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Diane Roberts

Weirdness in the colonies

LONDON — The last moose in Britain was killed more than 1,000 years ago. Now a pair of these mighty yet myopic critters have been reintroduced to Scotland, a fact which allows pundits here to segue smoothly into discussions of Sarah Palin and the U.S. presidential campaign. The British are hooked on our election.

The reason? Prime Minister Gordon Brown is beige — intelligent but as vivacious as a herring and as exciting as a wet Monday morning. There hasn't been a decent sex scandal for years. Peeved Blairites in the Labor Party are trying to oust Brown, since his polls are down to George W. Bush levels. Still, the nation yawns. No wonder they gaze across the Atlantic to where a daily hissy fit over terrorism and lipstick on four-legged animals is pretty much guaranteed.

Of course, there are good reasons for the British to pay attention. We're choosing the Leader of the Free World, after all. Plus, the winner will determine if the United States finally takes on climate change, and if we decide to get in a shooting match with Russia or Iran. These do involve our loyal ally, the United Kingdom. But I don't think people here are engrossed by our baroque campaigns principally because of their geopolitical impact. No, it's because Indecision 2008 strongly resembles reality TV. After all, the UK gave us Survivor, Big Brother and Simon Cowell. There's the half-white, half-black Hawaiian with the posh education and the smart suits. There's the gun-toting Alaskan anti-sex education Christian with the pregnant teenage daughter. There's the war hero who seems to be getting a little confused lately (pigs? pit bulls?), and the sullen power couple who'd like to vote everybody else off the island. I smell hit!

The tabloid newspapers aren't ideological about this, just gleeful over our weird psychodrama. The so-called "quality" media are more sober. The majority of people across the Atlantic seem to want Barack Obama to win. Not because he's a "liberal" or a Democrat — distinctions between the two U.S. parties are far from clear in Europe where Communists, Nationalists, Christian Socialists, Conservatives and Greens inhabit the same parliaments — but because he represents the optimistic promise of America, appealing not to prejudice and fear but tolerance and hope.

However, British fans of Obama realize that the more openly they favor him, the more it triggers American xenophobia. In 2004, London's Guardian newspaper asked readers to write to citizens of the swing state of Ohio, pleading with them to vote for John Kerry. This irritated people something rotten, as if the abominable Redcoats meant to recolonize us. Recently the Guardian columnist and Americanophile Jonathan Freedland expressed hope that Obama would prevail in 2008, since he might "treat alliances and global institutions seriously." Other nations could then go back to admiring the United States. Freedland warned that electing McCain will mean Americans are "turning their backs on the rest of the world, choosing to show us four more years of the Bush-Cheney finger."

Yet for some Americans, international condemnation is simply evidence of our divine righteousness. And no one is allowed to "interfere." Republicans have been fussing that Gordon Brown "endorsed" Obama by praising his plan to prevent home foreclosures. I guess they forgot about 1992, when John Major reportedly allowed rummaging through Home Office files, trying to dig up damaging information on Bill Clinton's Oxford days. Or that Margaret Thatcher made no secret of her strong preference for Ronald Reagan in 1984.

We must realize that we are part of the world. Markets are global, security matters are global, communications are global. We are not God's special favorites. Lucky, yes. Rich, still. But everyone, not just American citizens, has a stake in the fate of America.

Maybe we need to get out more.

Diane Roberts, a former Times editorial writer, is spending the fall in London.

Weirdness in the colonies 09/19/08 [Last modified: Sunday, September 21, 2008 7:29pm]
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