I’ve been lucky enough to spend much of the last two years in the USA. Five expeditions undertaken here, plus a 6th across the Pacific that ended in Hawaii. 3510 miles travelled down rivers, 2397 miles on roads and another 8 weeks off-journey. The best two years of my life.
I’d spent only 9 days in the USA on a snowboarding holiday as an 18 year-old before I pedalled across the border on a tandem bike for visit No. 2 in April 2011. I didn’t know what to expect.
My perceptions of America had been formed not entirely based on the productions of Hollywood but on the man at the top during my twenties. Naively, I see now, I felt much the same as the majority of non-Americans by imagining each citizen of the USA moulded as the man they chose to lead them. George W Bush was voted in not once but twice, and we simply couldn’t understand. Hearts around the world fell and, I’m sorry to say, respect for America and Americans dropped too. The man, and therefore his country, was a laughing stock.
I came to America last year full of stereotypical notions - still baffled at how the most powerful nation on the planet would elect a man so lacking in acumen and articulation. Of course, by the time I arrived a new President was in place, but the hangover from Dubya was always destined to scar the first term of any successor.
As the latest election approaches I realise that my interest is now far more than just as a global citizen mindful of the importance of the USA’s upcoming decision. I care about this country. Political affiliation, religious belief, choice of work and geographical location are simply factors that censuses use to define a population. In fact, we are all equal, we are all human, we are all essentially the same, no matter where we’re from.
Americans are generous, kind people. Active, passionate and sharing. They are funny, despite having had the sarcasm gene removed at birth. They are beautiful. They deserve to be regarded better by other nationalities and, without question, since Barack Obama was elected in 2008 the respect levels for America and its people have risen to new heights around the world.
It is arguable that any man truly capable of making a difference should not consider entering the political arena. These days it is a game, a media spectacle, a largely thankless task. The prolonged election period in the States is designed to entertain, not educate - the very opposite should be expected and, dare I say it, demanded by the public.
For the first time since it became an important global agenda, Climate Change (or the Climate Crisis, or Global Warming, whatever you fancy calling it) was not mentioned once in the three Presidential debates. It’s a hot potato here, simply talking about it is now considered to be a sure-fire way to lose skeptical voters, rather than woo them. The important issues seem to no longer matter when voting for the President.
Four years is but a flash in history and change doesn’t happen in a flash. We now live in a quick-headline, quick-text, quick-laugh, quick-everything era which dulls our perceptions of reality. The Bush regime created and left a mess (get a broom!), and for all the comparisons between Romney and George W Bush, Obama faces a struggle to get re-elected this year because he inherited a monster.
When one spends a great deal of time in a place, whether it’s kayaking on the surface of a local lake or river, working the farm, surfing the coastline, sitting in the local park or hiking the mountains; that place becomes your habitat. As you grow to know it, you grow to care for it.
I love America. I came here clean of a need to earn and wanted to experience the country purely; pedal its roads, paddle its rivers and meet its people. I’m so happy to say that gladly, during my recent travels, all my previous notions of the United States have been largely banished.
Off the back of this I have a deep desire to see the United States’ estimation rise around the world and based on this I was struck by foreboding upon learning that Mitt Romney had been selected to run for the highest office in the country. He made a fool of himself during his first campaign sojourn overseas, which ended with accusations of racism by Palestinians and derision in the UK over his Olympic criticism (Salt Lake City was a long time ago, Mitt). Should he be elected, global faith in the United States will decline rapidly. International sighs at a turning back of the clock have already begun, due to the fact that he is even in the running.
Forget the plan, the loose holes in the budget, the lack of foresight when throwing uneducated accusations across the table. Romney was a successful businessman and has a relatively clean slate in terms of personal faults on his character, but these don’t make him a leader. He certainly isn’t a talented diplomat, an essential skill required for the office he covets.
That wide-eyed look of fear we became so familiar with between 2001 and 2009, it’s back. It’s the face of a man who wants to lead the world but doesn’t have his own answer for the most simple of questions. But this is worse. Instead of pretending he didn’t hear the question, he lies his way through it, (here’s more!) blatantly, knowing that if he doesn’t break stride he’ll been seen as a good leader to those voters who require strength and not substance in return for their ink.
Wherever the election, I’ve often thought that I’d vote for the man I’d most like to have a dinner guest. Please, America, for for continued positive international relations, respect from allies around the globe and for the sake of your own future, ask President Obama to dinner for the second time. Otherwise it’s going to be a very awkward evening.