Waking up to the real differences between Britain and America

Their politics is grander than ours, but also far more prone to fantasy and extremism

Share
Related Topics

I went to bed believing that politics was a bitterly fought struggle of ideas that was often corrosively divisive and woke up to hear that it was a healing force, something that could bring a nation together, a means by which those of opposing views could work together for the common good.

Americans may, in the main, look like us and talk like us, but there's nothing like a presidential election to remind us that our two countries are very different.

Leave aside the complexities – and occasional failures – of their democratic system. Or the fact that some voters go to the polls in deep snow and others in tropical sunshine. Or the way that extremist opinions can make it into the mainstream. What makes American politics distinct from ours is the grandiloquent language, the sweep of the oratory and the belief that, when all else fails, you can rely on... belief.

"We are not as divided as our politics suggests," Barack Obama said in his moment of triumph, a rather odd claim given that the previous months of campaigning had seen him and Mitt Romney pointing up the differences between the Democrat and the Republican view of the world. And in defeat, Romney was gracious to the victor and his family, and offered to pray for Obama to be "successful in guiding our nation". He added: "At a time like this, we can't risk partisan bickering."

This noble sentiment was echoed by Obama. "We are not as cynical as the pundits believe," he said. Really? And here's me thinking that politics in America is a dirty business, where high ideals meet low cunning. Of course, this consensus – forged in the bright glow of victory and in the relief that the battle is over – won't last for long, but judging by the ovation given both men when they talked of unity, it's what Americans want to hear now.

Whether they like it or not, they also hear a lot about God. As Alastair Campbell said about British politics, "we don't do God". America has no such restraint. Romney's concession speech was laden with faith-based epithets, including a call for guidance from "our pastors and priests and rabbis and counsellors of all kinds" (no mention of Imams), while Obama concluded his address by saying that with "God's grace we will continue or journey forward". The reliance on the language of the pulpit merely highlights the difficulty for politicians in finding a common thread with which to address all America. If you're trying to find policies that appeal to, say, the equivalent of Guatemala City and Hampstead Garden Suburb, it is advisable to place yourself and your constituency within the framework of a power that's bigger than government.

Neither would you hear British politicians proclaiming with such certainty that "we live in the greatest nation on earth". But in the land where showbusiness was invented, there isn't much of a dividend for modesty and understatement. America, eh? It's like another country.

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Harman has said her gender affected her employment  

Gordon Brown could have had a woman as deputy PM. He bottled it

Joan Smith
Barclays are reducing the number of staff in their branches - and giving those remain ipads  

A bag? In the bagging area? Whatever next?

Andrew Martin
Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?