For me, watching the presidential elections from the vantage point of another country has felt like a certain kind of recurring dream that everybody has had; I know something very important is happening very far away, but I can't quite perceive it directly, or get close enough to influence it.
Of course, I might feel the same way even if I were living in the States. I want to believe that--like my brother-in-law--I'd be working hard to register voters and participate in the process. In practice, there would be important videogames to play and vital movies to watch, and my role would end up being limited to arguing with my Republican friends. But they'd be fun arguments, and I miss them.
Fortunately, I have been able to participate a little bit in the process here. Democrats Abroad held a (tape-delayed) screening of the first debate. This is good news partly because it allows me to be a congregant in the democratic rituals that bind my nation together even in these divided times, but mostly because it lets me in on the "Don't Forget Poland" meme that seems to be this month's "All Your Base Are Belong To Us."
Perched though I may be on the international window ledge of democracy, with my face pressed against the glass looking in, my vantage point does give me one piece of information that those of you on the inside might not know: this election is going to be determing by absentee ballotting. I spoke with a woman who had organized Democrats Abroad debate viewings in previous elections; previous events were held in a pub, with two or three dozen people watching on a TV. This year, organizers had to rent three huge screening rooms, where the debates were projected on large screens to capacity crowds who had waited patiently in a thick line that snaked through the lobby, down the stairs, and out the door of the building. You may have seen stories about mailing delays and other problems with absentee ballots, but despite everything, I believe a record number of foreign-based Americans are going to cast their votes this year. And who will they vote for? A poll of (presumably US-residing) Americans showed that those who hold a passport are twice as likely to vote for Kerry as Bush. Among those who actually live abroad, the Democratic tilt is going to be even more pronounced. I ascribe this to the fact that we can see firsthand just how much damage Bush's policies have done to our nation's image in the international community. A Republican might ascribe it to the pernicious influence of Old Europe. Whatever the case, I won't be surprised if at least one state switches from red to blue in the time it takes to count the absentee ballots.