"The most important soap opera in the world," is the headline of a Sept. 7 column by Moisés Naím in El País newspaper. He writes:
"This soap opera has it all: unfaithful husbands, pregnant teens, a poor woman who confronted and defeated the political bosses in her small town, and decided to have a fifth child even knowing that it would have Down's Syndrome. There's also a white woman, 18 years old, who falls in love with an attractive black African who soon abandons her, leaving her with a young son. . . .
". . . Like every good soap opera, it can't leave out nature's fury: hurricanes that interfere with plans and that, for many, are nothing less than a sign from God. . . .
". . . The success of every television series depends on motivating the spectators to watch the next chapter. And who wouldn't be interested in knowing how this soap opera will end, that is, to know who will be one of the most powerful men in the world?"
The election fills front pages of newspapers around the world, including Spain, where I live. Analysts and reporters have been desperately trying to explain the Electoral College, Tina Fay, American racial politics, and Joe the Plumber. Sometimes it's an echo of American coverage, but not always.
The jokes were predictable when McCain's didn't seem to recognize Zapatero as the prime minister of Spain in an interview, and many observers initially thought his pick of Palin was a stroke of genius. Carlos Mendo wrote on Sept. 19 in El País (all translations mine, by the way):
"The birth of the United States was the result of a rebellion against the absolute power of the British crown. Because of that, its inhabitants still like the independence that McCain and Palin represent against the interests of their own party. The former's unforgivable sins include sponsoring laws in the Senate with its most liberal Democrats, Edward Kennedy and Russ Feingold. The latter simply battled the corrupt Republican bosses in Alaska and confronted the powerful oil companies in her state. This rebellion has produced, until now, a big payoff in elections."
On Oct. 3, journalist Ruth Medina, in a private Internet forum, offered a crude interpretation of the vice-presidential debates:
"The critical capacity of US society (with a middle class very poorly educated and with no interest in political issues beyond local ones) is very low, making them easy to manipulate with weapons as simple as a pretty smile or a wink to the camera. . . . Biden won on substance but Palin on style, and by not committing any of the errors that everyone was waiting for, she triumphed. God bless America, but the Atlantic separates us not only in linear kilometers but in mental kilometers."
Manuel Jiménez de Parga, of the Royal Academy of Political Science, tried to explain the difficulties of predicting the election from abroad in a column in ABC newspaper Oct. 9:
"There isn't one America but several . . . Analytical instruments created by European sociologists can't be used in America. Neither the idea of social class or of political party — or any other idea constructed from European data — will help us understand the American world."
Another political scientist, Diego Hidalgo Demeusois, lamented on Oct. 9 in El País:
"Although polls show that 80% of the citizens of the rest of the world prefer Obama to McCain, that doesn't mean that Obama is better, but it does show that his election will renew the symbolic capital of the US, which had seemed almost impossible. Unfortunately, this won't convince the many American citizens who don't see it in their own interests to have their country again exercise a powerful symbolic force in the rest of the world."
Author Carlos Fuentes provided this terse analysis on Oct. 12: "Sara Palin. Indira Gandhi. Margaret Thatcher. Golda Meir. Angela Merkel. Sara Palin?"
In El País on Oct. 17, communications strategist Antonio Núñez explained Palin's apparent electoral pull on the average American this way:
"We wind up believing in and trusting not the best prepared politician with more experience or with more effective ideas, but in the one whose origin and biography seems closest to ours, as if recognizing or perceiving its closeness as a guarantee of his or her ability to govern."
But the next day in the same paper, attorney Guillermo Medina Ors said Americans would look more for the kind of figure that inspired the poems of Walt Whitman, and that person was Obama:
"The Democratic candidate symbolizes the leadership value of change, reflected in his personal example and in the audacity of messages that flee from victimization and self-pity, and that offer a confidence in democracy and the future that can overcome differences and difficulties."
Lluís Bassetts, in a Oct. 9 column in El País, had this to say of McCain:
"Few other candidates better meet the image of the American hero, forged in battles for freedom and democracy . . . in a continuation of the heroes like the founding fathers, the pioneers, and the cowboys."
By Oct. 16, Bassetts had changed his tune:
"But the financial crisis has changed everything, and now the campaign has only one issue, electing a new president for a radically new time. . . . Sara Palin, who raised the fallen hopes of the Republicans, has become another burden. Female voters have rejected her, and she has deactivated the Republican candidate's trump card as a commander in chief expert in foreign affairs and as a maverick."
The Oct. 27 front-page headline on Público newspaper read: "Only hidden racism can stop Obama." Público columnist Enrique Meneses concluded that it won't happen because Obama isn't the first black politician to triumph among white voters:
"The times have greatly changed the American mentality, above all in young voters, and those are the ones, bearing the economic crisis in mind, who will change the direction of these elections."
Soap operas, the Revolutionary War, poor education, Whitman, cowboys, and the economy — maybe that explains why we Americans vote the way we do, or maybe not. Whatever your motivation, please vote.
And be aware that all the major television and radio networks in Spain will feature nonstop, direct election coverage all night "because," as radio network Cadena SER put it, "the elections are in the United States, but the consequences will be global."
[Also posted on my website: http://www.sue.burke.name]