Nik Dirga: A view of America from far away

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The first American presidential election I remember getting really outraged about was in 1988.

Vice President George Bush was running against the rather hapless Democrat Michael Dukakis, in a campaign that was sleazy even by modern standards. I was 16 years old, and the underdog Dukakis was my candidate.

Dukakis lost, of course, and I remember quite vividly the next day having the feeling that everything had gone wrong. We were robbed. I took it personally, that the horse I backed lost the race. What were the Bush voters thinking?

I got over it, and over the ensuing years saw some of the people I wanted to be President win and some of them lose. I jumped on the Bill Clinton train and lost a bit of my idealism in the 2000 Bush/Gore contested vote. I was so convinced that John Kerry would beat President George W. Bush in 2004 that I was depressed for days by the result.

Living in another country for the past six years has helped broaden my view of the world considerably. November 7 will mark my second US election while living in New Zealand. There's a strange feeling in watching your homeland's fate be decided from the other side of the world.

Being an American in New Zealand at election time can feel a bit like being in a parallel universe.

I've yet to find one person I know here who supports Mitt Romney, who's essentially tied with President Barack Obama in most homeland polls. Yet obviously someone out there is supporting Romney.

I remember one of my first impressions of being a kind of unofficial ambassador for my country overseas. It was in 2003, right around the time President George W. Bush invaded Iraq, and I was visiting New Zealand with my wife.

I was at a party my in-laws had thrown. One of the guests, when he found out where I was from, stuck his finger in my face and began loudly berating me about "My president."

I feebly attempted explaining how I voted for the other guy and didn't much care for Bush either, but it didn't wash. This gentleman wanted to vent. America was the bully of the world and I was its representative.

The whole world takes the American presidency rather personally. Fair enough. The person sitting in the Oval Office has an outsize, perhaps unfair influence on world affairs.

Yet America is often painted by a very big, broad brush by people in New Zealand. Americans aren't all gun-toting overweight fast food eaters, any more than most of the wide stereotypes about New Zealanders are true.

I get a bit outraged over every presidential election ever since seeing Michael Dukakis get trampled in 1988. It's become an insanely expensive, drawn-out and often ugly process, which it's hard to emerge unscathed from. The presidential campaign that ends this week began more than a year ago, and Romney has essentially been running for President since early 2007.

In 2008, I was able to vote in two countries' elections within a few days of each other thanks to an absentee ballot. The New Zealand election seemed considerably more restrained in its passions and blissfully shorter. The idea that an election campaign can't really start until an election is called just shortly before the vote is one that an awful lot of Americans could get behind.

I've cast my vote long-distance and I know which candidate I'm hoping wins Wednesday. But I also know if the other guy takes the election, it won't be the end of the world as we know it.

I'm still prepared to get a little bit outraged, but if there's one thing living in New Zealand has shown me, the American president is part of a much broader picture than many Americans realise.

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