US elections: A Russian prospective

How the whole thing looks from abroad

Me, Myself and I

Let’s start with the quick introduction. I’m not an American — never was and probably never will be. I’m a self-employed 31 year old Russian living in the capital of the Russian Federation, Moscow, and who does business with clients mostly from the United States.

It’s fair to say that I have some understanding of the United States and its people since I was in there on business trips multiple times and visited different places: Boston, New York, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara. I lived in Woburn (it’s in the suburbs of Boston) for several months during my extended stay. I encountered white people, black people, hispanics and got along fine with pretty much everyone and everyone was very open to me. Maybe because I’m outsider or maybe because I’m cool, but I think I got the hang of the whole “America” thing. The views I express here are solely my own, so treat them as such.

To put it bluntly, I like America, I really do. To me, the U.S. always was the land of opportunity. America is like a much more successful version of Russia in a lot of ways: a land of huge territories, with people of all races, nations, and creeds living side by side, and learning to work out their differences to come to mutual understanding. Whereas in Russia, stuff seems to fall in disrepair as soon as you drive 100 kilometers away from Moscow, the United States always struck me as being first and foremost a nation of small but very deeply rooted, tightly-knit, well kept and built from bottom-up communities of people with a strong feeling of initiative. This trend seems to be common among Americans — the desire to raise the quality of life and to take things into their own hands. Strong community feeling, strong grassroots organizations — that is something that us, Russians, still have to learn. In our neck of the woods, it’s mostly every man for himself; we don’t band together like Americans do to sort stuff out. We wait for the government to fix everything, or just sit around and complain about life.

First interest in US politics

By 2012, I was a 27 year old guy with a more or less acceptable career, coming in and out of the United States, but without having an interest in American politics. The whole Obama craze went sort of past me — the guy always seemed like a politico blowhard (as do most of them), so that doesn’t say much. Beyond that, he seemed like a generally likable person and an OK guy. With that said, it is thanks to Obama that I actually started following American politics. During my stay in New York, I was in Brighton Beach chatting with some local Russian emigrants, and the topic of Obamacare came up. I then realized that the United States doesn’t really have any sort of national medical insurance system, and Obama was the first to create one.

I did some research in my spare time on the subject and was horrified that medical expenses were the main reason for bankruptcy in the United States. And don’t take my word for it — check this study out, for example: http://www.cnbc.com/id/100840148

– [It was projected for 2013 that] Over 15M American adults (ages 19–64) would use up all their savings to pay medical bills
– Over 11M American adults (ages 19–64) would take on credit card debt to pay off their hospital bills
– Nearly 10M American adults (ages 19–64) would be unable to pay for basic necessities like rent, food, and heat due to their medical bills

And that is in the richest country in all recorded human history, whereas even us, the Russians — an economic midget compared to the US — have a shabby but more-or-less functioning state-run medical insurance all citizens are subject to. Not to mention Europeans and their excellent medical insurance. Hell, even Canada has one and does great to the best of my knowledge.

What’s the point of having the richest country in the world if you might get cancer and then you end up filing for personal bankruptcy because you are unable to pay for your treatment (which is also one of the most expensive in the world but far from being the best in the world, by the way — I know because I can compare the prices)? And on top of it all, you might have been paying for private health insurance for years, but then it turns out that because you underreported some medical condition when you signed up for this private insurance, you then are not eligible for receiving any insurance coverage, when dodging all these payments is these insurance companies’ chief goal. They don’t really care about your health, they care about turning a profit — which is OK, but not when it comes to human life in my book.

Isn’t that the sort of thing that a healthy community would try to prevent? If 300 million people pool in a hundred bucks each, that gives an opportunity to save lives of thousands of people without having them incur the atrocious medical costs that would ruin their life even if they survive the treatment. Yeah, taxes aren’t cool, but that’s one of the cases where I feel that my tax rubles are spent wisely, and I would feel comfortable paying more knowing that it’s required to save someone’s life.

The Awakening

And having learnt all that, I began to really appreciate that guy in the White House who seems to have made the impossible possible. The more I read about Obama, the more I understood that he went through hell to push Medicare through despite the fact that he stepped on the toes of a lot corporations. He was attacked from all sides, and his opponents even now threaten to overturn Medicare laws. But he knew that he was addressing one of the most pressing issues in American society. He made a stand and he won, and regardless of his weakness on other topics (maybe it was a tradeoff, or maybe he was just choosing his battles wisely) this is something that history will definitely remember him for.

And then I found out another thing — almost all secondary education in the United States needs to be paid for and almost all of it is extremely expensive. Community colleges are becoming the necessary pathway to university, and the only way for people to get an education is by taking on a student loan, and then slave away in some big corporation to pay out the insane accumulated interest for 25-to-life.

I never mentioned it, but I got my secondary education free here in Russia, in the Russian State University for Humanities. I excelled in entrance exams, and the government covered my tuition fees. Coming from a less well off family, I would have been unable to get it any other way so studying patiently was the only way for me to work my way up,which is what I did. And I thank all my compatriots for essentially pooling in for me — I try to respond in kind by being a more or less good citizen and paying my taxes. I can say that in the last year I paid more in taxes than my whole education cost back then, so I believe it turned out to be a good investment for the society in general.

So coming back to the topic of education, I seriously don’t understand what the hell you guys are doing with all this tax money over there — you haven’t had state medical insurance until recently, you (almost) don’t have free secondary education but you’ve been paying taxes on par with European countries that do for ages. What are you doing with all this money?

That’s when I first saw Bernie Sanders interviews and saw the first candidate to actually raise this extremely important topic. The thing that makes me laugh is that when he demands that education is given to the young folks for free, rather than see them sell themselves as modern day big corporation wage slaves to cover tuition fees, his opponents ask “Oh yeah, well who’s going to pay for that?”

You, you are going to pay for that. You and everybody else. In fact, you are already paying for that. For that and much more than that. You are just not getting your part of the deal.

Not sure why this is largely ignored by the media or even other candidates — even Hillary misses the point by a mile, and Bernie is the only one to approach this very important topic. Education and healthcare — this is the core foundation a society builds upon. The more they are available to the public, the higher social mobility and the quality of life will be. Investing in the health and education of your citizens is probably the best thing a nation can do, because these same people will be around when your own kids are born.

My kind of guy

So to sum things up, I see Bernie right now as the only viable candidate who’s keen on tackling this extremely important issue. Yeah, he does sound cranky and eccentric at times (especially when he starts going about the Wall Street vs. Main Street, not a big fan of this whole “We are the 99%” rhetoric), and reminds me of a grumpy old grandpa, but the things he says are generally true.

As I said in the beginning, I’m not a US citizen so I can’t tell anyone what to do with his or her vote. But since I consider humanism and the embetterment of mankind in general to be more important than national identities or artificial state boundaries, I believe a person who strives to essentially improve the lives of millions of people should be supported regardless of national affiliation or other political considerations. And if he actually happens to be a politician, so much the better. My hat is off to Bernie.