Miller, Manjari. "Call for the Vote." The Huffington Post. February 2, 2008. Accessed on February 4, 2008. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/manjari-miller/call-for-the-vote_b_84606.html
Along with the rest of America, I've been breathlessly following the caucuses. I cringed when Huckabee won Iowa, shrugged when Obama did, sniffed sympathetically with Hillary Clinton, cheered for McCain in New Hampshire and sorted out my mixed feelings over Romney's Michigan win. And no, I'm not an independent. In fact, I have no voice in the American presidential election at all. I'm not a US citizen. And yet, like millions of other non-Americans, most of whom do not even reside in this country, I care deeply and passionately about who the next commander-in-chief is going to be. This is, therefore, my formal request for the extension of universal adult franchise in the presidential elections of the self-titled global champion of democracy, to every non-American. In this age of American empire (albeit an empire in denial as Niall Ferguson famously put it), it is a call to separate US citizenship from the right to vote.
Admittedly, my dissatisfaction with my disenfranchised state was fostered on more petty grounds. I married an American citizen and promptly lost the benefits of a nifty Indo-US tax treaty which allowed me to save most of my graduate student fellowship. Thereafter, like clockwork every April, my husband and I engage in a battle of the taxes. Rebelliously muttering "no taxation without representation", I tout the advantages of tax evasion and just as strongly (and unreasonably), he insists on filing the entire details of our meagre income. But the domestic and foreign policies of the Bush administration post-9/11, the war in Afghanistan and Iraq, Guantanamo, have not only polarized Americans, they have starkly highlighted the incredible reach and the consequences of American power for a global audience. Suddenly, pax americana seems more real than just the tentacles of Hollywood culture, the evils of multinational (mostly American) companies and the general nuisance of having a sole busybody superpower around.
Growing up in India, Kenya and the UK, I was familiar with anti-US exasperation (and its paradoxical companion, anti-US envy), which is very different from today's discussions of anti-US hatred. The US always stuck its nose in where it didn't belong—this was a well-known fact. But you got over it—presidents like Bill Clinton for example, a thorn in India's side during his presidency, acquired the status of a superstar after his term. But it all changed post-9/11. The "with us or against us" slogan lent a menacing edge to that interference. Clearly, in the wrong hands, the hegemon unleashed could be terrifying. Sovereignty and individual rights now seemed violable—Iraq today, your country tomorrow. And the disquiet has only grown.
This explains why the other day I found myself in deep discussion with a friend about the candidates over lunch—he's not American either but is just as deeply concerned. An Israeli, he worries about the Middle East and the commitment of the candidates. And this is evident in the Christmas email that my husband's distant German cousin, living in a remote part of Germany, sent to my mother-in-law (outraging some of her more conservative relatives in the process): "we all look forward to 2008 when you will elect a new President. Will it be Hillary or Obama? Anyway it can't be worse than now. This President did so much damage in Europe and all over the world, and that takes time to heal." And it explains why newspapers and magazines all over the world are scrutinizing the US primaries down to the last detail. In the last elections, The Economist, a British magazine, declared it a choice between "the incompetent and the incoherent" and plaintively urged Americans to elect Kerry. The sense of outraged helplessness was and still is, palpable.
So here's a way to advertise America's benign intentions, floor the detractors and truly spread democracy around the globe. It's simple and it's brilliant. Give us non-Americans the vote. Keep every other benefit of citizenship. Every empire has held out lures to those it's governed. Under pax romana, citizenship was a reward to be doled out to individuals who met the criteria. Pax britannica held out the theoretical option of non-Britishers joining the powerful civil service. Pax americana has its coveted citizenship of course, but the country is constantly divided on the issue of immigration. Separate the vote as a tool of diplomacy, however, and in one stroke, you spread your core values, enhance your image and appease critics without stoking domestic fears of a huge influx of foreigners. And it would go a long way towards bringing back the days of happy exasperation. In the meanwhile, I will continue obsessing over elections news and attempting to swing my long-suffering and apolitical husband's vote in the right direction.