What it’s like being an Aussie in America during a presidential election

I moved from Sydney to Seattle, Washington in January 2009 – just in time to watch President Obama’s first inauguration live on TV. He had been elected by the largest turn-out of voters in American history, and for many people it was a signpost of a better time to come. The vice grip of the Bush-Cheney era, their warmongering and tampering with the world’s economy, was over. As I watched Obama take the presidential oath, I felt like I was letting my breath out after holding it a really long time. I wasn’t alone.

Remember this hopeful guy?

Obama stepped in to lead the most powerful nation on earth, and it looked like real change was on the horizon. Early in his second year, he made this pointed remark about the Republicans’ economic policies:

“So after they drove the car into the ditch, made it as difficult as possible for us to pull it back, now they want the keys back. (Laughter.) No! (Laughter and applause.) You can’t drive! (Applause.) We don’t want to have to go back into the ditch! We just got the car out! (Applause.)” – May 13, 2010

Over the months and years, I watched as the Democrats lost their seats in congress, and the president was left to lead a discordant group who battled his policies on every front. The hostile congress created an impasse; Obama couldn’t get anything done. And it was frustrating. He was frustrated. That charismatic smile was nowhere to be seen; in its place was a taut line of exasperation.


And of course when Obama entered the next election to secure his second term, the Republicans jumped all over his inability to get anything done, all of his ‘broken promises’. A lot of people bought into that rhetoric. Other camps painted him with the ‘socialist’ brush, because socialism is a dirty word to many Americans – those people equate it with fascism.

I watched nervously, along with millions of Americans as his opponent, Romney, gained traction. On the surface, Romney may have seemed like a good guy – a religious family man who had worked hard to earn his vast fortunes – but his policies soon revealed him to be misogynistic, racist and classist. As well as wanting to repeal the law that gives women reproductive freedoms, Romney advocated trickle-down economics. This is the theory that if the rich get richer, their wealth trickles down in the form of more jobs for the poor. It’s been debunked by the International Monetary Fund and world-renowned economists, but try telling that to Romney – or to Mr Trump for that matter.

In the first presidential debate, Romney trounced Obama. It was as though Obama had given up the fight; at times, he just sat there and said nothing. It was terrifying. In the second debate, Obama showed up. This was the whip-smart, charismatic and likeable leader who’d won the last election.

At one point in the debate Romney carried on and on about a recent attack on an American embassy, and how the president had failed to call it out as an act of terrorism. Obama let Romney hang himself. “Go ahead, governor,” he said, and Romney started to doubt himself. The fact was that Obama had called it an act of terrorism, and Romney looked like a fool when the moderator corrected him. He never quite recovered and Obama won the debate.

Barack Obama And Mitt Romney Participate In Second Presidential Debate
“Go ahead, Governor.”(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

But that was just one debate in a series; it was one battle in a war. When Romney was secretly filmed stating that 47% of the country were what we’d call here in Australia, ‘bludgers’, his disdain for the working and middle classes of the American people was undeniable – and yet his polling remained strong. We’re seeing this phenomenon in the current election. Every time Trump seems to make a misstep, he gains more supporters. This phenomenon is both baffling and alarming.

On election day in November 2012, my partner and I watched anxiously as the polls closed from east to west. States were either designated blue (Democrats – Obama) or red (Republicans – Romney). It’s a complicated voting system, but essentially, it does come down to numbers. If you have the most votes in the Electoral College, you win. I knew that the states with the last polls to close – Washington, California and Oregon – were all expected to ‘turn blue’, and that as the most populous state, California, was expected to call a very close election one way or the other.

When the election was finally called for Obama I actually cried with relief. I did not want to live in a country – or a world, for that matter – with that man at the helm.

Seeing a presidential election up close, my biggest take away is that US elections are exhausting. And not just for the candidates – how do they do all of that campaigning? – but also for the people living there. As we’re seeing right now, the lead up takes more than 18 months. 18 Months! That’s nearly as long as our last Prime Minister was in office. Thank goodness for the daily doses of Steven Colbert and John Stewart to ease the tensions. Australian readers, think Shaun Micallif, Waleed Aly, and Carrie Bickmore, if you’re not familiar with Colbert and Stewart – clever, often hilarious, commentators who make the unbearable bearable.

