Mark Steel: Change. Hope. America. Vote for Bob the Builder...

Wednesday 06 February 2008 01:00

Barack Obama, apparently, has been the symbol of hope. But that could be quite distressing, because his entire campaign has revolved around the slogan "Yes we can." I'm all for keeping political ideas simple, but he's reduced them to Bob the bloody Builder. Maybe he's planning to steal other catchphrases from children's TV characters, so his next campaign adverts will go "Barack Obama – flobalob lob obalob weed."

In truth Obama is even more vacuous than Bob, because he doesn't even say what it is we can, whereas Bob is unequivocal that it's the issue of whether we can fix it. But they're all as ridiculous. A typical John McCain speech went, "I promise I will always put America first – her ideals and her future, before any other consideration." Then his fans all cheered. Because that should trump the candidates who disagree, saying, "Well I won't. I'll put the interests of Austria first. I'm sick of America."

Obama now has a video, in which a variety of celebrities sing the words "vote, change and hope" It would be worth trying to confuse one of his canvassers by saying, "Oh no, I'd rather support someone who's against hope. It only brings trouble, hope does." But perhaps he'll get more ambitious and make whole speeches full of random words, telling the people of Montana, "Brothers and sisters, buttercup Barcelona laminated frog radish but not and never hedgehog."

And then they wave and shriek under all those balloons, as if no political idea is valid in America unless it involves balloons. American anarchist rallies must end under piles of black balloons, and at the end of American surrealist meetings they must drop hundreds of burst balloons.

And yet every candidate is desperate to appear as the candidate of change. So John McCain, despite backing Bush and the war, claims he's the only one who can really change things, which must mean his strategy will be to confuse people. Because his election adverts will have to go, "John McCain is the man who can bring change, as he supported all the things you now want changed. If people like John McCain hadn't supported those things, they may never have happened, in which case you wouldn't be wanting them changed."

But the significance of this is it displays how everyone accepts that Bush and his methods have been a disaster. This is remarkable, when you remember how three years ago it seemed the place was irredeemably behind him. The credit for this must go, at least in part, to all those who've expressed hostility to Bush, globally and in America. It certainly isn't due to official opposition from the Democrats, as they won the mid-term elections largely because of the unpopularity of the war, then almost immediately voted with Bush to continue it.

So they support much of Bush's agenda, but claim to be for change, which means their speeches have to contain nothing specific, just vague meaningless phrases mentioning hope. They're like a builder who's asked for a quote and says, "Where plaster is crumbling, let's make it solid. Where walls are wonky, let's make them straight. Where gaps are showing, let's bring joints together, and together let's show that together we can make this great building the together that you deserve."

This would be more coherent than Hillary's, "If you're ready for change then I'm ready to lead." Change what? Is she planning to replace numbers with shapes? Or to categorise foxes as insects?

One clue might be her speech at the weekend in Texas about immigration, when she said, "Anybody who committed a crime in this country or the country they came from has to be deported immediately with no legal process. They are immediately gone." A crime in the country they came from. So a monk convicted of affray in Burma or a Pakistani arrested by the military police will be sent away. And there'll be none of that legal process nonsense that liberals have been exploiting since it was introduced just after the Stone Age.

So they're better off staying vague, and bellowing, "People of America, let me tell you, someone came up to me this week in Wyoming and asked me 'If you become president, what sort of president will you be?' And I looked him in the eye and I said, 'Sir, I give you my word that I will be a good one.' (Audience cheers). 'Because I believe it's better to be a good president than a shit one.' (Audience screams). 'Because the American people deserve better than shit.' (Audience howls with delight). 'And I can promise you from the bottom of my heart that when I go to Washington I am not going to be shit.'" (Audience wets itself).

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