I´ve been reading Justin Webb´s new book, Have A Nice Day -- a reasoned and impassioned defence (defense?) of the United States (or some version of that contested concept) against various forms of anti-Americanism. If anyone can make that case, Justin Webb can. And in doing so, Justin demonstrates his confident command of American-English ("suck it up", "OK", and the like).
It´s a potent blend of argument and style which, by my lights (is that American-English?) is extremely successful. In explaining why Americans are not like us (viz., people on this side of the pond, as they say, much too often, on that side of the pond), Justin starts with the landscape of the United States and describes how a natural history characterised by wildness, openness, vastness, adventureousness and danger has helped to create a culture of independence, individuality, single-mindedness and sometimes bloody-mindedness. The link, in respect of the US at least, between landscape and political culture is rarely given the recognition it merits. I could go on beyond this first chapter to comment on the other connections he makes, but I´ll save further commentary for my interview with Justin later in the month.
Instead, let me invite your comments on a few matters prompted by my forays into Justin Webb´s America and some of the developments this week. I justify this interest in the US, not merely because I once lived there, but also because, in a sense, we all live there. It´s often noted that the United States is the closest thing we have today to the Roman Empire, and I have no reason to doubt that comparison. As a consequence of America´s global political, economic and cultural dominance, one commentator recently suggested that the entire world should have a vote in the election of a new US president. It was only partially a tongue-in-cheek proposal.
Presuming, that the US government could actually manage a successful vote-count -- and I have no reason to suppose it could -- who would be elected leader of the free world? If it was a choice between McCain and Obama, I suspect the world might elect Obama. But if the world could also select the candidate -- from the pool of constitutionally available Americans -- who would then be elected? Perhaps Obama would still be in the running, but I have a sense -- OK, a psephologically unsupported sense -- that Sarah Palin might not.
Whatever you think of Sarah Palin´s qualifications for the White House, she is clearly a gift to political satirists. Apparently even her mother-in-law is thinking of voting for Obama. Did the McCain team properly vet Governor Palin? That´s another way of asking: Did they know in advance about her daughter´s pregnancy; did they know she was once associated with an Alaskan independence group; and did they know she has been pictured quite so often shooting at things (often living things)? It´s just possible the McCain team knew all this and still chose this candidate because of her gender, her life-story, and her evangelical Christian moral views. On this side of the Atlantic, Sarah Palin looks unelectably cartoonish. But then, so did George Bush. And he got elected. And the world just had to suck it up.
Which brings me back to anti-Americanism. Is it likely that anti-Americanism within Europe generally will decline after November´s election even if the the leader of the free world turns out to be John McCain, and his running mate becomes the first former beauty queen to actually get a chance do something for world peace?