I am not a citizen of the United States, but I desperately want to vote in that country’s next Presidential election. You heard right, I am an Indian, I live in Thailand, I have never been to the United States but I want to vote in the upcoming US elections.
Is that allowed? Legally, maybe not (surely not!) but logically it makes perfect sense. Every action of the US President affects my life deeply in political, economic, social and cultural terms. So it is about time somebody changed the moronic, antiquated election laws of the United States and let millions of people like me around the world to exercise our democratic right to choose the new US President.
Before I get into more detailed justifications of my position let me tell you why I have a hunch I am on the right track. Firstly, for the past decade now, I have noticed how newscasters on television channels all over the world have switched to calling Presidents of the United States as simply ‘the President’ as if they were the Presidents of the entire world. If all these beautiful men and women are willing to call Bill Clinton or George Bush as ‘President’ without referring to what they are President of- then who am I to contradict them.
Secondly, I remember seeing a Hollywood movie, on some late-night screening (forgive me, the name slips my mind), where they have this extra-terrestrial creature land on Planet Earth and tell some frightened Earthling ‘Take me to your leader’. No prizes for guessing who the ET got to see first- the President of the United States of course ! Our collection of measly kings, queens, tin pot dictators and politicians pretending to represent us outside the United States are no match at all. The US President is indeed the President of all creatures on Earth!
Bear with me; I have one more such example to prove my point. Almost three decades ago some US President woke up one morning and decided he is going to send a mission to the moon. Recently I read that President Bush is also planning to do a repeat performance of that celestial mission.
Excuse me, but do I have a say in all this? Who the hell gave them permission to send anything to the moon-, which by my reckoning belongs to everybody on Earth and not just to the US government alone? Simply because someone has the rocket technology to go to the moon are they allowed to do it? I have a car that I can very well drive over my neighbour – am I allowed to carry out this simple act of pure pleasure ?
Ooops, I am slipping here- I forget of course that they are the Presidents of the entire World and so they can do anything they want with the moon- even paint it in Coca Cola colours. (That will be a good thing in fact. It will stop those loony Bollywood songwriters from describing all those pretty Indian actresses in moony metaphors)
OK let me really tell you why the choice of who becomes the President of the United States matters so much to me. Here are a few ways in which all decisions taken by the incumbent of the White House affects my life:
Politically: As the citizen of a developing country I see no point in electing/selecting/supporting my own national leaders unless I know what the US President thinks of the fellows I want to elect. What if President Bush does not like my country’s Prime Minister, President, Head of State or even tribal chieftain? He is surely going to come and bomb my neighbourhood to bits, so why take such risks ? After all that I hear about Serbia, Iraq or Afghanistan it can’t be such a nice experience to have a planeload of cluster bombs falling in your garden.
Getting a national leader who is loved by the US President is an even worse option because that means he/she has already become a domesticated pet of the US Empire. I have a story to tell here. When George Bush Jr. became the US President long, long, long ago there was a small news item in some papers about the members of his household. I learnt then that Dubya’s pet cat is called ‘India’. I was flabbergasted at this choice of name but then I figured out that if Pakistan is America’s ‘lapdog’ in South Asia then India has to be the `lapcat’. They can still be as separate as cats and dogs while sitting on the same Uncle Sam’s lap. Fits perfectly.
So if choosing my national leader is going to be a meaningless exercise I should at least be allowed to vote for my INTERNATIONAL LEADER i.e., the President of the United States. (Mr Bush, please let me vote, I beg you! I promise not to vote more than once in the same election! I mean, you might have heard that some people do funny things like that in my country but I assure you I am not one of them. What? You don’t want me around if I don’t have basic skills in electoral fraud !!!)
Economically: My father worked as a teacher of physics in India for four decades and retired in the early nineties on a royal salary of 6000 Rupees. The sum was decent enough by most Indian standards those days but in dollar terms, even then, it was less than 200 dollars a month. I decided wisely not to follow in my dad’s footsteps and have been going directly for the dollar instead of the rupee. And traveling different parts of the globe I realize that amazingly enough this is what everybody is trying to do- avoid the rupees, chase the dollar. (For example, I found out they don’t accept Indian rupees in Ecuador)
I cannot express properly in words what the dollar means to me. Maybe only a song can describe my feelings, so to paraphrase an old Bollywood song in the context of the dollar: ” How much you love me, I really don’t know; I know though I just can’t live without you !”. Like millions of people on this planet I too often spend sleepless nights wondering when and how my beloved dollar will come back to me (believe me, it is a treacherous creature- always ready to elope with someone else).
Now, I understand that the US Federal Reserve is the only institution authorized to print dollars and thereby determine how much will go around the globe (and hopefully send some my way) and at what exchange value. Surely all those like me so deeply in love with the US dollar should be allowed to vote for the US President whose policies would have a profound impact on the mood and behavior of our beloved. Is that too unreasonable a proposition to make? Is there no place in this world for old-fashioned love anymore?
Socially: Well you know what? I can’t walk down any Asian city these days without bumping into one American or the other. Or at least fellow Asians who think they are actually American but are where they are because of something they did wrong in their previous birth. (I know some who want to be reborn as pedigree dogs because apparently it is easier to get a visa to the US. And they don’t get fingerprinted too! ).
