Needed: Better Pen Pals

As if the citizens of the battleground state of Ohio didn't have enough election advertising to contend with, they've recently faced a targeted letter-writing campaign from across the Atlantic.

In an adopt-an-American-voter venture, the British newspaper The Guardian made a list of independent voters in Clark County - swing district in a swing state - available to its print and Web readers this month.

The left-leaning publication told writers to "be courteous" and warned that the effort might be undermined "if approached undiplomatically." About 18,000 people signed up, but many letters were anything but polite.

Somewhere, an intriguing idea that could have involved constructive cross-Atlantic dialogue took a wrong turn and ended up as just another negative diatribe - between foreigners bashing Bush and Americans expressing outrage at their meddling.

It's bad enough for a Clark County resident to have found his or her name and address floating out for political targeting by nontaxpayers, noncitizens, and nonresidents, but the rude tone of some of the exchanges was particularly disturbing.

What The Guardian attempt illustrates, of course, is the intense British (and world) interest in the Nov. 2 election, triggered by the US war on terrorism and its handling of Iraq. It highlights how much the US is perceived as a bull in the world's china shop, throwing around its military, economic, and cultural might.

Citizens of distant lands have a stake in the election outcome. It's natural for them to voice their concerns, and perhaps try to influence the election from afar. Foreign interference, however, can backfire, as The Guardian found out.

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