This campaign has been one of contrasts: in turn, it has been inspiring and frustrating, state-of-the art and archaic, exemplary and risible. President Obama's evolution from rallying idealism to cynical Republican-bashing is a tale of moral downfall fit for a Greek tragedy, and Romney's innumerable flip-flops are the despicable incarnation of politics as a series of business cycles. But this clash of extraordinary personalities and two diverging visions of America has still made for high and gripping drama.
All the world's media have offered their take on the race, from expert punditry to humorous talk-shows. At openDemocracy, we thought we’d ask old friends and new around the globe to describe how the election is looking from there. We can't thank all of our contributors enough for their magnificent response.
From five continents and over twenty countries, they have outlined a surprisingly homogenous view. Indeed, from Cuba to Greece, from India to Russia, all the way to Down Under, the verdict is simple: 'Obama bad, Romney worse'.
There is much consensus on what a massive disappointment the Obama presidency has proved to be – with former supporters from around the world realising that he has always been running for President of the US, and not of Europe, or the Middle East. But while this trend of disappointment is global, its reasons are mostly local: Cubans are frustrated by the maintenance of the embargo on the island, Kenyans are saddened by the fact that their most prominent 'son' didn't take the time to visit his father's country of origin, and the peoples of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya are still resentful of his administration's support for their ousted tyrants – contrasting with the grand declarations of the 2009 speech in Cairo.
All around the world, people concerned with the state of civil liberties stood powerless and disheartened as Obama failed to eliminate the more horrific elements of his predecessor's War on Terror, including Guantanamo, assassinations and the intensified use of lethal drones. The pressure of domestic politics as usual has led Obama to be referred to (half-jokingly) as America’s “greatest Republican president”. Where has that young idealist who promised to repair and remake the world, buttressed by the “power of millions of voices calling for change” disappeared to? - people wonder, across the globe. Unsurprisingly, some did not hesitate to call Romney and Obama "the two sides of a same coin" – whatever the outcome of the election, US politics and foreign policy will still be decided primarily by the same old vested interests and lobbies.
What still saves Obama in the eyes of most non-American followers of the election is his challenger, Mitt Romney: the projection of everything we think is wrong about US politics. How could the pure product of Corporate America, Mormonism and political dynasties stand for anything else than hardcore capitalism, religious interference with politics and inequality if he is elected today? For many – he is an opportunist who would do and is doing just about anything to be elected, with several recorded instances of backpedalling on, you know, trivial issues such as abortion or healthcare.
There are expressions of unease about his hawkish foreign policy statements regarding places such as Israel, China, or Latin America. In the Middle East, most notably, there are very serious concerns about the presence in Romney's team of experts who had previously been advisors to the last Republican tenant of the White House – since foreign policy has never been Mitt’s strong point, it’s all too likely he will hand over the reins of American exterior action to his neocon friends.
This extremely negative image of the Republican contender abroad accounts for what the Washington Post describes as a 'lag' between foreign perceptions and the race's actual dead heat. Until very recently, no one outside of the United States has seriously considered a Romney victory. A YouGov survey showed that if Europeans were to choose the next US president, Obama would win by a 9-to-1 ratio. Persuaded the election was a done deal, non-Americans didn't even bother to watch the race as closely as they did in 2008, e.g. in Spain or Greece , two countries where people probably have other things to worry about.
With many of our contributors appalled by the current state of American democracy - unprecedented political polarization, a nonsensical electoral system and the exclusion of certain minorities through perverse means - the 'world's most advanced democracy' is not as easy to believe in as it was four years ago. And finally, people are baffled by America's blatant inability to understand that the world is changing – and that the downfall of the US as a hegemon has become a realistic scenario in the long run.
China's once in a decade power transition is also scheduled to take place this November - a telling coincidence that has been picked out by several contributors - who argue that this is where we should be looking at to understand which way the world will be going next. They may have a point. There are times when the US candidates' vacuous declarations pass us by like a car with a dead motor sliding down a hill - backwards.
But in fairness, the Chinese transition is so arcane and secretive that it is still the preserve of a few experts (sinologists are the sovietologists of the twenty-first century), while the US big-budget, extravagant spectacle is hard to stay away from. No matter how indifferent or disappointed we may pretend to be, we're all going to be anxiously biting our nails tonight. Say what you want about their politics, those Americans still know how to put on a show.
This article concludes the 'How it looks from here' openDemocracy feature on the 2012 US elections. To visit these worldwide perspectives on the presidential race, click here.