Images via 2016 White House Watchers
I was camped out at a bar on Elm Street in Downtown Manchester when I heard two women wearing Bernie Sanders pins say that a delegation from The Hague was across the street.
“You’ve got to see them,” one of the women said, instructing me to keep an eye out for their telltale soccer-style scarves. I hopped out of the pub and found half a dozen gray-haired men, all standing over six-feet tall and wearing tailored overcoats. I knew these were the Dutchmen I was looking for, even before seeing their red, white, and blue neckwear with the message “White House Watchers 2016.”
After identifying myself and mentioning the semester I spent abroad in Limburg, the men called their leader back down the street to speak with me. His name is Willem Post, and he told me he appears in a variety of Dutch media outlets to speak about U.S. politics. It turns out Post is a “Dutch America historian and publicist,” and the point of this mission was for his crew to observe our election in person in order to return home and present their findings.
“In Western Europe, in the Netherlands we are very much interested in U.S. presidential elections because your president is a world leader,” Post said. “It’s also very important to know if Mr. Sanders or Mr. Trump will be the next president.”
He added, “And you can learn a lot about direct democracy. Like canvassing here. It’s really impressive.” Post said he witnessed David Pryor, the 81-year-old former governor of Arkansas, personally petition two women in a storefront.
“He was canvassing and fighting for one or two votes because there were two ladies in a shop,” Post said. “He was discussing for a half an hour with them.”
Post saw this as a sign of good health in the American election system, despite the influence of money and political advertisements.
“It’s important to discuss with people and fight for one or two or three votes. And that’s the essence of democracy.”
Overall, Post appreciates the opportunity to witness the New Hampshire primary. Even if his observations are a little bit rosy considering the pay-to-play sewer that is American politics.
“We as Europeans are guests here, so we thank the people of New Hampshire. That they allow us to walk into their town halls so that we can ask questions. You cannot do that in Russia or China. So the whole idea that this is possible, that’s incredible of course.”
All the pessimism that’s been baked into the American perception of our own voting process doesn’t seem to have reached the Hague.
“There’s a lot of criticism about Washington, and a lot of the political capitals in the western world,” said Pryor. “But come to New Hampshire and you can see this direct democracy it’s still there.”