There’s something about an American election that is rip-roaringly exciting to the British observer. I first became fixated on politics in the heady days of high school, as an eager, impressionable teen. Not for me hockey sticks or trigonometry. Ah no! I was a sucker for Mr Ashbee’s political science class – a mix of British and American politics – and source of swashbuckling heroes and heroines, like Mrs Thatcher. And who can forget Winston Churchill – what a feisty chap.
But, not even the ball-breaking Maggie Thatcher or the bells of Big Ben – steeped in all that enviable tradition – could compete with the nation of stars and stripes and swing states. And now that I’ve grown up to become a journalist, I’ve delved into what makes US elections so overwhelmingly seductive to us Brits.
It’s the hairspray. Well…. not just the hairspray. It’s the glamour, the sheer showmanship involved in picking a President that just seems to bypass Britain’s rather pale and paltry politicians. And you don’t have to dig deep into the annals of American history to see why. With saxophone-wielding charmers like this one in your armory, the Iron Lady didn’t stand a chance…
Plus you guys have film stars for Presidents. That’s cool!
Now, I like to think of myself as a fairly serious sort of journalist, and one who has a deep and abiding love for her country. But, in my defence, it’s easy to see why my youthful head was turned by the glitz and glamor of Clinton and Reagan. Particularly when you stack them up against some of Britain’s best offerings. Take Ed Miliband – Britain’s current Leader of the Opposition. He’s a brainy policy wonk of a politician, who’s in serious need of a stylist. Not exactly an enticement to stay up into the small hours for the results of that crucial swing seat in Blackpool? Perhaps if Miliband got ripped like Paul Ryan or took up a jazz instrument, the British electorate might be a bit more engaged.
Aside from all that convention confetti and those seriously stacked six-packs, your politicians also hang out with cooler people. Since the days of JFK, Sinatra, and Monroe, Washington has been in bed with Hollywood. Now you’ve got Oprah and Beyonce cheering for Obama, and Kid Rock and Clint Eastwood rooting for Romney. Although that’s one celebrity friend Mitt Romney probably wishes he’d never made. Now, I happen to think we set far too much store by what celebrities say and do. But it’s not hard to look good on the stump with half of Tinseltown hanging off your arm.
And don’t even get me started on the money. The sheer scale of your quadrennial showdowns is just eye-watering. The last presidential shootout saw the candidates splash an astonishing 2.7 billion dollars, just to get the chance to call the White House home. That’s close to the entire budget of a small Latin American country. British politicians only managed to fritter away a measly 50 million bucks in our most recent general election – and that’s despite some fairly lax laws on campaign finance. Who says we don’t get bang for our buck in Britain? And all that lovely money fuels the airbrushed beauty pageant that is an American election. You Americans can afford a heck of alot more hairspray to look your best on election night than we can.
But behind all this electoral razzmatazz, there’s a rather sobering thought I’d like to share. Perhaps the real reason we British can’t take our eyes off the glossy glamour-fest that is a US election, is because it changes our world too. It’s not just about that age-old and rather mythical “special relationship”.
We might have the Queen, Wills and Kate, and tea and biscuits. And don’t tell me you didn’t watch the Royal Wedding, because I know you’re lying. But from the Middle East to Wall Street, the United Kingdom casts one eye over the pond when it comes to choosing our battles and setting our interest rates.
As a recent inhabitant of the home of the brave, all this has become rather more pressing. For the first time in my life, the outcome of this glittering spectacle actually affects me. As a fortunate Brit who lives in this marvellous country, I can get a job, pay taxes, even go to a Bruce Springsteen gig. But I can’t cast my vote tomorrow. And yet, I’ll still be cheer leading from the sidelines with all the enthusiasm of a high-school student.