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Global appeal

Kaitlynn Riely | Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Ten months ago, I was standing in line for the coat check at a posh London club when a man tapped me on the shoulder.

He’d heard my American accent and wanted to get my opinion: Who did I think would win the Democratic primary, Clinton or Obama?

His curiosity surprised me, and not just because it was a serious inquiry in a shadowy night club, a place where the men all wore skinny jeans, “The B-52’s” (you know them, they sang Love Shack) were deejaying and we’d heard rumors that Peaches, the British socialite, was in the building.

I’ve paid little attention to elections that happen in other countries, but in pubs and parks, in line for shawarma and on the Tube, Londoners asked me about my thoughts on the dramatic race for the American presidency.

They weren’t just being friendly. Elections in the United States attract the attention of the citizens of the world, because the outcome of the Nov. 4 election has a global impact.

When I left the United States last January for London, I was worried I would be disconnected from the exciting races for the Democratic and Republican nominations. But an ocean away, news about the debates, the primaries and the speeches were front page news as well.

“It’s just like ‘West Wing,'” one woman told me.

But Aaron Sorkin’s creation never got ratings this good.

The world watched as Hillary Clinton made it closer to the presidential nomination on a major party ticket than any woman ever had before her. They saw John McCain, a former Vietnam prisoner of war, capture the Republican nomination, and months later, they saw him pick Gov. Sarah Palin to be the first woman on the Republican Party presidential ticket. The world watched a black man accept the Democratic Party’s nomination, in a country where slavery existed only 150 years ago.

In January, the man in the queue said he didn’t think Americans would ever elect a black man to the highest office in the land. And he didn’t think Americans would elect a woman to the executive branch, either.

But the long presidential campaign has produced many surprises, and, regardless of the winner, he would have been wrong today. On Election Day, Americans crossed a threshold, and the front pages of the Telegraph in London, Le Monde in Paris, The Moscow Times, and papers from Argentina to Thailand will tell the great story of the election, a story that is only possible in the United States of America.

It was illuminating to see the election from abroad, but I’m glad to be a long way from the nightclub queue.

The people I met in London were just watching the election story. We lived it.