A few years ago when the newspapers in India announced that the Indian population had touched the one billion mark I absolutely refused to believe this piece of nonsense. I know for sure that at least five to ten percent of my so-called countrymen are in fact Americans. They breathe, eat, talk, dream America 24 hours a day. All of them aspire to get the green card some day and many are themselves turning green with envy at those who have it. I am not blaming the US President for this phenomenon- it is a problem in many countries and entirely of our own making. All I am trying to say is that if there are so many Americans voting in my national elections it is only just that I should also be allowed to vote in the US elections!
Culturally: I am not going to do any Hollywood bashing here. Let me confess, I like Hollywood a lot, especially those old Westerns where the native Indians die in droves all the time. I must say, a very accurate portrayal of historical truth- for a change. Also every time I see these movies I tell myself ‘Thank God Christopher Columbus lost his way and went to America instead of finding India as originally intended. Otherwise, there would have been Apache and Sioux software engineers coming to my country now and I would have been an extra on the sets of a B Grade action flick”.
What really worries me instead is this entire call center outsourcing business that has taken off in recent years which I believe is corrupting the accents of our youth in India. I mean, in most of our cities now you can’t find an Indian kid who speaks Indian English like an Indian anymore. Certainly not after all that round-the-clock tongue-twisting they are subjected to over the phone while pretending to be Tom and Jerry to some customer in the United States.
Now let me tell you, Indian English is not just another garden variety offshoot of the Queen’s English- like those found elsewhere in the so-called ‘English speaking’ world. It is a language, which was single-handedly responsible for driving the mighty British Empire out of India without having to fire a single shot or even say ‘boo’! When I think of what Gandhi and Nehru managed to do to the British by speaking Indian English to Colonial Power my eyes well up with tears of pride.
So now ‘what is the fun of it’ if this silly outsourcing business is going to take away the secret weapon that our urban Indian middle-classes possess i.e., the ability to frighten all would-be Imperialists with our homegrown English? Something surely needs to be done about this entire trend otherwise we will be left speechless and defenseless. As a minimum compensation for twisting our tongues I suggest all Indians should be allowed to vote in the next US Presidential elections.
(Note: In all the above discussion I have not broached the subject of how the US President’s decisions affect people like me PHYSICALLY too. That is only because my neighborhood is yet to be bombed but I am sure the citizens of Iraq and Afghanistan would have a lot to say about that phenomenon too).
Having cogently justified my demand for the right to vote in the US elections let me now discuss some possible rules for extending similar rights to other non-US citizens around the world.
Anyone above the age of 18 will be eligible to vote to choose the US President if he/she lives in a country:
a) Where the US military has bases of any kind. Last count, I think the number was around 130 countries.
b) Where the US dollar is the official or de-facto national currency. All those people who spend all their waking hours searching for the faces of dead US Presidents on green pieces of paper should be allowed to vote for a Living One in a White Building sometime.
c) Whose government uses domestic taxpayer money to buy billions of dollars worth of US Treasury bonds every year and helps the US President dole out tax cuts to wealthy American citizens.
(We could sharpen these ones above and work out a few more criteria as soon as our right to vote in the US elections is accepted in principle.)
Now let me now dwell a bit on the kind of benefits that would accrue to non-US citizens from getting such a right to vote.
a) Currently people outside the US pay a very heavy price because they are not part of the US President’s ‘domestic agenda’ and hence become targets of his vicious foreign policy. Over the decades the world has seen enough of how merciless a US President can get if with people who can’t vote in the US elections. (If only the Cambodians had the right to choose their US President!!) Getting the right to vote would mean we- non-US citizens- too can become part of the US domestic politics and the bombs can then be sent to the Moon or Mars or wherever outside our planet.
b) Giving the rest of the world the right to vote in the US elections will also save a lot in postage costs for people who spend all their time sending hate mail to US newspapers or other US institutions because they are upset with American foreign policy. The feeling of being able to decide the fate of the US President democratically will, in the long run, snuff out extreme stuff like the `Dr Khan A-Bomb mail order business’ unearthed recently. Imagine how many stamps it takes to send those fat How-To-Do-It kits from South Asia all the way to Antarctica.
c) Another great benefit I can think of is the possibility that we, non-US citizens, might have US Presidential candidates trying to come and bribe us for our votes. I for one am sick and tired of selling my vote to the local goons and would not mind being solicited by an international goon for a change. Maybe someday there might even be a Patriot missile factory outside my village – providing jobs to my folks.
So how will giving the entire world the right to vote in the US elections help US citizens themselves? That’s an easy one.
a) For a change the United States might actually get a decent President. I mean, instead of this miserable choice between George Bush and John Kerry ( Both Keeping the Corporations Merry) non-US voters could swing the next Presidential polls in favor of someone like, say Ralph Nader. It’s possible folks- change your election laws and we will change the world !
b) Letting the rest of the globe vote in its Presidential elections will also surely lower political tensions within the United States itself. Imagine, if you don’t like the President you get, you can always blame the rest of the world for your woes! (As we do in India- ‘Blame it on Bihar’). Instead, what we have now is a situation where US voters make all the dumb mistakes and the rest of the world ends up paying the price.
c) Another major benefit for US citizens I can think of is that ‘Freedom and Democracy’ will spread to the farthest corners of the globe like wildfire. From voting in the US Presidential elections to spontaneously promoting ‘Freedom and Democracy’ is just one step away. ‘Freedom and Democracy’, if I am not mistaken, is the name of that special brand of peanut butter that gives you a high – if spread directly on the tongue without the messy medium of the toasted bread.
Satya Sagar is a journalist based in Thailand. He can be reached at [email protected]