When I studied in England, I had the good fortune to be there during the election for a new prime minister. Our English professors went to great lengths to explain how the UK general election worked, showing us campaign literature, documentary films, and diagrams, and despite their best efforts to this day I understand how the United Kingdom picks its elected officials about as well as I understand how to win at cricket. My best guess is that in both cases they’re just sort of making it up as they go along.
What really struck me about the UK election, though, is that the candidates there are assholes to each other and especially whoever the reigning prime minister is – even by the remarkably high standards for dickery set by American democracy.
The thing is that in America, when talking face-to-face, politicians have some sense of restraint and respect for one another. Mitt Romney can say a raft of horrible and factually dubious things about the other candidates to the news media, but when he gets to the debates where he’s talking to the other candidates in person, everybody smiles and shakes hands and at least tries to act cordial going into it.
Politicians in the UK, however, have no trouble saying terrible things about their competitors in the media or in person – honestly, from what I saw over there, I’d say they were saving up all their best zingers for debates and parliamentary procedures with the Prime Minister, just so they could really nail him in person and get all of their friends to clap and cheer for them. This is the sort of aggression you build up living in a country where soccer is the most exciting sporting event.
After reading about an extended public flogging in Parliament of then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s public and private life by a group of opposing politicians and then seeing his name similarly dragged through the mud in the media, someone in our class asked one of our professors why the people in the United Kingdom seemed to have so little respect for their elected officials.
Our professor responded by pointing out that the UK, unlike America, has both a head of state, the Queen, and a head of government, the Prime Minister. The Queen represents traditionally English values like monarchy, alcoholism, and cute colloquial phrases, while the Prime Minister represents the government that makes people pay taxes for their free healthcare and outlawed the British tradition of public urination.
This way, our professor explained, it’s possible to show your undying love and support for your country and its culture by praising the Queen while venting all of your frustrations with that same country by attacking the Prime Minister, the lightning rod of his peoples’ hate. Honestly, it sounds like a pretty crap job to me – I don’t get why people don’t run for Queen more often, because that sounds like a lot more fun.
Our professor went on to opine that that might be America’s problem – our head of state is also our head of government. The President represents American values of democracy and representative government, and he’s also the guy who has to explain why taxpayer dollars keep getting sent to Pakistan.
That’s why, he said, our election cycle is so exhaustingly patriotic – everybody competing to wave more flags or wear shinier flag lapels to show that they really do love America in spite of the fact that they’re attacking the President.
I have to say, he’s got a point – how much a candidate loves America has actually become a talking point these days. Take a look at this screengrab from the campaign website of the Worst Person On Earth:
See, he has to say, out loud, that he loves America and will fight to protect it from terrorists. To me, the idea that a person running for office would want to protect his country from harm seems kind of like common sense, but in America how much we love our country has become a part of our political dialogue.
Politicians even attack one another over it – Newt Gingrich accused Obama of wanting America to fail. Why, for Christ’s sake, would the guy responsible for America not failing want it to fail!? What could he possibly gain from that? Why would any American want the country they are currently in to fail?
There’s so much posturing and needless patriotism in our elections when I for one would much rather see all the politicians involved ruthlessly attacking one another over their voting records and issues, England style. That’s why we need an American head of state, one separate from the President, someone who symbolizes all that is right and good about our country and way of life so that we can love him and hate our elected officials without accusations of being anti-American. And who better to fill this role than…
Do I even have to explain? Tom Hanks’ approval ratings are sky high; admittedly, I have no facts or statistics to back this up, but if you can find me one person who genuinely doesn’t like Tom Hanks, I’ll withdraw my statement immediately.*
*Westboro Baptist Church doesn’t count.
He’s a friendly, goofy rich guy who hasn’t let fame go to his head; he went on a Spanish language morning show and danced while reading the weather report and donates generously to public radio in his community. He named his youngest son Truman, for God’s sake – it doesn’t get much more American than that. He’s the sort of American that all of us want to be.
So what I’m saying is, we build him a palace in Washington D.C. and give him an extensive schedule of entertaining visiting dignitaries, ceremonial parade viewings, and apple pie contest judgings. The palace would be funded through a tax hike, which, I imagine, would be roundly supported, because what kind of rat bastard idiot wouldn’t want to give a little bit of his paycheck so that Tom Hanks can become the official symbol of how great America is?
Please don’t attack my patriotism for suggesting that our politicians are too patriotic, or that our country should act more like Britain, of all places. I just think it’d make our awesome democracy that much better if we could all trust in our love of Tom Hanks (and, by extension, America) and talk about the shit that actually matters.
Truman Capps exercised considerable restraint with regards to Rick Santorum jokes.