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Election questions? Ask a foreign student

I have had quite a few well-informed conversations this week about current events in general, and the presidential race in particular. I am impressed with the level of quality discourse I found for the taking at ASU.

I was even able to bring McCain and Biden into the mix. You remember John McCain, right? Old guy, peanut-shaped face? Owns seven houses? The one whose name shows up occasionally in articles about Sarah Palin?

I heard a while back he was running for president, but I haven’t seen him for a few weeks.

Or Joe Biden … I think he’s running for same office as Palin, but it’s hard to tell. I guess competent statesmen, even if they are a bit anticlimactic, just aren’t as much fun to talk about.

But I talked about them last week, and with ASU students. There’s a catch though: none of them will be voting in November.

They aren’t even U.S. citizens; they’re foreign students in some of my classes.

It galls me almost as much as losing to UNLV (gah!) that the only people around me who seem to have enough information on American politics to make an educated decision are Costa Rican, Russian and Malaysian.

It’s not just them either — look at newspapers from Japan, France, the United Kingdom, Germany. Most of them will have some kind of coverage of Obama, McCain and all assorted players.

This is kind of embarrassing in light of the fact that when I asked random ASU students this week what state Obama represents in the Senate, a few people answered Indiana, one or two answered Massachusetts, some answered “uh, it’s in the Midwest, I think” and some stuck with “not sure, don’t care.”

Overall, about a third of the people I asked didn’t know (it’s Illinois, by the way), and despite the fact this was by no means a formal scientific poll, I was surprised there were any at all.

In a very real sense, what happens to the entire world is determined by our president. Citizens of other countries know this, so they pay close attention to our politics, especially when we’re electing a president.

At the same time, Americans pay close attention to how attractive the VP candidates are, or whether or not a potential president wears patriotic lapel pins.

That’s how we end up with leaders who react compassionately and efficiently to hurricanes in Texas — after people in New Orleans have died because they didn’t know how the first time around.

We have a habit of bringing discussions down to the lowest common denominator but it’s high time we were better.

In this day and age, we need to care enough to get past the circus and find as much of the truth as we can. Parroting talking points makes you a good memorizer, not an educated voter and making a shallow decision about the leader of the free world makes you an inexcusable fool.

Come November, I certainly hope I won’t be having thoughtful discussions with foreign students about what a mess American citizens made of this election.

It would break my heart if I could do nothing but agree with them.

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