Door: Victoria Colette Reynolds
22 October 2008
Dutch Citizen Works Behind Scenes in U.S. Presidential Campaign
Kirsten Verdel works for Barack Obama, global policy changes
Washington â€” As the 2008 U.S. presidential election stirs intense interest overseas, a Dutch native hopes her ripple effect on American politics will spur global policy changes.
Kirsten Verdel, 30, works at Democratic National Committee (DNC) headquarters in the research department, helping with campaign strategy for Barack Obama.
â€œI'm not allowed to vote here, so what I'm doing is the next best thing,â€ Verdel said. â€œIt's a way to be involved, and that's important because what happens in the U.S. directly impacts not just people in America, but people around the world, and not just world markets, but global policy.â€
Assisting with rapid media response, opposition research and debate preparation, Verdel compiles data to illuminate candidate strengths and weaknesses and to bolster Obama's responses to Republican attacks.
â€œI hoped to somehow get involved in this campaign, but I didn't know it would be at national headquarters, in such an important place and position,â€ Verdel said.
POLITICAL VETERAN HAS FRESH PERSPECTIVE ON U.S. POLITICS
Verdel has effected change in her own country as a member of the Dutch Labour Party (Partij van de Arbeid, or PvdA). She served as an elected member of the provincial parliament in South Holland and worked as a policy analyst for the Dutch Ministry of Internal Affairs. As a campaign manager in six elections in the Netherlands, she most recently helped secure the Senate-level election of a former Dutch minister.
Amazed by the financial and human capital involved in the 2008 presidential election, Verdel said in the Netherlands, all political parties combined spend the equivalent of $35 million for a national campaign. In America, one party can spend that sum in less than a week.
The number of volunteers working on U.S. campaigns is also 60 times higher than in the Netherlands. Verdel, a freelance journalist for national publications in her home country, also notices differences in how the American news media deal with political campaigns.
For instance, U.S. newspapers routinely endorse candidates in their editorial or opinion sections but try to maintain objective coverage in their news stories.
â€œEndorsing a candidate in the Netherlands would be like saying, “We're not objective, we pick sides,'" she said. The role of Dutch newspapers â€œis not to endorse any position, but to write about it."
Verdel also said her home country's system of registering voters could be a useful model for improving voter turnout.
â€œIn the Netherlands, you're automatically registered to vote at age 18, and the city where you live will send you a ballot as soon as there is an election,â€ Verdel said. â€œHere, you have to get out and actively register yourself. That seems to be a speed bump, because the turnout is relatively low. And if people would just get a ballot, I think a lot more Americans would vote.â€
As a DNC staffer, Verdel shares her perspectives with those to whom she's introduced jokingly as â€œour official representative of the rest of the world." She has met Barack and Michelle Obama, Joe Biden and Bill and Hillary Clinton. But she said her greatest thrill was meeting Robert Kennedy Jr.
â€œI was completely at a loss for words when I met Bobby Junior, because his father meant so much to me,â€ said Verdel, who often quotes from the â€œRipple of Hopeâ€ speech the late Senator Robert F. Kennedy made in South Africa in 1966.
â€œ[Senator Kennedy's] moral courage, his words, his actions are the driving force behind my own work in politics,â€ she said. Her commitment to social and political causes has taken her to 34 countries and 25 U.S. states, she added.
After this election, Verdel wants to stay involved in politics, wherever that may be.
â€œGetting a work permit to come here for just five months was so difficult,â€ Verdel said. â€œBut if, for example, Robert Kennedy Jr. would say, “I want to run for the Senate,' I would be the first to say, “I want to work for you!'â€