I am watching the current election with as much interest as the last one, even though I now live in Melbourne, because as we know, whatever happens in US politics affects the rest of the world in countless ways. President Trump? Trump makes Romney look like the sweetest, most charitable and forward-thinking politician ever.


For Our Little Miss Lucy

Lucy 2.jpg

When you get a pet, you know that it is very likely that you will outlive them. You risk the inevitability of them dying sometime in the future, because you know that before that happens, you will have the wonderful experience of being a furrent.

We had our little Lucy for nearly 5 years and she died peacefully at the vet’s office yesterday afternoon because her kidneys failed.

We adopted Lucy from a shelter in Seattle in 2011. I had been asking Ben about getting a cat for more than a year, and he finally relented saying we could go to the shelter to ‘look’. I had an inkling that looking would turn into getting, so I agreed.

The shelter had a no-kill policy so there were dozens of cats to choose from. There was even an offer that day to adopt a black cat for free. We checked out all the black cats, but none of them were ours. Then 7 year old Lucy caught our eye because A) she was very pretty and B) she was a chill little kitty who was lounging at the back of her cage rather than meowing like crazy for our attention.

When we approached her, she stood up, stretched and turned around to show us her butt. We both laughed out loud. We asked to cuddle her and when we did, she purred loudly and rubbed up against us. Then Ben pointed out that she matched our living room rug, and we both knew we’d found our cat.

It was a big deal for Ben to agree to get a cat. He’d never had one before – he was a dog person – and he was understandably nervous about possible bad cat habits she might have – like scratching and biting, ruining the furniture, general meanness and/or indifference, jumping on counters and spreading cat germs, and worst of all, sleeping on his face. Lucy turned out to be just as perfect at home as she was in the shelter – she had no bad cat habits.

She was affectionate – in fact, Lucy was borderline slutty. She’d flop in front of anyone with a pulse who walked on two legs, begging to be petted. She would happily sit on laps, purring loudly, or do ‘halvesies’ which was front paws and head on the lap, back paws and bum on the chair, also purring loudly. She’d stay like that all day if you let her. She took to sitting on Ben’s lap, staring up at him adoringly, as he worked. And if you were drinking something while she was sitting on you, she’d want to sniff it, just to see what it was.

She was funny – she’d catch sight of her tail and stare at it as if to say, ‘what the fuck is that?’ Then she’d pounce on it and chase it around and ‘round like dogs do. Like me, she loved leather handbags and shoes, but unlike me, her love of them bordered on obsession. I can’t tell you how many times we apologised to guests who’d abandoned bags or shoes near the door only to watch our cat making love to them – the handbags and shoes, that is. She’d rub up and down on them and purr like a mad little puss. When I planted potted herbs on our balcony, she’d took to having a morning constitutional where she’d stop and smell each herb. I didn’t know at the time that I was planting a garden for her, but I’m pretty sure that’s what she thought. She also thought birds and cats on TV were real, and would go around the back of the TV looking for them.

She was a total cat – she’d watch birds playing on the balcony and make this weird sound – ‘ah-ah-ah-ah’. I’d never heard a cat do that before Lucy, but apparently, it’s very catlike. She was terrified of thunder and fireworks, and would run into our bedroom and shove her fat little bottom all the way under the bed. We’d have to coax her out afterwards. She would plant herself in the middle of the living room, stick her leg in the air and start licking her nethers. When we’d laugh – as we did pretty much every time – she would stop and look at us as if to ask ‘What?!’ and then continue. She loved to be brushed. It was one of the two words she knew – the other was her name. Until she got sick, she’d come when called. She loved the red dot, the feathered thing on the end of the string, playing with shoelaces (we used to say that she was helping us get dressed), and watching her favourite TV show called ‘The Back of the Red Couch’.

Lucy was fun to have around, loving and sweet, and she made us laugh. She was family and we will miss her. Here’s to you, Miss Lucy, and 5 wonderful years together.