Explaining American Politics to the British
My American friend John and I like nothing more than to enlighten each other on our respective country’s ways. He explained American Football to me, I explained real Football to him and then we talked TV. What’s normal to him seems amazing to me and vice versa; we're basically those really funny and profound people you hear in pubs loudly bonding over the different meanings of the word "pants".
With the American elections on the way, Britain has decided it has to talk about Mitt and Barack as opposed to football, Downton Abbey and the navy. Suddenly everyone’s throwing out zingers about Roe v. Wade and amendments to the Electoral College system. It’s making me look bad. I knew there was only one man I could go to for enlightenment: my buddy John, the trans-Atlantic de-mystifier.
Election season is upon us, rolling into town on a wagon made of hype and hatred. I sit here at my window, looking out at a platoon of Beefeaters marching on the village green, Big Ben in the background, unable to escape the American election chatter, which is dominating the local tea ‘n’ pints tavern. I have some questions here and you must answer them.
1. Mitt Romney
Limey Oscar says: Please explain this man. Is there actually a chance he could be president? I saw the video of him and the gay veteran and apart from the fact that he’s a homophobe; he doesn’t seem to be able to interact with human beings. When he talks about his past it sounds as though he’s making it up as he goes along. Also, he’s a Mormon? I know America was founded by religious outcasts but surely the marrying-seven-women Jesus-lived-in-America guys are a step too far.
Yankee John replies: Romney is not going to win. I shouldn't spoil the exciting conclusion, but it's just not going to happen. The best forecaster puts his chance of success at 24%. Also (spoiler alert,) that veteran will be able to marry his man eventually. Old people don't like the idea, but young people support gay marriage by a large margin. It's only a matter of time. Romney, as a Mormon, follows the teachings of Joseph Smith, a 19th-century huckster who revealed the prophecy of Americans as a lost tribe of Israel with special divinity conferred by Jesus Christ himself. Plenty to mock there, and they're doing so on Broadway, but Romney gets his own planet to rule after death, and all I get is a cloud to sit on.
2. Racism and the Ethnic Vote
Limey Oscar says: We all know that when Barack Obama was elected president that was the official end of racism. But then it seemed like actually having a black guy as president made the Republicans madder and more racist in a kind of “you can teach a bear to dance but you can’t give it the keys to the White House” kind of way. How much of an issue is the president’s ethnicity this time around? Are there going to be a bunch of references to our old friend Barack Hussein Obama? Related to this, there’s always talk of “the Irish vote”, “the Catholic vote”, “the Black vote”. Is everyone still voting by ethnicity, surname or Pope?
Yankee John replies: Since overt racism is now passé, our intrepid bigots have gotten creative, morphing into movements like the Birthers, who legitimise their racism with paranoid lies! As for voting blocks, the following are Democratic: black people, Jewish people, young people, gays, Latinos, union members, artists, immigrants, vegetarians, drug-addicts, communists, journalists, poor people, the educated, the disadvantaged, the disheveled, disorderly, and besotted. The following vote Republican: white men, rich people and Christians.
3.The Electoral College
Limey Oscar says: When we make a prime minister, the will of the country has to be made official by the Queen. Does the Electoral College do this? Or is it mainly to do with the size of the various states and, as such, merely a fancy map? I see that California gets the most votes. Is this because America wants to be defined by yoga-practicing granola eaters and Bay Area hip-hop stoners? Because it seems like a lot of America would be pretty angry with that. Do all the TV stations have fun turning the map Democrat blue or Republican red? Do they have as much fun as this?
Yankee John replies: The Rules: Each state is worth a set number of points, called electoral votes, corresponding to the size of its population. California is worth 55, for example, Wyoming 3. If you win the popular vote in the state, then you win all of the state's points (except Nebraska and Maine, which split them up). First to 270 wins the election. It’s a stupid way to do it, but it's served us fine for 200+ years, though you wouldn't use it as a model (same goes for the Constitution) The result, oddly, is that the California granola eaters end up irrelevant. The state is very Democratic blue, so no one pays them any mind. The election actually hinges on just a few "swing" states – Ohio, Florida, Virginia. Basically all the places they're spending massive amounts of money buying ads.
Limey Oscar says: There’s that famous story about how those who heard one of the Nixon-Kennedy debates on the radio thought Nixon had won but those who saw it thought Kennedy had won because he was all smooth and handsome and Tricky Dicky looked like an escaped sex offender. Does TV still dominate and, if so, who’s got the slicker on-cam moves? And who’s gonna win the battle of the TV heavyweights, Jon Stewart and his witty band of liberal Jews or FOX and their cavalry of angry racists?
