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Stephen Kimel and his wife Greta Kimel attract costumers to take pictures at their photo booth which was set-up at a street festival for convention goers ahead of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina on September 3, 2012. (ADREES LATIF/REUTERS)
Stephen Kimel and his wife Greta Kimel attract costumers to take pictures at their photo booth which was set-up at a street festival for convention goers ahead of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina on September 3, 2012. (ADREES LATIF/REUTERS)

Expats debate: What Democrats want – Obama needs to talk about social issues Add to ...

Democrats gather in Charlotte, N.C., for their national convention this week to support U.S. President Barack Obama’s campaign for re-election.

We asked the Democratic expats in our U.S. Election 2012: Canadians in America series to tell us what they want Mr. Obama and others to accomplish this week. Here are some of their responses. We asked Republicans the same question last week.

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Sri Artham, a sustainable-food advocate in San Francisco, Calif., from Toronto:

One of the most striking things about living in the U.S. is the lack of quality news sources (I still tell my friends here that best TV news source is Comedy Central’s The Daily Show ). The lack of good information leads to a country that doesn’t recognize the facts – on the things that really matter: health (37th in the world), education (21st), safety (88th), and happiness (105th) – America can no longer call itself a global leader.

What I’d like to see at the Democratic National Convention is an acknowledgement of these issues. I think the Obama administration took a bold and badly needed move in shepherding universal healthcare – as a Canadian it was shocking to find myself living in a country where over 40 million people didn’t have health insurance.

Now’s the time to talk about fixing other fundamental problems: An education system that does a better job of teaching? A society where it isn’t so easy to get a gun? Or perhaps most boldly: A country that recognizes that money shouldn’t be equated with happiness?

America has the potential to be the greatest country in the world again, but it needs a leading party that’s both enlightened and bold enough to change course. I’d love to see Mr. Obama and his colleagues paint that picture this week in Charlotte.

Kyla Sweet, an elementary school librarian in Seattle, from Edmonton and Vancouver:

I go into a media lockdown when it’s Convention Time. Doesn’t matter if it’s for the Republicans or my side, the Democrats, the convention is a lot of hot air – and I’m not just talking about all the balloons they inevitably release. I haven’t listened to news radio in days due to the Republican convention and the way it is reported as facts rather than the sales job a convention is. It is not really a time of thoughtful policy debate but more of a pep rally.

Nonetheless, I’m hoping Barack Obama comes out fired up and delivers one of his speeches that make you want to follow him to the moon and back. I want to hear excitement and positivity. When he speaks about the issues that are important to me – healthcare, working families, education, clean energy – I briefly come out of the stress and fear that the election season brings. I may even turn on the radio.

Jacqueline Segal, who works in human rights at the Carter Center in Atlanta, Ga., from Kingston, Ont.:

The horrific shootings in Colorado and Wisconsin, the ridiculous and scientifically-naïve discussion of rape from Representative and senatorial candidate Todd Akin, and the public decree from a Chic-fil-A executive against same-sex marriage are all fodder for heated debate at the water cooler – especially among many of my left(ish)-leaning office-mates.

That being said, in a recent conversation a friend of mine brought up the notion of often neglected ‘soft domestics’ – those domestic policy issues like education, transportation, energy, the environment, labour, health, housing, etc., with no sexy sound-bites to propel them into news clips and pundit roundtables. As a mother, she worries about the country her son will inherit – an America with horribly underfunded public schools, cities with crumbling infrastructure, little support for the poor, sick and mentally ill, and no real support or vision for sustainable energy and conservation on a national level.

At the coming national convention, she hopes to see President Obama speak up not just for specific groups, but for Americans writ large, with a focus on building back up the very framework that supports the country. A framework, which if invested in, will cultivate a healthier, wealthier, and more highly educated country. I, for one, am inclined to agree and would like to see a healthy discussion on domestic policy, instead of watching those issues being treated as the filler between controversial sound-bites.

Mr. Obama should aim for a conversation that moves away from polarization, and, instead, focuses on rebuilding those social, physical and environmental institutions that create healthy communities, and stand as real examples of progress to the rest of the world.

Sure, domestic policy isn’t sexy, but as the comedic pundits on Fox News and The Colbert Report have recently highlighted with their reactions to Canada’s economic strength in the face of global financial crisis, a country that takes better care of its populace is a label I’m sure that my American friends would gladly like to take back.

Regan Fletcher, who works in digital sales and business strategy in San Francisco, Calif, from Oshawa, Ont.:

Since the last campaign, and throughout his presidency, there’s been this feeling from Mr. Obama of “chill out, I got this.” That’s what I want to see again from the DNC.

It seemed to me that the RNC was entirely about rhetoric and blame. The Republicans probably did exactly what they needed to do to shore up their base but it’s hard to believe they swayed any undecided voters. So what I’d really like to see from the DNC is the first few days’ speakers set the record straight about the horrible economy inherited by Mr. Obama and the fact that statistically it’s gotten better, even if it doesn’t feel like it to everyone, and that this recession very easily could have been a depression.

I’d like to see Americans reminded that General Motors is alive and Osama bin Laden is dead, and that both those outcomes were doubtful in 2008. And then I’d like to see Mr. Obama leverage every ounce of his oratory mastery to ingrain in the minds of undecided voters that he is very much a President and that Mitt Romney is not. I want voters in the swing states to turn off the TV after his address and feel like “yeah, he’s got this.”

Jenny Zhang, who works in advertising in Greenville, N.C. (on the other side of the state from the convention), from Ottawa:

Social issues are really the foundation that all policy must be based on. Do we castigate and demonize anything and anybody that’s not exactly like us? Are we mindful that we’re all part of the social fabric, and that we work best when we help each other? Or is it more important to tear the Other down?

More than anything else, the emotion I’ve felt during this election cycle has been fear. Fear of a world in which religion rules government policies. Fear of undoing the social progress we’ve made for treating women as equals. Fear of sliding into an age of anti-intellectualism, of sneering at science for being “elitist.” Fear of having my voice drowned out by the sound of money flowing in from corporations.

I understand Barack Obama’s desire for bipartisanship and compromise, but quite frankly, I’m done compromising with a party that doesn’t respect me as a person, and who will sell the future of the country to corporations and defence contractors. To that end, I want to see a renewed commitment to strengthening the social safety net, to improving public education (especially at the K–12 level), to equal rights for the LGBTQ community, and to a pro-choice stance for women’s health. I want a government that governs, not one that panders.

Have a question for our expats? Please fill out our form, email us, or leave a comment below.

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