The US presidential elections are imminent; we tend to forget that US voters will also elect Congress: the House and a third of the Senate, and that any changes can be significant too.
Although I am not a US citizen, my mother’s side of my family are all Americans, and five of my seven children are American citizens (and will vote in November). I have passionately followed every one of the fourteen US presidential elections since the one that opposed John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon in 1960; this has sometimes meant spending long nights in Europe, waiting for the outcome. In a few cases there were landslides; in the forthcoming one I expect a long night because the race looks so close.
Comparing the page-space and airtime given to this election in the Spanish and European media, as compared with the last one, I dare to generalize that in Europe, and particularly in Spain, people are following the campaign with far less interest than they did in 2008. The reasons are obvious. First, the George W. Bush years had been disastrous for the US, leading to a steep decline in US power and influence in the world and to a terrible economic crisis. They also had an adverse impact on the state of the world generally, and there was a huge perceived difference between the possible course of events under the appealing, enthusiasm-creating Obama and the continuation of the same old Republican policies under McCain. In 2012, the novelty and energy that Obama and his supporters had displayed are gone, and there is some sense of disappointment, whether unfair or not, when Europeans and Spaniards compare those expectations with delivery and results – particularly on foreign policy. For instance, there is widespread resentment about President Obama having received the Nobel peace prize prematurely, based on speeches which were not followed up. Secondly the Obama years have produced a shift, noticed in Europe, in US interests: the centre of the world has moved from the Atlantic to the Pacific at a tremendous pace and Europe does not see itself as an overwhelming concern for the US. Our perception of that American disinterest may be fuelling a reciprocal reaction in Europe. Finally, Europe’s endogamy and self-centred vision has diverted its attention more and more towards its own problems. In 2008 the economic crisis had not yet hit Europe as severely as it has now – especially in the case of Spain – in 2012. The economic and social situation has deteriorated with a depth and magnitude never seen before.
While I think that my conclusions are true for many Europeans and certainly for Spaniards, they are not applicable to me. I think that there are very significant differences between Obama and Romney, and between Democrats and Republicans, both for the US and for the rest of the world. Although I feel a degree of disappointment with the Obama presidency, I put great responsibility on the Republican-led House of Representatives for a good part of the failures, and I think that any US President’s second term may improve compared to the first because one learns from past mistakes and perhaps chooses advisors more willing to tell unpleasant truths. And, although we may have moved from a unipolar world in 2000 to a multipolar one in 2012, who governs in the US remains an essential factor for all of us. Therefore, I am prepared for a long night of November 6, eagerly waiting for the outcome.
This article is part of the 'How it looks from here' openDemocracy feature on the 2012 US elections. For more worldwide perspectives on the presidential race, click here.