Tuesday, January 20, 2009


There are a few hard and fast rules that I try to follow at work everyday.

-Treat my employees the way I want my boss to treat me.
-Try not to say anything especially stupid.
-Do my best to treat all of my clients equally.
-Don't talk about politics.

It's that last one that has been the most trouble recently. The coverage of the election of our new President has been a constant part of American life for the past two years. When I arrived in Singapore, I was surprised that I heard almost as much about it on BBC Singapore radio and the Singapore news media as I did when I lived in the US. The amount of the coverage of American politics in general was very surprising.

As you can expect, there aren't many fans of President G. W. Bush overseas. While he's not liked very much in the US now either, don't forget that this is a guy who got re-elected. America as a whole thought he did a good enough job in his first four years in office that we gave him another four. It may be hard to believe now, but it was not too long ago that half of the people in the US thought that he was the right choice for the job. Most non-Americans can't comprehend this. I'm asked questions about it a lot.

This brings me back to, "Don't talk about politics." The discussion just isn't worth the risk. It's so easy to offend someone with a simple statement that I just try to be as vague as possible when asked questions about how I feel about my own government. When you live 15 kilometers from the single largest Muslim country in the world (Indonesia), even whispering something like, "Hamas is firing rockets at Israeli civilians," can cause an extreme response. This is why I try to avoid the subject all together.

(Side note: I went to the US Embassy last week to get visa pages added to my passort because it was almost full. It was like entering a prison. There is no parking allowed. I went through 2 metal detectors, 3 very heavy (probably blast resistant) doors, two long empty enclosed corridors and had to leave my keys and cell phone at the gate. This is Singapore, the most pro-American country in South-East Asia, not Kabul. The need for such security is a sad thing. On a lighter note, the service was great. I was in and out in 25 minutes.)

The problem is that it is becoming almost impossible for me to avoid these Obama discussions. Almost daily I'm asked by people about Barak Obama and how his election will effect the rest of the world. This is also especially related to to the fact that I'm in the maritime industry which is strongly tied to the oil business. President Obama's energy policy is a hot topic. The stories you hear about how famous he is overseas are true. I didn't really understand why until a conversation I had yesterday at lunch.

I was talking with another ABS engineer and I told him how surprised I was about the high amount of coverage of the US election I was seeing on TV and in the newspaper in Singapore. He gave me a knowing look and then simply said, "Yeah, it wasn't like this 8 years ago."

A simple response that said so much. Think of the effect that US policy has had on the rest of the world over the last 8 years. Two new wars, people from all over the world imprisoned without ever being charged with a crime, deteriorating security in the Middle East (although that point is certainly debatable), an unstable global energy market and looming oil shortage and a worldwide financial collapse. Regardless of the facts (who knows what the facts are at this point anyway), the world perceives the United States as the cause of these problems.

Very much like people in the US, people overseas are looking at Obama like a savior of sorts. He's the anti-Bush, and that makes him popular. Putting aside all of the racial issues (not that they're insignificant, it's just not what I'm talking about here), our new President has a pretty full plate of things to deal with. What I can't predict is how people will react if things get worse before they get better. Some people are saying that if he doesn't prove himself to be the Messiah pretty quickly there will be a backlash. I'm more inclined to think the opposite. The bar has been set so low recently, it's not hard to make yourself look good.

I've been typing for 20 minutes and I'm not really sure where I'm going with this. Do I have a point? I guess I'm afraid to make a point for all of the reasons I listed above.

May God bless you Barak. The world is watching.


Liza said...

It's so interesting to hear how other parts of the world are responding to this incredible event in history. Ronald Reagan was sworn into office in January 1981, Joe and I were both a year old - which basically means that since I have been a cognizant human being I have been more or less ashamed of America's president (Clinton was okay, but he sorta blew it in the end). That hope and excitement that has been building all around us since last summer is truly palpable here, though I have to admit that Sag Harbor is probably 99% democrat. One thing that has been especially meaningful to Joe and me is seeing the excitement on our employees faces through all of this. These kids are watching CNN and reading newspapers for the first time in their entire lives, they actually feel like they can relate to the man that is making the decisions now. Tuesday was such an unbelievably special day here in Sag Harbor and I'm sure around the world as well. A new day is here. Don't be afraid to share the love.

Jeff said...

I agree there's a lot of promise with Obama, but I'm also not ready to open a new wing in the Hall of Presidents just yet.

One thing I'm already enjoying is watching a man speak who has full command of the English language. That's refreshing.

So Matt, did you and Melissa send in absentee ballots??