Wednesday, November 05, 2008

No We Can't!

So, history has been made. Not only do we have the first black Formula One champion but we also have the first black American president. OK, the former might not quite be on the same scale as the latter but poor old Lewis is being forgotten in the rush. He'll just have to console himself with the attentions of his Pussycat Doll. Poor lamb.

I stayed up and watched the election results until about 05.30am, just after Obama's acceptance speech. It was a funny old night. I chose to watch the BBC coverage because I cannot abide ITV and I think I would have cried at the overload of the CNN/FOX coverage. I should have probably watched SKY. The BBC coverage was atrocious. The technology was barely working, the studio was in chaos, the OB stuff was rarely prepared. It was embarassing. Bumble-by in the chair looked mostly pissed, was padding like a champion and rarely seemed to be able to get any enthusiasm up for it all.

Some of the guests were awesomely bad too. Simon Schama decided that the BBC should have called the election at around 100/200 and just mocked them for being scaredy-cats. The former US UN Ambassador was on, basically bad-mouthing anything that was said anti-Republican as BBC and liberal media bias. He was a cock. There was another guy on who I sort of recognised and all he did was rip into Sarah Palin at any opportunity. The best of the bunch was the politics professor with the dodgy wig who was just like an American version of Jon Snow!

In the depths of the night however, I did finally get it. For years I have become increasingly interested in America, Americans and Americana. I have found the marked differences between Brits and Yanks to be fascinating. Last night, listening to Obama's acceptance speech (and McCain's concession speech) the penny finally dropped. I may be making massive generalisations here, but America's history has been shaped by its politicians in a way that ours simply has not. Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Johnson, Kennedy, Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, Bush and now Obama. Even their none-political figures, like Martin Luther King, seem to have a greater resonance in popular culture. I watched the crowds and I listened to the passioned rhetoric and I realised that deep down, the Americans really do LOVE their country and the ideals that it stands for and whilst they may not like big government, they love big personalities to lead them and to champion those values that they love so much.

In contrast, we just don't. The majority of the population has precious little respect for the Royal Family - tolerance is about the best it gets. We despise anyone who dares call themselves a politician, from the lowest student politico to Gordon Brown and David Cameron. We have no core of values that we would dare own up to as the beliefs that bind the country together - look at the reaction of any exercise in 'Britishness'? We're even in a situation where if someone was to stand in the UK and make a speech like Obama did last night, I honestly believe some people would accuse him of being right-wing, racist and draped in nationalism. Well, he certainly was the latter because that is something that Americans have never had a problem embracing. We have and we will continue to until we overcome a little bit of our inner turmoil over Empire. Do we need an Asian Prime Minister? Could we handle an Asian Prime Minister? I don't think we could and thats sad.

I thought last night, as I was brushing my teeth, what sort of impact Obama could have on UK politics. Could Cameron capture that zeitgeist or is he too wrapped in the cloth of the established politic system? I doubt Brown could. Maybe the nearest we came to it was Blair in 1997 but even that wasn't quite right. What would happen if someone stood up in the UK and said that there was no North, no South, no Scottish, Welsh, English or Irish, no working class, no upper class, we are all British. What would happen if someone said to the British people that we have to stand by our core values - democracy, social justice and equality? What if someone asked the British people not to be a bunch of blame-game playing, super-cynical haters? To throw away the attitude of 'why the fuck should I?' and 'its not my fault!' and instead use the simple credo of 'yes we can!'

Sadly, I suspect the answer would be 'No, we can't. Now lets turn over to Eastenders.'

OK, so I might be being a little harsh on us here, romantacising the Obama charisma and generalising like a bugger but wouldn't it be fantastic if, just for once, we had someone who could wash away the self-hate, the distrust and the apathy and unite the United Kingdom? In our time maybe?

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

Good copy though I believe Obama is a black Tony Blair and may have to find the 3rd way and excuses to make up for poor or no performance.
Hope I am wrong.

Anonymous said...

McCain's speech was very, very good. He deserves credit for conceding so gracefully.


D

Fandomlife said...

The key thing to understand about Americans is, broadly speaking, they mythologise everything.

The same goes for their politicians, it's all about the grand mythological conflict and drama of it all.

Most things have this feature: their movies, their sports, etc. Politics.

Fandomlife said...

What's interesting about how Obama reflects on the UK and its voting is we are not that bad.

We had a female Prime Minister before they've had a female president.

