Dylan Jones: View from the West Wing

If you ask me: America has to choose between the world's oldest white guy and an arrogant black rock star

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If you ask me, the basic difference between the Democrats and the Republicans is surprisingly simple. In broad brushstrokes, the ideologies have rarely changed – small government versus womb-to-tomb interference, a free-market society versus a high-tax welfare state, and so on – but recently the parameters of definition have substantially shifted. Firstly, this is because America's attitude towards its foreign policy has never been so important, and secondly because the definitions of what constitutes each party are about to change in exactly the same way as they have over here. And not only that: this year America also has to choose between the world's oldest living white guy and an arrogant black rock star who has already been on a European tour.

There was a time when things were far simpler. Peggy Noonan was once a speechwriter for Ronald Reagan, and when she left the West Wing in 1986, she retired to her home in Virginia to write a book about her experiences (What I Saw at the Revolution). She was thrilled to be working on her memoir, especially as Reagan was still a commodity in the book market (he wouldn't leave office for another two years, and still had a few more books in him himself), although she was bemused by the reaction of former colleagues when told what she was doing. "What are you up to now?" they'd ask, keenly. "What are you doing with your days?" And when she said she was working on a book, they'd look at her, she recalled, as if she'd said "I'm in physical therapy to heal a badly fractured leg."

And then they'd ask, "But what are you actually doing? For a living?" After a while she told a friend about the reaction she was getting, confused at her ex-colleagues' obvious re-evaluation of her. "Why do they think writing a book isn't doing something?" she'd cry. "Because they're Republicans," replied her friend. "Democrats respect books because they respect ideas. Republicans respect money."

Before Noonan could express an opinion one way or another, the advice continued. She was told that the next time someone asked her what she was up to, she should take off her glasses, start cleaning them and then quickly cut to the chase and mention the advance.

And that, in a money clip, is the difference between the Democrats and the GOP.

Dylan Jones is the editor of 'GQ'

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