Try to imagine it happening with a German election. British amateur psephologists are agog at the news that polls in six key battleground constituencies have shown a half-point shift in favour of Angela Merkel's CDU. Newspapers are dispatching their third or fourth local correspondents to take the temperature in Westphalia. The London Twitterati are getting into heated debates about exactly what Peer Steinbruck really thinks about social security. Everyone is an expert.
It's an absurd scenario. And yet if you transpose the scene to the United States, it's just normal. It's the same every election cycle. I don't say all this with any sense of superiority; more as someone who is shamefully, and yet excitedly, complicit. I love American politics. And I am a complete idiot for being so obsessed with it.
The final debate was a case in point. It makes me anxious to think how many people I know who stayed up to watch it live, for basically no reason. But look at its real consequences. For all their posturing, the meaningful differences between Romney and Obama, at least insofar as they will apply to life over here, were pretty narrow. Except as a story in need of a satisfying conclusion, it doesn't really matter to us who wins. And that's if you're confining things to foreign policy, where our interests are at least somewhat at stake. It's when we start to think about things like healthcare, or Super PAC attack ads in Florida, that it gets really nuts.
These matters aren't really for anyone but Americans to get excited about. You might argue, I suppose, that the obsession comes from a general interest in the good of mankind everywhere. But if that was the case, why don't we ever give a monkey's about Canada, or Guatemala? And if it's supposed to be because America's economy is so important, where was the laser focus on France, when the Eurozone lynchpin held a critically important presidential election earlier this year?
No, it's pretty clear what the real reasons are: a nice, simple two-candidate face-off, presentable to many British addicts in straightforward enough terms of good guy vs bad guy; a language we speak; a habit of mind engendered by American dominance in every sphere of our cultural life. Whether it's a habit shared quite to the same extent by the general public is less clear; I suspect, for the most part, that they take a more sensible view.
I wish I shared it. The trouble is, I can't break my addiction. I mean, this stuff is thrilling. Did you see the latest Gallup numbers from Ohio?