The non-American’s guide to the 2012 US Presidential elections

The Presidents

Every four years a group of combatants, many of whom have trained their whole lives just for this moment, go toe-to-toe in a winner-take-all contest that bestows glory, if not necessarily honour, on the winner.

It’s not the Olympics. It’s much more ruthless than that. I’m talking about the 2012 US Presidential elections.

If you’re like me, you’ll be interested in what happens in the US. Even in the midst of an economic crisis, they’re still a world superpower and decisions taken there tend to have an impact around the world. It’s nice to know who’s in charge and therefore, what you might expect.

If you’re like me, you’re probably not fond of all the usual talking heads, whose coverage of the elections as is much about their media mogul status as it is about the facts.

I’m not an American, so I don’t need to know the minutiae of who-said-what at which town hall meeting. I just want to know what’s going on, have a laugh as I learn about it and generally speaking, cut through the crap.

So if you’re like me, you might want to check out So You Wanna Be America’s Next President? and if you’re in Australia (or have an IP mask), supplement that with ABC’s Planet America.

SYWBANP is published by a couple of Dutch guys. Though left leaning, there’s no intense skin-in-the-game agenda evident in their coverage. Their mission is to take a look at what’s going on and generally see the lighter side of America’s political olympics. Right now, all the activity is with the Republicans, so that where the coverage is focused (and where the laughs are coming from). The stranger the candidate, the better – and there are certainly some characters in this year’s race.

They not only cover the main players, they also introduce us to a few potential fringe dwellers, too. Perhaps a glimpse into America’s future. Today, for example, I learned about Governor Chris Christie from New Jersey, a potential Republican candidate in 2016 and a man who if his actual work is as accomplished as his oral skills, will make for an even more compelling Republican primary season in four years from now.

SYWBANP is also run by one of my former colleagues from Saab, which is how I found out about it.

Planet America has ABC News Radio’s John Barron playing straight man with The Chaser’s Chad Licciardello doing all the reality-based jokes. It’s on every Friday night and makes for some very informative viewing, often with some insightful special guests from both the US and Australia.

So, for the non-Americans who want to keep an eye on what’s going on there, check ’em out.

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  1. Mitt Romney making Cheesy Grits trend on Twitter and Steve Schmidt admitting that Palin was not prepared to be anywhere near the Oval Office.

    Yes – it was a great week in US politics. 🙂

    And now to much more important things – time for the season finale of The Walking Dead!

  2. Eagerly awaiting a brokered “brand R” convention where in the end we can say …

    … “All Hail Robot Nixon!”

    Yes. 15 minutes to the Talking Dead finale. Looks like more action and less soap opera tonight.

  3. I am a non-American living in America and I don’t follow any of it. Well, except when Santorum makes a fool of himself again.. If he becomes president, I’ll move to Canada or Australia!

    1. Well, I AM an American…and don’t follow any of it either. Not one person running from EITHER party who is worth their weight in dog poo.

      Pretty tragic that this is the best that either party can come up with. 🙁

      And, as for that nut-job Santorum being elected president…let me know which country you decide on…maybe we can book the same flight.

  4. I think it’s funny that well-meaning people vilify candidates for bold statements during the campaign, yet they criticize the government for not making changes. Wake up and smell the coffee! If you want change, you need to embrace some things that are going to offend a good number of people. That’s the way that change works.

    Wulf: If Obama is re-elected, I may move abroad, too. I’ve not yet decided.

  5. If Obama isn’t re-elected, I’m going to Canada or somewhere else sensible and civil.

  6. As an outsider, I’d be stunned if Obama isn’t re-elected. I’ll prepare a bed for you, Eggs.

    Santorum’s a little freaky, Newt’s insane and Romney’s not got the support in the South. All three are compromised and I can’t imagine any of them shining in a debate against Obama.

    But I’m just an outsider watching the cards falling from a long way away.

    1. Paul below is 100% on the mark — the margin for Obama the first time was very slim.

      If you talk to people that really vote, you will soon recognize that President Obama will be hard challenged at the least, and will very likely be defeated.

      I’d also debate your characterization of the Republicans; the media only shows the part of the story that sells papers/clicks/ads. None of them are my choice.

      (You’ll be thankful to know that I’ve redacted much of what I’d like to write here, just keeping things light.)

