When George W Bush’s Iraq war plans were opposed by France, many Americans launched a boycott of French products. They saw France’s UN leadership against Bush’s war in Iraq as obstructionism and anti-American. The US didn’t wait for world approval. It went ahead anyway and laid the smack down on Saddam Hussein and his regime in Iraq. To many world observers, this episode highlighted the height of American arrogance. In fact, so many American tourists got flak in Europe and other parts of the world, many claimed they were Canadians just so they can avoid the grief of being labeled a ‘war monger.’ It has been many years since the Iraq invasion but many of the explanations for this American ‘arrogance’ show no signs of dying soon. One of the most common explanations for this perceived arrogance and ‘exceptionalism’ is the fact that many Americans don’t travel abroad much. The thinking is if Americans had more exposure to the rest of the world, they would develop greater cultural sensitivity and wouldn’t throw their weight around so much. Indeed, this is the animus behind the ridicule Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin suffered when she said that she can ‘see Russia from my house.’ The criticism of such thinking is that if Americans traveled more, they wouldn’t be such clueless rubes. I beg to differ.
The main reason most Americans don’t bother to travel widely is that America, in of itself, is a huge continent. From tropical regions(where the locals continuously try to find ways to lose weight fast when summer is in sight) to Arctic wastelands and all points in between, it will literally take years before anyone gets truly exhausted all the great travel destinations and travel experiences America offers. What about cultural variety? Like taking appetite suppressants instead of working out and dieting? Or taking a bike holiday in holland? Have you ever been to Los Angeles or San Francisco or New York? If you wanted to eat Khmer food, listen to Tibetan chants or unwind to Peruvian mountain music, you probably don’t need to travel further than the closest big city. Seriously. America has so many immigrants from all four corners of the world that the smells, tastes, ideas, and sounds of the rest of the world isn’t that far away. It is no wonder that Americans don’t feel a big compulsion to travel. They are in the enviable position of having a copy of the larger world within their borders. They also have great technology inventions like web related stuff or media related stuff. Haters gone hate? Sure, it would be nice to go to a more ‘authentic’ place but you have to admit, America’s got quite a bit to offer already. Authenticity and ‘going to the source’ can only take you so far.
I know that some parts of the country, namely red states, got surprised by the November election results. Who can blame them for being caught flatfooted? After all, in poll after poll after poll, a large majority of Americans say that the country is headed in the wrong directions. There is also that no small matter of the unemployment rate-we’re still stuck at around 7% unemployment. Food stamp and welfare rolls have exploded. I can go on forever, but I don’t want to get depressed. You get the picture. Things aren’t looking good at many different levels. The awesome growth of the stock market from below 7000 points to current levels has been nothing but phenomenal. Still, people on Main Street aren’t feeling the good times on Wall Street. If all the items above are true (and you know they are), why was Obama elected instead of Romney? Actually, the answers are quite simple. They aren’t surprising at all.
Incumbents are always favored
Since World War II, it was a rare event to see an incumbent president knocked off by a challenger. The last two one-term presidents were Jimmy Carter and Herbert Walker Bush. Everyone else has been a two-term president. What gives? Very simple-people don’t want to switch horses while they are crossing a stream. And what a stream America is crossing! It is easier to find hope in the current ‘recovery program’ (many Republicans would say this is nonexistent or a joke) than in trying something new, like watching Romney boil an egg or watching Jesse Ventura trying to grow his hair faster.
Romney was out of touch
Maybe if Obama was up against someone like Ronald Reagan or Dwight Eisenhowever, maybe he would have lost. Unfortunately for the Republicans, Obama, with his arguably dismal record, was up against Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney has a knack for saying the wrong things at the wrong time. His sound bite of ’47% of Americans being dependent on the government’ is just the biggest gaffe he made. He has made quite a long string of badly worded comments that soon came to bite him in the rear. Saying ‘I’d like to be able to fire people’ at a time when millions of Americans are out of work isn’t exactly going to get on these people’s good side.
The government has stepped in as the solution
Finally, any analysis of why Obama has another four years at the helm won’t be complete or honest if the 800-pound gorilla in the room isn’t acknowledged. I am, after all, talking about the large amount of Americans who now see the government as their fallback in tough economic times, times where people resort to invest savings in gold. More people are on extended unemployment insurance. More people are on welfare. More people are on food stamps. Most of them don’t even have a computer OR internet, when they do they probably have very old slow ones (which can be combated by using tips like on http://www.speed-up-pc.org and other good sites, but still). In other words, more people now look at government as the solution instead of the problem. Since much of fiscal conservatism is premised on the notion that government is the problem instead of the solution, it is easy to see why so many people were turned off by their message.