Thursday, 6 November 2008

US / UK attitudes on election morning

“Don’t you start about my president this morning. I’m getting enough ribbing in the lab right now!” Mike is a Republican and McCain supporter from Texas, who missed out on voting this time around because he was out of the country, even given the possibilities that now exist for voting in advance. “Godammit McCain got an asswhipping. How many seats on the electoral college did he get? 120?”
“156,” I replied. “And there are still some states to announce. But Obama was on 356 as of this morning.”
“So it was an asswhippin’ then. Obama has won and we’ll just have to give him the benefit of the doubt. He’s our president now and I wish him well.”

I think the last phrase is very telling. In the UK we don’t tend to think any better or worse about a particular person just because they made it to be Prime Minister. But the Americans are different. No matter how fiercely the election is fought, how nasty the tricks; when the man wins, he becomes the President and the vast majority of Americans rallies around him. I could never understand why this should be though. That is until Mike said his piece. Under the American system, the President is head of state. To be disrespectful of him (and so far, despite Hilary Clinton’s best efforts, it remains a ‘him’) is to be disrespectful of the institution too.

In Britain we often think the American attitude quaint. But aren’t we actually the same? Of course, prime ministers are lampooned without mercy. But what about the monarch? Recently in the television programme Mock The Week, it was reported that a particularly distasteful joke was made our own good Queen Bess the Second. Apparently many people complained to the BBC.

Now there are some in Britain who openly speak of the monarchy as being parasitic and that the whole thing should be scrapped. This is not the majority of the British people though. Each country finds it’s own way in addressing the issue. Personally I prefer an apolitical head of state. It allows for a greater freedom of political criticism for one thing. But when Britons are tempted mock the Americans for the reverence they show their politicians, and especially their president, it is well to pause for a moment and reflect how we treat our own head of state. Maybe we are not so different after all.