      1. Eggs, I know you well enough to recognise the restraint 🙂 And it’s appreciated.

        I still reckon the GOP will struggle, just from an outsider’s glance at things and you and the family would always be welcome for a visit if you need to exercise the relief valve. Not sure we can accommodate you for four years, though, but you never know.

  7. As someone who writes about politics for a magazine, I would point out that McCain lost by 3% while having to play with President Bush’s record, the financial crisis, Sarah Palin, and to be honest, not a particularly good campaign. i.e. it was a lot closer than most people realize (its not the popular vote that counts, but the delegate count that matters). This means that its not certain that Obama will win, especially with the new voter ID laws that specifically target minorities, the old, and the poor in many republican states.

    It would be nice if both parties could nominate competent individuals but it looks like its not going to happen again (Mit doesn’t count, as there’s no indication what he would do in power except appease the right wing of the party).

    1. Actually, Pres. Obama’s margin over Sen. McCain in 2008 was 52% to 46%. Obama received 62,438,115 votes compared to McCain’s 55,380,169 votes, which was around 6 million fewer votes than Bush in the 2004 election. Obama’s 52% was the first time since 1964 that a Democrat won more than 50% of the total vote. For what it’s worth, I’ve always respected Sen. McCain even though he’s a Republican. He’s a great American. A hero, in fact. During the 2008 election, as even Sen. MxCain would no doubt admit, he made a tragic error when he chose Gov. Palin as his running mate.

        1. In terms of presidential politics, 52-46 is a big win. It’s a bigger margin than George W. Bush had in either election (remember that in 2000 Bush lost the popular vote); and it’s the same result that George H.W. Bush had over Michael Dukakis in 1988, which at the time was hailed as big victory.

          It’s a hyper-partisan age, and the floor of support for a party’s candidate is much higher than it used to be. *Any* major party candidate would get about 45 percent of the vote these days – and the corollary is that Obama’s margin in 2008 was near the maximum possible margin of victory.

          Also when you’re dealing with numbers this large, it is a mistake to talk about “only” 3 percent. E.g., the outcome may have been different if the Titanic had steered “only” 3 percent farther away from the iceberg, but for a ship of that size changing course by “only” 3 percent is a formidable task.

          1. Well, I agree that 3% isn’t small, but your characterization of it as a ‘big win’ isn’t exactly true. 8 of the last 15 elections (back to Eisenhower) had an equal or greater margin. That is, 7 of those 15 had a greater margin.

            It’s 3%, which was my point.

      1. To go back to my original point, McCain only needed a few states to move in his direction by 3% to win. e.g. Ohio, Virginia etc.. The popular vote doesn’t count as electoral college votes are not based on the most popular count but in most cases, who wins the state.

  8. I can only imagine what this may look like from abroad. We definitely have a nasty dogfight over here, that’s for sure. I was fortunate enough to see Mitt Romney speak in person last month, and he had a warmth, sense of humor, and charisma that does not come through the television all that well. Most of all, he spoke about the importance of fiscal responsibility and cutting regulations that inhibit innovation. I was very impressed. Many of my conservative friends are fans of Santorum, but he just doesn’t do it for me. Newt just needs to quit. As does Ron Paul.

    There is much at stake here- we cannot afford another four years of the current state of things. Otherwise, I might be swimming abroad, myself…

  9. Wow, Swade. And here I thought blog posts debating the merits of different car brands was about as controversial a topic as you would want to blog about. 🙂

  10. The end result in 2012 will be a lot like 2008, perhaps a touch narrower. Intense partisan polarization keeps Obama from winning Indiana or pulling an electoral vote out of Nebraska a second time, but the rest of the Obama coalition seems pretty solid.

    In state by state terms (which is how presidential elections are decided), Obama’s victory in 2008 was smashing. Obama can give back a fair amount of ground and still win handily in 2012. To beat Obama, the Republicans need to pull one or two of the industrial Midwestern states, like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, or Wisconsin. That’s just not happening.

    In contrast, the last state by state polls I’ve seen still had Obama ahead, albeit narrowly, in both Virginia and North Carolina. Obama’s victory in 2008 was so large that he has plenty of ground to give and could still win re-election comfortably. Obama can win without Florida or Virginia or (less comfortably so) North Carolina.

