Editor’s Note: This is the view from across the pond, by W. Ellis, a British commentator (with the conservative roadsheet The Daily Telegraph (1) ), himself probably a liberal. (The tip is the sarcasm he uses to define Trotsky, who, whatever a leftist may think of him, is a historical person of note.) This article confirms our oft-repeated assertion that in Europe, as well as in most of the world, American centrists are correctly seen for what they are: hard conservatives or worse, and that the US political spectrum is ludicrously narrow, with the entire left amputated. A veritable rump marketplace of ideas. In sum, a disgrace. —PG
Note that Dave is on the Left (Photo: PA)
I want you to imagine a twelve-inch ruler, like the ones those of us of a certain age used to pack in our schoolbags. On the far left, just above the “1,” picture Trotsky and his band of crazies; on the far right, at “12,” Hitler and Genghis Khan.
Where on this scale would you place David Cameron? I’d put him at the seven-inch mark, a little to the right of Clement Attlee but definitely to the left of Tony Blair. This measured approach recognises distinctions down to a tenth of an inch, allowing Ed Miliband to sit fractionally to the left of the Prime Minister and just to the right of Nick Clegg.
Now picture a similar ruler used to define United States politics. A very different, and quite frightening, picture emerges.
Where the House of Commons covers a spread between four and nine, with the majority fitting in between five and seven, the US Congress starts at six and runs all the way up to ten, or even ten-and-a-half. Appropriately, most Democrats are at sixes and sevens; Republicans cluster around nine.
Barack Obama, like my father’s hat size, is seven and an eighth, just to the right of Cameron. Mitt Romney, the Republican most likely to face Obama in November’s presidential race, is a solid eight; Newt Gingrich, the acerbic former House Speaker, now in ill-tempered retreat, is a nine; but Rick Santorum, the arch-Catholic candidate from Pennsylvania, is not only, like Bo Derek, a Perfect Ten, he is a Ten who “throws up” at the mere mention of the separation of Church and State.
The received wisdom at the moment is that Obama will defeat his GOP challenger in November, only to face a Senate and House of Representatives bolstered by a religious Right that seems ready for the Rapture. In that event, nothing will get done and America will remain in stasis, with major decisions possible only in the area of foreign wars. But the stage will have been set for a Fundamentalist takeover in 2016, when Obama bows out and the Wild Men – and women – of the Right slug it out for the honour of turning America up to Eleven.
If you have ever asked yourself what an out-and-out takeover by the Republican Right would mean in these Tea Party times, consider the career of Rush Hudson Limbaugh III, the most-listened-to conservative in America.
Last week, Limbaugh, whose daily radio show audience can top 20 million, vented his spleen on the subject of Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown University law student who gave evidence to a Congressional Committee on the vexed subject of mandated health care.
President Obama wants employers to include contraception as part of their healthcare provision even if it it offends their religious convictions. Ms Fluke supports this. Republicans do not. According to the Tea Party, taking its lead from the Book of Leviticus, there is no more important issue to be resolved in national politics.
Limbaugh, like Jeremy Clarkson on Speed, recognises no limits. The four-times married radio host, who escaped jail time for drug abuse after he volunteered $30,000 to meet the cost of his prosecution, survived mocking Michael J Fox, a victim of Parkinson’s Disease, for his involuntary spasms. He emerged unscathed from describing feminists – or “feminazis”, as he calls them – as unattractive women looking for a way to enter mainstream society. He took minimal flak when he defended the torture of detainees and not much more when he accused black parents of raising their children to be anti-American.
Here he is on Sandra Fluke. He is relaxed and in control of himself. But he is clearly not happy:
What does it say about the college co-ed Susan [sic] Fluke, who goes before a Congressional Committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex? What does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex.
Liberals – a bi-coastal minority unflaggingly led by fake news host Jon Stewart – were appalled. Limbaugh was unmoved.
“If we’re going to have to pay for this, then we want something in return, Miss Fluke,” he breathed. “And that would be the videos of all this sex posted online so we can see it.”
An attractive image, is it not? An overweight, red-faced man in his 60s peering at a “community” porn video while scourging the Left for its sins.
If Limbaugh – whose eventual apology to Fluke centred on the claim that he had foolishly descended to the language of the “Left” – was a voice ranting in the wilderness, that would be one thing. But he is not. He is the voice of the Right in America, before whom Congressmen and Senators shamelessly prostrate themselves rather as politicians in Britain used to bend the knee to Rupert Murdoch.
Several prominent advertisers, embarrassed by the publicity, suspended their dealings with the Four Hundred Million Dollar Man (though they will soon be back), but this week, faced with the enormity of the offence, Messrs Romney, Gingrich and Santorum refused to offer a single word of rebuke. They might not have used the same words as “Rush,” they assured us, but they weren’t going to say that he was wrong or that millions of Republicans didn’t agree with him.
And this is the point. There is no Left left in America. There is only the moderate Right, which is most Democrats, and the merged Religious/Financial Right, which is most Republicans.
Britons, worried about the economy, the banks and the NHS, while trying to make up their minds about the value or otherwise of EU membership, need to realise that America, like the past it increasingly resembles, really is a foreign country. They do things differently here.
If you think the Salem witch trials provide a sound basis for the organisation of society; if you attend regular prayer breakfasts and routinely invoke God’s law while dismissing your political opponents as apostates and “sluts;” if you think the poor should be left to sort out their own problems and the rich should pay no more than 15 per cent in tax … if you subscribe to most or all of the above but plan to lead your own damn life whichever way you damn well choose; then, as Arnold Schwarzenegger used to say when trumpeting the virtues of California, when can you start? Come visit. You’ll fit right in.
But if you agree with Alastair Campbell, who reminded us once that British governments don’t “do” God (possibly his only contribution to the common good), then stick with watching the The Mentalist, True Blood and Hugo. Television and the movies, employing the wizardry of Silicon Valley, are where America’s true genius lies today. It is certainly not in the practice of politics.—W.E.
(1) The Daily Telegraph is a daily morning broadsheet conservative-leaning newspaper distributed throughout the United Kingdom and internationally. The newspaper was founded by Arthur B. Sleigh in June 1855 as the Daily Telegraph and Courier, and is since 2004 owned by David and Frederick Barclay. According to a MORI survey conducted in 2005, 64% of Telegraph readers intended to support the Conservative Party in the coming elections. It had an average daily circulation of 634,113 in July 2011 (compared to 441,205 for The Times). It is the sister paper of The Sunday Telegraph. It is run separately with a different editorial staff, but there is some cross-usage of stories.
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