America, I apologize.
For the past two months, I’ve been misrepresenting you, to myself, and to the people I’ve met while studying at Sciences Po.
I’ve never stopped loving you; never stopped being grateful. But I’ve been embarrassed. I bought into — and propagated — some typical stereotypes of Americans: monolinguistic, intolerant, gun-loving, tone-deaf to the international community, and uncaring about the environment.
While in France, land of the glamour and relatively liberal social policy, I’ve often bemoaned the fact that to you, I must return: land of obesity and constant brouhahas over not-even-universal health care.
You seemed hopelessly stodgy and out-of-touch compared to the European countries my new friends hail from. I began to remember grocery stores at home in North Carolina as only having genetically modified fruit, factory farmed meat, and Krispy Kreme doughnuts in the aisles. I “ironically” called you ‘murica one too many times.
(For the record, no one in the U.S. actually calls our country ‘murica. Even those of us with the strongest accents manage to pronounce all of the vowels.)
But on Nov.6, you dispelled my naïve, two-dimensional myth of America when you elected Barack Obama for a second term.
When you voted for marriage equality in three states — states that are not even traditional liberal bastions.
When you elected the first openly gay senator, in Wisconsin.
When you legalized pot in two states, and medical marijuana in one more. (And to think I had you pegged as a square!)
When you waited in lines for more than seven hours, despite natural disaster or laws explicitly constructed to block the democratic process. It doesn’t matter whom you voted for — that commitment to republican (lowercase ‘r’) values is admirable. Maybe you’re not so lazy after all.
But, besides greatly increasing the warm, fuzzy feeling American students studying abroad feel about their homeland, what were the effects of Nov. 6? Here’s a quick run down on a few key issues:
The U.S. was going to have to confront the “fiscal cliff” in January no matter who won the election. This “cliff” is a pile of postponed decisions about the budget, left over from the budget battle of summer 2011. President Obama has claimed that sequestration, the large cuts to government agencies (including the previously untouchable military budget), will not happen. And let’s hope not: if they do, experts predict another recession.
But, as we’ve come to expect, Obama’s agenda contradicts the Republican-controlled House of Representatives’. They’ve pledged not to raise taxes, even though that’s an important defense against the cuts. The world can expect familiar headlines about impending economic implosion as Obama fights to maintain or increase spending and Republicans fight for smaller government. However, the elections have provided the president with a stronger Democratic backbone in the Senate. This might help curb Republicans’ reliance on the filibuster (a procedure in the Senate that allows senators to delay important votes by talking for as long as they can — sometimes for weeks) and help him carry out his tax and budget policies.
The economy will possibly recover more slowly than it would have under Romney. Slate’s economic correspondent Matthew Yglesias writes that Republicans have actually favored larger budget deficits since the 1980s. Such deficits aid recovery in the short term. Yglesias also says that the Federal Reserve tends to have looser monetary policy with Republican leaders, increasing the money supply.
Anyone who watched the debate between Romney and Obama about foreign policy knows that this was where the candidates differed the least. But would British Prime Minister David Cameron have tweeted “warm congratulations” to Romney if he had won? Probably not. The BBC reported a “general sigh of relief” among European leaders concerning the election results. Not only is Obama more popular personally, he and his secretary of Treasury have been closely involved in discussions about the Euro crisis. His victory means that European leaders won’t have to waste time briefing a new administration about the issues at hand.
That relief is shared by Iranians, says BBC editor Jeremy Bowen. Obama will set up a new round of talks about Iran’s nuclear ambitions relatively quickly. Also, Obama is internationally popular, while Romney clearly was not. This credibility might allow him to create a more powerful coalition against Iran, says Naser Hadian, a political professor at Tehran University.
About thirty million uninsured Americans will begin to receive benefits by 2014 as planned. Implementation of 2010’s Affordable Care Act will begin on the state level whether governors like it or not – and many of them don’t. Fortunately for them, Obama might be more flexible with its implementation at the state level now that the risk of repeal is gone. The Wall Street Journal says that hospitals can expect reduced financial burdens from needy patients, and that the healthcare industry is preparing for a major expansion. Americans will be paying more for insurance premiums, as insurance companies incorporate new fees into their prices.
The Obama campaign emphasized its commitment to students and affordable education, and our age group showed its appreciation in votes. Sixty percent of voters between the ages of 18 and 29 voted for the Democratic ticket.
American Sciences Po exchange students are constantly jealous of the relatively low price of education in Europe, since we’re charged, on average, more than 22 000 dollars each year of university. (the average price for private institutions is more than 10 000 dollars higher than that.) Average student debt is more than 26,000. And the average salary for someone graduating from most four-year universities is around 40 000 dollars, making that debt difficult to get rid of while paying rent and eating. The president has already made the federal loans system more manageable. Thanks to his administration, rates are based on one’s post-grad income, not the amount he or she borrowed. (In contrast; Republicans, with Romney’s support, fought to raise interest rates on students this year.) And the president wants to help students out even more. He plans to cut the amount tuition increases each year in half. So what does this mean for Sciences Po? American students will continue to be able to afford to study here. And even though our country seems cooler than ever, we’ll still want to.