For the last 3 presidential elections I have been outside of the US. Still for each one I was legally old enough to vote in, I have.
The year Al Gore won the popular vote by half a million votes but George W. Bush won the presidency, I was a high school student spending a school year in Italy. The importance of the electoral college hit home as I tried to figure out how I could possibly explain in my fledgling Italian what happened. Thankfully not too many people asked, in Italian at least.
The year the first African-American president was elected I was in Yan'an, where Mao solidified his revolutionary forces after the Long March -- not to be confused with the more scenic Yunnan. As a college student, I sat beside a few blonde heads in the vast auditorium of a school established by the Communist Party of China. I had my dad text me the results as each state came in. While a lecture droned on in Mandarin, I slipped notes with the updated electoral count to my American classmates.
This year I am in the Philippines, where I have been living since I graduated college.
No matter what corner of the world I find myself in, be it in a country with the largest Communist Party in the world or in a young democracy, I believe it is important to vote.
On one hand it's the pride of being part of an election that is an example of what a transparent democratic process can be. Although the Center for Responsive Politics estimates that more than US$6 billion was spent on this election, Americans had to be convinced and not outright paid for their votes.
On the other hand, I can appreciate that decisions made in the US still have a ripple effect. After all, economics, terrorism and even people today are global.
Thus, there are several reasons why the selection of the American president should matter internationally, particularly in the Philippines:
1. Future direction of foreign policy. Whether Romney or Obama wins the election, the US will continue to view the Philippines as a "strategic ally" in the Pacific. The US ambassador to the country said as much to Rappler last week. What may change though is how bellicose the US becomes. And that should matter to people around the world.
In a July article in Foreign Policy, Rep Adam Smith, wrote that "out of Romney's 27 special advisors on foreign policy, 17 served in the Bush-Cheney administration." The Democratic congressman worried that Romney could represent a return to the failed neoconservative policies of the Bush administration. Those policies not only cost the US trillions of dollars but also hurt the country's reputation abroad.
Obama by contrast has tried to dial back America's costly wars. He ended the Iraq war, one of the country's longest wars to date, and has been firm about the 2014 deadline for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan.
Romney has said he would impose tougher sanctions on Iran but also supports the 2014 Afghanistan timetable, with a caveat. He is open to keeping troops in place if that is what commanders on the ground advise. If there is a palpable threat of a resurgence in al-Qaeda's forces that could be seen as a prudent move but it is likely to be unpopular with Americans who want their tax dollars directed toward improving the situation at home.
2. Important local elections. California is so solidly blue, that a single vote, like mine, may not seem to matter on the federal level. But on the local level there are issues that may interest Filipinos.
Three Philippine-born candidates -- Christopher Mateo, Rob Bonta and Jennifer Ong -- are vying for positions in the California State Assembly. California may have the largest Filipino population of any state but the state is so huge that the US census puts Filipinos at roughly only 3% of the state's population. That means each Fil-Am candidate will have to win much more than the Filipino vote to get elected. Like me, many Californians will be looking more at candidates' platforms than their ethnic backgrounds.
Still Filipinos will have reason to celebrate if one of the 3 wins since according to the Inquirer he or she would break a glass ceiling and become the first Filipino assembly member in the state.
There are also local propositions that could have a global impact. For example, California's Prop 39 requires all out-of-state corporations to pay taxes based on their state-wide sales. Right now companies can take advantage of lower taxes if they have fewer employees. If the proposition passes, companies will have less of an incentive to send jobs out of the state, either to other states or internationally. From Asia the move may look harmful. But from the state's perspective, the measure looks like a way to encourage job growth within its borders as California struggles with a 10.2% unemployment rate.
3. Outsourcing. With America desperate to create more jobs at home, both men have tried to sound tough on outsourcing, the process of sending jobs abroad to countries with lower wages.
From the Philippine perspective, a shift in the policy of a country that supplies the majority of local outsourcing work would be worrisome. Outsourcing makes up about 5% of current economic growth and in 5 years' time the industry is projected to bring in more money for the country than the current economic lifeline of remittances.
Romney, who is seen as an ally of big business, may appear more friendly towards outsourcing. The company he founded even participated in outsourcing.
Obama has been more vocal about opposing outsourcing. He pushed for an act that would give corporations a 20% tax break for moving jobs back to the US but was eventually shot down by Republicans. He also wants to impose a minimum tax on foreign corporate earnings.
Currently American companies are exempt from paying taxes on foreign earnings, as long as those earnings are kept abroad. Changing that rule could affect the willingness of companies to plow their profits back into factories and other investments outside of the US. However, the new tax is aimed at low-tax countries and likely won't affect the Philippines drastically since the country could hardly be seen as a tax haven. The country slaps an income tax that is upwards of 30% on foreign companies.
In a roundabout way, Obama's policies might actually help local outsourcing, not by taking jobs from Americans but by creating a number of new jobs. The Affordable Care Act, nicknamed Obamacare, is expected to expand coverage to at least 30 million uninsured Americans. Local outsourcing companies are already gearing up to meet the expected demand in health care work that can be done cheaply overseas, such as processing insurance claims. The new healthcare initiative is also expected to increase the demand for Filipino nurses, whose numbers have been dwindling in recent years.
Oddly, the most important issue in the election for Americans -- the economy -- may not affect the Philippines all that much. For one thing over the past year the Philippine economy has proven that it can power ahead largely sheltered from the economic slowdowns in Europe and the US. For another, economic experts are predicting that the American economy is due to expand regardless of who is elected.
A Bloomberg Businessweek article by Rich Miller and Steve Matthews pointed out that no matter who wins, the economy is "set for better times" since consumers are spending more, home prices are rising and banks are lending more.
Meanwhile, the Economist's "admittedly unscientific poll" of 312 researchers from the National Bureau of Economic Research and 51 forecasters at the National Association for Business Economics favored Obama's overall economic plan, but gave "the two men roughly equal grades" on the specifics of their plans from tax reforms, to entitlements and the deficit.
In the end, everything is relative. And that's exactly the point. Since everything is a matter of where you stand, it is important to take your stand and vote. - Rappler.com