    Obama will take some heat, deserved or not, for the slow recovery. OTOH, John McCain was a better candidate than Mitt Romney can ever hope to be. Romney, as a candidate, reminds me a lot of John Kerry and Al Gore – he is a blatant panderer who does not connect to the average voter.

    Outside of partisan Republican circles, I do not see any real antagonism towards President Obama.

    My 2 cents worth.

  11. “though left leaning…” Ya reckon?!?

    And I will be glad to contribute to Mr O’Reilly’s moving costs either way.

    1. #1 – that’s why I wrote it.

      #2 – Your country would be worse off if you did. Every place needs good people, and he’s one of them. Please refrain from making your comments personal about other commenters.

      1. Now Steven…if the man is willing to pay moving costs for one person…there are a few more of us here that would gladly accept his generous offer I’m sure, pending the outcome of the election.

        I mean if enough of us are centrally located…maybe we could share a moving van or two…and keep john’s cost down. Don’t really want to take advantage of the man you know, because individual moves can be quite expensive, so if we can consolidate things, it would help his bottom line, and make our lives easier as well.

        How about it…sound reasonable? 😉

        1. I think you’re on to something there…if we can get a volume discount/wholesale pricing, it would indeed be helpful. In fact, I know LOTS of people who would donate, and maybe even help y’all pack.

  12. We’re definitely not conservatives at SYWBANP, but we’re not crazy lefties either. We just like B-Rock much better than anything the GOP has to offer in this race, and we’re not hiding it. Most of all, we’re liberals in the European way who like it if women can decide for themselves if they want to keep a baby after being raped; who like it if gays can enjoy marriage rights as well without Christian ideology standing in their way; and who DO see the contradiction between wanting to bring the gasoline price to 2 dollar 50 and wanting to bomb Iran to the Stone age. For the record: we liked Jon Huntsman. But he was not ‘out there’ enough to play a role of importance in the 2012 race.

    Regarding Obama’s chances: he would thrash Santorum in case Rick would become the nominee. Then again, Santorum won’t be the nominee, so it will be a nail-biting race between Obama and Romney, who has a very decent chance of winning the presidency.

  13. exercising restraint
    exercising restraint
    exercising restraint
    exercising restraint
    exercising restraint
    exercising restraint
    exercising restraint
    exercising restraint
    exercising restraint
    exercising restraint
    exercising restraint

  14. The social conservatives in America who vote on morality and dogma above all else are — thankfully — a vocal minority. They make a lot of noise with their bigotry but at the end of the day they are fare outnumbered by a far more pragmatic, open-minded majority.

    Every time I think that political campaigns can get no more cynical than they already are, they somehow sink to new lows. And the republican race is setting that bar to a world record low this campaign season. The dems are probably no better, but they’ve got an incumbent.

    Barack hasn’t been the president the people who voted for him thought they were getting, but he’s still far and away the more qualified – perhaps the ONLY qualified – person to know the launch codes.

    And for all the rhetoric about what a failure he has been, consider the galactic mess the guy walked into on day one. Also, consider that on his watch:

    * Osama bin Laden was converted to fish food

    * US auto manufacturing and the millions of jobs attached to it was saved, and is now doing better than it has in decades

    * We managed to avoid a full-on depression

    * People with pre-existing heath conditions cannot be denied basic health care

    If anything, he didn’t act decisively enough early in his term to force change….he was naive enough to try and engage Congress in a bipartisan relationship. He learned a little too late that you simply cannot work work with people whose sole mission in life is to prevent you from having a 2nd term…no matter how much the American people suffer as a result.

    I won’t even comment on Gingrich and Santorum because they don’t realistically have a shot at the nomination. They’re both the very definition of scumbag politician. And Mitt – more well spoken than Rick Perry but just as empty, soulless and for-hire to the highest corporate interest bidder. Corporations already hold far, FAR too much sway in America.

    Given the current set of circumstances, I don’t really see how there’s even a real choice in this upcoming election.