Also consider the problem in the UK might be voter turn out, because when it comes to voting on reality TV we are remarkable invisible to race, sex and sexual orientation. Now, I know, it's reality TV, but it's still interesting - potentially because of who votes.

Anonymous said...

'McCain's speech was very, very good. He deserves credit for conceding so gracefully.'

He deserves nothing but contempt for the inept way he sold himself out in running his campaign. A long overdue glimpse of the real man beind he Republican mask after he'd lost gets little credit from me.

I don't agree that we aren't as defined by our leaders, at least in my lifetime. Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair were hugely dominant personalities who shaped this country under their leadership.

If the US self image of itself reminds me of anything its Rome at the height of its empire. Our problem is unlike both those we've lived through the collapse of our mighty empire and are having to deal with the consequences. That does cause a little introspection and contemplation. It'll be a long time before patriotism comes as easy to us.

I'm not as cynical as most. Whilst every political administration has its ups and downs the Clinton administration was a veritable beacon of economic stability and minimal international conflict. I see no reason why the Obama presidency can't go on to achieve the same despite the turmoil he steps into.

'Good copy though I believe Obama is a black Tony Blair and may have to find the 3rd way and excuses to make up for poor or no performance.
Hope I am wrong.'

Who wrote this?

Ben

Anonymous said...

'Simon Schama decided that the BBC should have called the election at around 100/200 and just mocked them for being scaredy-cats.'

Fair comment from Schama. When Pennsylvania was projected for Obama the election was over there and then. When FOX called Ohio for Obama it was obviously going to a rout.


Ben

Anonymous said...

"He deserves nothing but contempt for the inept way he sold himself out in running his campaign. A long overdue glimpse of the real man beind he Republican mask after he'd lost gets little credit from me."

Well to be fair other than 3 major mistakes, he did nothing worse than many other candidates have done. He only ran 10% more negative ads than Obama did.

However, and admittedly, his 3 worst decisions, which lost him the election was:

1. He allowed Palin to be on his ticket
2. He allowed Palin to be on his ticket

and most importantly

3. He allowed Palin to be on his ticket


6/10 of *all* americans, democrat & republican alike, thought she was unfit for office. And as McCain is in his 70's confidence in the VP was rather more critcal than usual.

Palin lost him the election.

Well, that, and the fact that Obama spent about 10 times as much money as him! Expect Campaign financing to be a hot topic in american politics for a few years.

D.

Anonymous said...

He made one monumental mistake which was symptomatic of his entire campaign. I'm not sure who McCain 08 thought he was but he sure wasn't John McCain and in the end it bit him on the ass as he alienated the people he needed to vote for him.

Ben

Fandomlife said...

I'm not expert, and I obviously view it all from a distance, but I think the big mistake McCain made was he proved himself to be scary in a crises.

After all the attempts to make Obama sound like an untrained novice who would be scary in a crises he managed to sound assured, confident and thoughtful.

McCain started getting very random.

Anonymous said...

Obama did indeed seem a helluva a lot more Presidential than McCain (or Hilary for that matter) and it should be borne in mind that for all the talk of what lost McCain the election he could have ran a perfect campaign and still lost.

McCain's decision to suspend his campaign and return to Washington to deal with the financial crisis was one of many he made in his campaign. It made him seem impulsive and somewhat irrationnal. By the time he made it to Washington, Bush's rescue package was on the table and McCain's presence seemed redundant. Then when it was voted out after McCain endorsed it he seemed ineffectual and out of touch.

'McCain will win. Well, in truth Sarah Palin will swing it for him, but McCain will be President'

Thank God this guy was wrong ;)

Ben

Anonymous said...

That should say 'one of many mistakes he made in his campaign'


D'oh

Dom said...

Your reaction is reminding me of when Clinton was first elected, and there was a lot of 'I wish we could vote for him' around when the UK election was drawing close. (This was all before it became tainted by the Lewinski affair).

I'm just thankful that Palin wasn't elected. Shades of Atwood's Gilead, and the thoughts of a direct route to armageddon, do not pass go, scared me silly. That, and the creationism.

Obama will have a lot to deliver, with a Democrat dominated Congress, and a lot to overcome with the mess that GWB has left.

Fandomlife said...

Yeah, the Palin thing didn't turn out as expected. Still, she was still doing relatively well until the economic situation really swung things to Obama.

The weird thing is about Palin is she represents the divide in the Republican party. In that she is the poster-child for the type of policies (or more evangelic belief) that won the previous elections (that grass roots church support).

The other side is the saner side.

They have much thinking to do I suspect.

Anonymous said...

