Absent but Not Uncounted: Following the U.S. Election from France
- Published on Tuesday, 23 October 2012 00:00
- Written by David Jaggard
A Tight Race and a
This is where Americans in Paris go to vote for their next president. Sort of.
I have heard that there is a presidential election coming up in the United States. For an American living in Paris, that means one thing: it’s time to head for the bar. Any gin joint will do, especially if your party loses, but the traditional choice is Harry’s New York Bar on Rue Daunou near the old opera house.
Harry’s has hosted a straw poll on every U.S. Election Day since 1924, and its outcome has correctly predicted the winner all but twice, in 1976, when Jimmy Carter was elected, and in 2004, when Michael Moore was swept into the White House on a groundswell of write-in votes.
Over the years, Election Night at Harry’s has developed into a mob scene, drawing a huge crowd of voters, reporters, pundits, pollsters, TV interviewers, radio commentators and people of all nationalities with a keen interest in the electoral process.
And me. I have spent the first Tuesday night of November at Harry’s every four years since 1984, although I probably won’t make it this year.
In the old days, all you had to do to join the bipartisan party was show up early with an American accent, but in recent years admission has become nearly impossible unless you’re on the VIP guest list. And although I’m pretty sure I qualify as a “P,” I’m only “VI” to my wife, my mom and the bank that holds my mortgage.
But it’s okay — I have to confess that I haven’t been following this election as closely as I should. I used to pay more attention to the presidential races in the 1980s and ’90s, before the extremization of American politics made it extremely easy for me to choose my party without carefully examining its stance on every question.
Perhaps not coincidentally, this regrettable polarization took place just when Internet access was becoming widespread, making it easy for shallow thinkers to deepen the divide by insulting each other viciously and anonymously from opposite sides of both the issues and the country. Democracy in action!
Perhaps not unparadoxically, since then I have also stopped encountering a particular kind of spiel that I used to hear at least once every election and at least once from each major party. I call it the “antimatter argument,” because the people who use it seem to think that by pure insistence they can negate the existence of their political foes.
The last antimatter tirade I heard happened to be from a Republican, although it could just as well have been from a Democrat, Libertarian or LaRoucharian. Nancy and I were at Harry’s Bar on election night in 1996, seated next to a gentleman who, judging from his apparent blood alcohol level, had been seated in Harry’s Bar since election night in 1992.
He saw fit to share with everyone, at length and high volume, his thoughts on the election, which included... well, not much in the way of actual thoughts.
Essentially, all he could come up with was, “There is no Democratic Party! They don’t have a candidate! They don’t have a platform! There is no Democratic agenda!”
He ranted on like that for what seemed like hours but was probably only all night, until it was announced that, even with no party, platform or candidate, the Democrats had won. Our tablemate was probably still there the next morning, bellowing, “There is no president! There is no United States!”
At least he put some energy, if not cogency, into his views. My own political laziness is compounded by the difficulty of following the election closely in real time from one ocean and six time zones away. Everything important happens in the middle of the night here, from the convention speeches to the debates to the announcement of the results.
On the other hand, there are some distinct advantages to being in another country during an election year. We foreign residents don’t have to endure mudslinging TV ads, sub-federal partisan bickering and tacky lawn signs.
Best of all, there are no campaign calls in France. I am especially pleased about this in light of a recent story in The New York Times (which you might not be able to read without a login — if you can’t access the link, there’s a story about the story here).
Apparently, thanks to the modern miracle of data mining, campaign callers this year are likely to “prod” (read “shame”) what they call “low-propensity” voters to get out to the polls by mentioning, like a concerned Big Brother, knowledge of the callees’ Internet browsing history, including information like their shopping habits, dating preferences, gambling tendencies and, most proddingly, porn-viewing practices.
I have a suggestion for American residents: should a campaign volunteer have the gall to ask if you ever look at X-rated Web sites, here’s how to answer: “Oh yes! All the time! I especially like the one starring [whichever candidate the caller backs] and your daughter! I have it bookmarked! You should see my screen saver!”
In case anyone is planning to call me and ask which hand I use to surf Girls Gone Wild, save your quarter: I have already voted. I may be lazy, but I’m not apathetic — I make it a point to vote by absentee ballot in every presidential election.
Warning! Actual useful information alert!
If you’re a U.S. citizen living abroad and haven’t voted yet, it’s not too late, but you need to act fast. Go to Vote From Abroad, which gives step-by-step instructions for receiving and submitting an absentee ballot.
I downloaded the ballot request form (FPCA), filled it out, scanned it and e-mailed a PDF file to my county auditor’s office (the site gave me the address), which promptly e-mailed me back a PDF of all the absentee voting materials, which I then printed out and sent in by regular post. It’s also possible to e-mail your ballot if you meet certain conditions.
Airmail (from France) takes about six days, and the ballots need to be received by Election Day, so DO IT NOW!!! Sorry to yell, but no matter how carefully or sloppily you’ve been monitoring the race, you owe it to yourself, me, the nation, the world and the aliens who make crop circles to exercise your right to vote.
And then exercise your right to head for the bar. I’ll see you at Harry’s on November 6. It’ll be easy to spot me — just look for a guy standing outside the door yelling at the security staff, “There are no VIPs! You have no guest list!...”
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Reader Barney Kirchhoff writes: "Anyone who goes to Harry's bar is the ultimate American sucker."
David Jaggard responds: "So you've been there?"
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