  15. As someone who was born in New York State, but has lived in lots of different places (Minnesota, Arizona, Florida, New York City and, now for a while, New England) this is my gross oversimplification of how non-Americans can understand the US

    – Hugging the West and East coasts of the US are two thin slivers of territory that are very densely populated, very urban, and filled with both a largely highly educated and a high earning population and much of America’s urban underclass. This educated population tends to be very international in its outlook, with many having traveled extensively and lived overseas for a period, and they tend to see themselves as citizens of the nation and world. It’s an enormously ethnically and culturally diverse population that tends to be progressive and secular in outlook, seeing the freedoms they value in life being under existential threat from the group below (not necessarily wrongly). This is Boston, Providence, NY, Philly, D/C, Atlanta, Miami, SF, Seattle, Portland, LA, San Diego, etc, etc. This currently tends to be the Democratic base. In my opinion, this group represents the characteristics America needs to adapt to and thrive in the modern world, while in my view lacking many of the backbone characteristics that have made America strong in the past.

    – The vast enormity of the rest of America’s landmass (save for Chicago, some Texan cities, and the Twin Cities) is populated by a sparsely populated rural, suburban, and exurban population that is in general less educated, less affluent, and MUCH more religious. This is an overwhelmingly caucasian and much less diverse group that is often reactive, not progressive, in outlook, often seeing their homespun values as being under existential assault from the group above (not necessarily wrongly). This group generally is not well traveled (may never have left their state) and sees themselves not as citizens of the world, but as American exceptionalists for whom the world is a threat. This tends to be the Republican base. In my opinion, this group represents many of the backbone characteristics that made America strong, but they cling to outmoded and outdated qualities that may prevent America from adapting to and thriving in the modern world.

    These two groups, as one can imagine by the above demographics, have vastly different worldviews. I’m a physician, and the gross oversimplication I can personify this group with in my time getting to intimately know and treat these groups would be:

    Group 1: 29 year old woman living near Boston, newly married, has two Masters and does programming working with financial modeling for a international firm headquartered in Boston. She lived in Paris for a year during college and did relief work in Africa. She’s newly pregnant with what will likely be her only child, and may have one more. She and her husband (a lawyer) live in downtown Boston and may, say, have a combined income of $500,000 a year and plan to send their child to private international school. They attend a church on holidays, but don’t view themselves as religious, but “spiritual.” Most of their friends they made at work. They view Democrats as defending their progressive values and “people like us” and view Republicans as the party of religious wackos…

    Group 2: 29 year old woman who married her college sweetheart, was a nurse in a local hospital in suburban Iowa but is now home with her kids. She went to a local commuter college and currently has four children. Her husband works with a local contractor and they may have a household income of $75,000. Neither have been overseas and they’ve between them travelled outside Iowa once or twice. Their kids go to public school and supplementary Bible school. They view Jesus as guiding their life and their schedules are built around the activities of their local megachurch, where they met most of their friends. They are Republicans and view Republicans as defending their religious values and “people like us” and view Democrats as defending an underserving minority and hippie population…

    And that is where we are. Huge, gross oversimplications to be sure, but a LOT of truth in those depictions in my experience traveling and getting to know people around the nation. I grew up in the mileau of group 2 but inhabit group 1 now, and it’s getting increasingly hard for each to see the value in the other for admittedly good reasons. While both sides have good arguments, the difference as I see it is group 2 wants to impose its values on group 1, while group 1 wants to give people the freedom to choose their own morality, which group 2 views as a morally flawed in the first place (truth is truth, you don’t give people choice of truths or it isn’t truth anymore). When we can work that out, we’ll move forward…

  16. Interesting to see what the rest of the world thinks about US politics.

    Having been raised in the Chicago area, politics or the observation thereof is an indoor sport.

    This year I will be holding my nose (again, unfortunately) when I cast my ballot.

  17. UK-influenced modern English can be quite irksome in an otherwise EXCELLENT blog. To wit – unless they can somehow be put back on the shelf from whence they were fetched, decisions cannot be “taken”, they can only be ahem… *made*.

    Really Swade, you simply MUST stop listening to the bureaucracy-speak influenced BBC from whence such language horrors gain ground in the vocabulary of others.

    It is of course entirely unsurprising to hear of grasping politicians speak of “taking” decisions, since taking whatever they can lay their grubby hands upon is the natural reflex activity of their breed. However for the rest of us, any decision conveys simultaneously the attached responsibility for its consequences… and as such, is MADE, not “taken” in correct (read: real) English. 😉