Ambassador Baily’s Remarks at U.S. Election Breakfast

Welcome, everyone, to our election breakfast.  Thank you for sharing this historic day with us.

Every four years, we know that the eyes of the world are on the United States as we go through the process to select a new President.  In the last month, my colleagues at the Embassy and I have traveled around the country talking about our elections; it has been a truly humbling experience to see the level of interest and engagement that people have. We’ve had schoolchildren stump us with difficult questions, young people debate and grapple foreign policy positions, and we’ve had businessmen and journalists questioning their role in the election.

And that is exciting and inspiring.  And rightly so.  Every four years, in the United States, we celebrate something special – the right to elect our leader.  It is a right that is at the very foundation of our republic and is a right for which people have fought, struggled and died.  And not just in that first Revolution.  In fact, 100 years ago, more than half my colleagues at the embassy did not have the right to vote.

In all the noise of the campaign, and we can agree this campaign has certainly produced some noise, the most important thing to happen was the simple act of an American citizen pulling the lever, filling out the bubble, clicking the button and making their voice heard.  All across the United States, in 50 states, and the District of Columbia, more than 130 million voters, of all ethnicities, of all religious and all economic backgrounds came out and did that.

We take voting seriously.  Choosing a president is a serious business.  And for all the noise of the campaign, it has also been a campaign dealing with issues that affect the lives of real people – the economy and trade, immigration, terrorism, healthcare, and U.S. engagement in the world.  Voters will also be choosing tonight 435 members of Congress, 34 senators, and numerous local officials, from governors to members of the board of education, judges to county clerks.  They will be considering issues such as raising the minimum wage, new taxes to support infrastructure, and amending state constitutions. In fact you can see some of those issues if you look at the ballots of the various states around the room.

We’ve all read commentary that this was the ugliest or most contested campaign ever. But, I’m not sure that’s really true.  We have a long history in the United States of messy, polarizing, and close campaigns. Take the election of 1800 between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson – two people who we see in marble statues all around Washington as founders of our republic. Jefferson said that Adams’ Federalist Party was a “reign of witches…calculated to undermine and demolish the republic.”  The Federalists, on the other hand, argued that the country had to be saved from the “irretrievable ruin” at the “fangs of Jefferson.”

So what’s different today?  Well, one thing is – the amount of data and information we have; it’s higher than ever before and that is a good thing!  Today, it has never been easier to be an informed voter.  You can google the minute details of each candidate’s platform, listen to their speeches on YouTube, and follow them on Facebook and Twitter and hear directly from them.  There are multitudes of fact checking websites, where you can verify the veracity, not only of what the candidates say, but how the news media reports it. And in all this information, there is also a downside.  As we have seen, there is a lot of rumor and misinformation out there, and some of it a little deliberate, and that can spread like wildfire through social media networks. So it is important to be discerning.

Election Day is also one of celebration. Some parents bring their children to polling stations.  Neighbors volunteer to staff the polls.  At the office, at the local coffee shop, at the gas station, you can see people wearing the “I Voted” button.  It’s been fascinating to see the “I Voted” button has transformed into social media. I sent one out that said “I Voted from Macedonia” yesterday.

And so, in all of this, again, the most important thing is for people to find the time and energy to be an informed voter.  In the age of social media and 24 hour news channels, it’s never been easier to surround ourselves with only those voices which back up our own ideas and opinions.  To keep democracy alive and healthy, it is important that we acknowledge that we will not always agree, but also that we seek out opinions that challenge our own views – no matter what they are.

Sometimes, we get caught up in the day to day mudslinging and television drama that an election is, and we sometimes lose sight of what an awesome right this is – to have a say in our government and in the direction our country will move.  And with this right comes responsibility.  We have to cut through the noise and evaluate the candidate and who has the best vision for the future and then move on.

I think a good future looks similar to many of us – the people of Macedonia and the people of the United States alike, old and young, liberal and conservative.

We want our families to be safe and prosperous.  We want our children to get good educations and grow up to have opportunities to find their own path.  We want a world of peace and prosperity, where we work with other nations on the global challenges we all face. We will, of course, not always agree on how to get there, but we will agree that the goals are the same.  That is why the post-election period in the United States is usually a time of coming together – a time when, as Steven Douglas said in 1860, “partisan feeling must yield to patriotism.”

Campaigns are about highlighting differences; and so now the challenge is to focus on coming back together, forming a new administration and Congress, and looking ahead.

Today, the campaign has ended and, after this event, my team and I will be back at the Embassy and work to advance the relationship between the United States and the Republic of Macedonia. And, as I said to several media organizations, in my career in 31 years, I’ve served 15 of those years under Republican-led administrations and 16 years under Democrat-led administrations.  I can assure you that the challenges we face in the world do not have a party affiliation.  Those challenges do not change from November 8 to November 9, and our enduring partnerships and interests do not change either.  The United States has been Macedonia’s partner for nearly 25 years – through four different U.S. administrations – and our commitment to Macedonia’s success has not, and will not, I expect, wane.

One last thing I would like to say, as there are many people involved in politics here in the room. I salute all those people who have become candidates, who dare to run for office – it’s certainly not an easy thing.  I also salute the volunteers and activists who spent months supporting them.  And I salute my fellow citizens who voted.  This is exactly how self-government works.

Thank you for joining us this morning.

I think there are still some results and announcements to come, and it is heartening to see you here as we celebrate what is a very big day – Election Day in the United States.

Thank you all very much!