and the rest of the world. I distinctly recall trying to explain the English-Irish history of conflict in response to a music video, or trying to explain why we won't just overthrow Bush and remove him from office. In Scotland, I had a discussion with a St. Andrews student in which she was clearly unaware that she was living in the E.U! On the other hand, I certainly do know many, many, incredibly ignorant Americans. I'm thinking it's probably roughly the same in all countries. Some people are very informed, and they are the people who are most likely to come to your attention when you are in Europe (or elsewhere) but there's a fair amount of ignorance and apathy wherever you go.

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jreifler

It would make the electoral college even more interesting.

yorik

Is this to imply that other countries do not attempt to influence our elections? I suspect there's a lot of political advertising being paid for by foreigners, whether it's illegal or not. Of course, I have no data on that whatsoever.

IanM

I have a bugbear with the US Presidency - that's the way US Americans have a habit of refering to the post as "Leader of the Free World". To which my response is always "Why? No one in MY country voted for him". So perhaps, if they want to keep and use that title, they should be elected by the citizenry they claim title over...

reyitocazador

Please tell me your title is sarcastic. To wit: http://www.opensecrets.org/pacs/foreign.asp

Also, consider how much of our debt is owned by other nations, it's not that much of a stretch.

badger99

re: "leader of the free world". c'mon - it is not about claiming title over anyone. It is merely a scrap left over from the cold war era.

back on topic:
Remember during the last election when there was some big hew and cry about *foreigners* trying to influence the election? If memory serves, it was mostly British people writing to people in Ohio to tell them to vote for Kerry. Yeah - that really worked! pretty funny stuff.

I just found a link:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/uselections2004/story/0,13918,1326033,00.html

Jun Okumura

I know a certain US senator with presidential aspirations would apologize to a certain Indian-American citizen.

dpm

To be fair, other countries would have to give Americans a say in their running as well, especially when those countries have an effect (direct or indirect) on the U.S. Is France, Iran, or Japan ready to let Americans vote, or even to try to influence their elections?

Perhaps it would be better just to set up a separate, international assembly where countries could meet to hash out problems. We could set up a building in Manhattan, say, on the east side of Midtown ...