The British Are Coming
And we’re either with ’em or against ’em
Thursday, October 21, 2004
The front-page news in London last Wednesday was a story that the NY Times and LA Times both missed. President Bush’s special envoy to Iraq, James Baker (you may remember him most recently as W’s spokesman during the 2000 Florida recount), was trying to persuade many nations to forgive Iraq’s $200 billion debts while he was simultaneously working for a private company (the Carlyle Group—one of the world’s largest defense contractors) to recover $27 billion dollars on behalf of their client, Kuwait. As it turns out, Kuwait is one of Iraq’s biggest creditors. The Guardian reported that Baker was essentially using his powerful public position to earn millions for a company of which he is a significant shareholder. Not a pretty story for the Bush family’s longtime friend.
But what really caught my eye that morning wasn’t The Guardian’s scoop, but the cover story of its second section. The headline: “How you can have a say in the US election (with a little help from the voters of Clark County, Ohio).”
Realize this was a section lead page inside a leading progressive British daily newspaper, with a circulation of more than 450,000. An ocean away from the US, The Guardian editors, like many of us, are deeply concerned about the outcome of our presidential election. And they want to do something about it. Here are excerpts of what reporter Oliver Burkeman said:
It’s just possible that you have heard this once or twice before recently, but the forthcoming American election, on November 2, may be the most important in living memory. You would be forgiven, though, for feeling increasingly helpless as you hear the “most important election” mantra repeated daily: unless you happen to be a voter in a handful of swing states, there’s little you can do about the final result. If you’re not American, the situation is more acute. Certainly, the actions of the US impact on our lives in overwhelming ways; British political life may now be at least as heavily influenced by White House policy as by the choices of UK voters. And yet, though the US Declaration of Independence speaks of “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind,” you don’t, of course, have a vote. You can’t even donate money to the campaigns: foreign contributions are outlawed. And you’re unlikely to have the chance to do any campaigning on the ground. All you can do is wait and watch: you’re powerless.
Or are you? At (The Guardian), that sounded like fighting talk. Where others might see delusions of grandeur, we saw an opportunity for public service—and so…we have assembled a handy set of tools that non-Americans can use to have a real chance of influencing the outcome of the vote…
…To maximise the likelihood of your efforts making a difference, we’ve zeroed in on one of the places where this year’s election truly will be decided: Clark County, Ohio, which is balanced on a razor’s edge between Republicans and Democrats. In the 2000 election, Al Gore won Clark County by 1 percent—equivalent to 324 votes—but George Bush won the state as a whole by just four percentage points. This time round, Ohio is one of the most crucial swing states: Kerry and Bush have been campaigning there tirelessly—they’ve visited Clark County itself—and the most recent Ohio poll shows, once again, a 1 percent difference between the two of them. The voters we will target in our letter-writing initiative are all Clark County residents, and they are all registered independents, which somewhat increases the chances of their being persuadable…
As you might imagine, this editorial had my attention. I was reading it the same day my absentee ballot had arrived from Monterey County election headquarters in Salinas, and was lamenting the fact that my vote for president really won’t make all that much difference (Gore beat Bush in California by 11 percent in 2000 and Kerry’s expected to do the same or better). The Guardian had a proposal that was so simple and clever that I wish we at the Weekly had thought of it first. I wanted to instantly replicate it. Instead, I’m going to thank them for their Yankee-style ingenuity and direct you to follow their lead.
Here’s The Guardian’s invitation to its readers, and now mine to you:
To join in, visit www.guardian.co.uk/clarkcounty and enter your e-mail address. You’ll receive, by e-mail, the name and postal address of a Clark County voter. …The data on which our system is based is publicly available, but we have designed it to give out each address only once, so there is no danger of recipients getting deluged.
In formulating your letter, you will need to introduce yourself: no individual Clark County voter will have any reason to be expecting your communication. And in choosing your arguments, keep in mind the real risk of alienating your reader by coming across as interfering or offensive. You might want to handwrite your letter, for additional impact, and we strongly recommend including your own name and address—it lends far more credibility to your views, and you might get a reply.
I visited The Guardian Web site last week and within minutes received the name of my Ohio contact: Charles Daniels. I wrote him immediately. I urge you to do the same. Visit The Guardian’s Web site and write your own personal letter to a swing voter in Clark County, Ohio. We can all make a difference in this election, even those of us in the nation’s most populous state whose vote doesn’t seem to count. We might even swing a few swing voters, and help unite our land from sea to shining buckeye tree.
Monterey County Weekly founder and CEO Bradley Zeve is on a working leave of absence in London.