Yankee John replies: It's the television commercials that now dominate. So far the campaigns have spent nearly a half billion dollars on ads. 79% have been negative. The idea that once upon a time two men matched wits on TV and the winner got to be president is quaint and adorable. There will be "debates" in a few weeks, but they are only alternating prepared speeches and make no real difference.
Fox is a terrible propaganda machine, as everyone knows, but to scapegoat them for our problems is wrong. The Obama administration has struggled because they are bad at communicating their positions, and that's on them. They lose the most obvious arguments. The richest people in America pay about 20% in taxes, one of the lowest rates historically. We have a huge deficit and disgusting income inequality. So tax the top more, right? RIGHT! Nope.
5. Culture Wars
Limey Oscar says: Abortion, gays, drugs… It seems like the culture wars are firmly back in place and that it might be even more vicious than in the 1960s and 1970s. On abortion, is Romney part of the “it’s a special gift from God you cannot murder it” crew? I see too that he isn’t so keen on the gays. He no doubt thinks drugs are an aberration and that a polygamous avenging angel should visit anyone who smokes a doob. But is Obama really representing for the other team? He seems to be afraid to stand up for Team Relaxed Liberals. Perhaps he isn’t really on that side. And what of the Tea Party? They seemed to do more than any group to inflame these debates but famous Russian expert Sarah Palin stayed away from the nomination and Romney seems like a different brand of snake.
Yankee John replies: Romney is part of the "I'll say whatever it takes to get elected" crew, having switched his position to pro-life to secure a presidential bid. He also switched his position on healthcare, having supported the individual mandate as governor of Massachusetts. No biggie, not like those aren't two of the major planks of his platform or anything.
Obama was late to embrace military service and marriage for gay people, but he got there eventually. Latinos should be mad at the President for punting on immigration, but Republicans want to deport them, so, you know, lesser of two evils, ellos no dicen nada. The prison at Guantánamo still exists, financial reform was tepid and nothing has been done about climate change, drug decriminalisation or the public debt. Hyper-partisanship is worse than ever, and I still don't have a flying car.
The major accomplishments of Obama's first four years are a health care reform no one really likes, if they understand at all, and the killing of Osama bin Laden. Anyone that says they have not been disappointed is likely a person paid to be on TV. The economy is crap and unemployment is high. If the Republicans had a halfway decent candidate, they would win. They do not.
6. Foreign policy
Limey Oscar says: The UK is no longer a superpower and feels insecure about its place in the world. This being the case, it’s important that our politicians tell us about how they’re going to make Britain a big deal internationally. It doesn’t seem like American politicians struggle with this problem. Or is all the “Chinese century” talk starting to get to them? I imagine that, if foreign policy comes up, it is limited to the fate of “our servicemen overseas” and doesn’t take in the kind of thing leftist surrender monkey Europeans care about (drone strikes; illegal wars; propping up bad regimes etc.).
Yankee John replies: Oscar, America is the greatest country that ever existed, a shining beacon of everything true and good in the human spirit. We invented democracy, optimism and inventiveness itself. Anyone who disagrees is a neo-Marxist, Nazi socialist. We can barely stand it if you forget your flag pin. We do not mention that we have 25% of the world’s prison population, or that 1 in 5 children live below the poverty line, or that the Iraqi War has caused over 100,000 deaths. If we do not talk about these things, then they do not exist, and we needn’t worry about them.
7. Bill Clinton
Limey Oscar says: Watching the old rogue speak at the Democratic Convention, I couldn’t help feeling a rush of nostalgia. Is anyone in the U.S. feeling that way? As if, it was allowed, it’d be kind of great to swap Obama for Clinton? Give Bill one last trip round the maypole?
On that nostalgic note, as I sit in a dark room watching early Clinton speeches on repeat, tears in my eyes, I shall leave you.
Yankee John replies: People miss Clinton, but I think it's more that they miss the time period. We had jobs and money and terrorists didn't want to kill us and football didn't cause brain damage. We spent months, years even, publicly debating White House blow jobs. It seems like a dream. A Shattered Nation Longs To Care About Stupid Bullshit Again...
I know it’s often been frustrating, but Obama is my president. I wouldn't consider trading him for a second. It's impossible to know what will happen over the next four years, but I believe history will judge him kindly. We'll forget about all the stuff we wanted to happen that didn't, and instead remember actually having someone in the White House we respected as a man and as a leader. Those don't come around that often.
In the name of the Lord and in the name of his greatest nation, the United States of America,
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