'Still, she was still doing relatively well until the economic situation really swung things to Obama'

Or until she was interviewed by anyone other than Sean Hannity. Seriously, check out her interview with Katie Couric, that was scary stuff and when the penny started dropping for people.

Ben

Matt said...

You're absolutely right about Americans having a real and honest love of their country. How it manifests sometimes can be a bit troubling, especially if they feel a threat or a challenge, but it can also be a real strength and give them purpose. I'm optomistic Obama can lead in the right direction.

It's interesting as they do have a much greater level of respect for their leaders than we do. I was watching Prescott (class and me) on BBC (It's on Iplayer and I recommend it) and it certainly improved my opinion of 'two jags'. The best thing in it was a line his wife said 'I hope we don't come out like the Hamiltons, I'd die!'.

I think the British used to have the same spirit of Country, and you're right Ben, it's a spirit of Empire akin to Rome or the British Empire. Ours leaked away from the 1950's onwards and has been replaced by guilt (often rightly so) as the British place in the world has become less and less important.

I only comment, I'm not harking back to days of the Raj (Except for Sharpe!) but I'm pleased Obama has given the Yanks a chance to pull together. The next 3 months will be the really interesting ones and we'll see if packs of rabid Republicans all fall on each-other and if the Democrats can let some special interest groups go to the back of the pile while they get the main functions of the nation prioritised. Our health system becomes more like theirs, as I hope theirs becomes more like ours.

matt said...

I'm thinking more on this with remembrance day approaching and I wonder if Britain's trust of it's leaders was first broken by events of the great war.

Fandomlife said...

I've seen all the interviews in which Sarah Palin looks a total tool. I'm not defending her.

It doesn't change the fact that she did by and large secure the 'religious right' vote of the republican party for McCain which he initially wasn't overly grabbing, so I believe.

The problem was that was how an old election was won, it didn't overly apply in this one I think in retrospect, even if she hadn't emberrassed herself.

By and large though it was the reactions to the economic crises that swung it I think. And the American belief in affirming their country as one in which anyone can become president, etc. Mythology again.

I'm under no doubt that for all Sarah Palin's detractors, and the fact the media loves to ridicule her (quite rightly) and despite her mad views, she has just as much support as she does enemies.

Anonymous said...

Been reading in the Times newspaper today that Palin is seen as the next big thing in Republican politics and could almost be a cert for their candidate for the 2014 Election.


Obama for *2* terms then! :-D


D.

Vodkashok said...

Matt - yes, the beginning of British cynicism towards leaders and 'betters' is actually attributed to the fall out of WW1. Essentially the soldiers were working class and the officers were proper Upper class. They sent the lads to die in their droves for no apparent reason and with no apparent chance of victory. The slaughter of an entire generation at the whim of the upper classes apparently didn't sit too well and put a massive hole in the idea that society was structured in a system which made the rich innately better/cleverer/more capable than the poor. And it all spiralled from there.

Fandomlife said...

I'm not really sure WWI or the fall of the British Empire registers much with anyone but my grandmother.

Vodkashok said...

Like I said, that was the start. Build in five or six generations of fermentation and you get the Britain of today. Its not the only reason, but it is often cited as one of them.

As for Empire? Well, Britian has been living the role of failing ancient power for decades. If you were to wipe history clean and then start the world from scratch as it stands now, where would Britain come in terms of true economic, political, cultural and technological impact? We live off our history - the great trading nation, the unconquered corner of Europe (us, and thats small village in Gaul), the great naval powerhouse. Whilst the rise of the USA in the mid-19th century was one side of our demise, the fall of Empire was the other.

Moreover, its pretty difficult to look at us as 'the good guys' when you look deeper at what we did to forge that Empire and how we treated people within it. It was military expansionism and cultural imperialism that simply wouldn't be tolerated nowadays. We have Starbucks for that.

I'm not suggesting that people wake up in the morning, spit on a picture of the PM in memory of their great grandad and then cry because of the loss of India - rather that some of the attitudes and guilts that rise from these events go forward to form a national psyche. Not everyone will share it, but it does exist nonetheless.

In much the same way, we see the same with America. We hear about the pioneer spirit etc. but there hasn't been a 'wild west' for decades. Similarly, they fought a civil war over slavery (amongst other things) and that has to mean that things pertaining to colour and status will have a marked effect on them.

Neil

matt said...

Good examples I think are the pop culture and hero worship that still surrounds Robert E Lee and Abe Lincoln verses how we feel about the Duke of Wellington and Churchill