November 29, 2008

Hopejacking, UK Style

To follow up on an older post, I see that the Gordon Brown and David Cameron's attempts to hopejack Barack Obama's election have not gone unnoticed by the British press:

The Battle of Obama is joined. Mr Brown and Mr Cameron, Labour and the Tories, are wrestling for the reflective boost that association with Mr Obama in the public mind could bring. Neither is likely to succeed.

First, consider the hope the Tories spy in Mr Obama’s hopemongering... It rests on a simple syllogism: Mr Obama offered change and Mr Cameron purports to; despite his lack of executive experience, Mr Obama won—so Mr Cameron is more likely to.


Mr Obama pledges to heal primeval rifts and repair the reputational damage done by a war he opposed. Mr Cameron is avowedly sceptical of grand plans. He often lurches from optimism into bitter moralising; his party supported the invasion of Iraq. His biggest problem has been to overcome toxic memories of previous Tory governments; Mr Obama’s has been to construct a public identity from scratch. Their political projects are radically dissimilar. Few Britons watching Mr Obama will instinctively think, fondly or otherwise, of Mr Cameron.

But nor is Mr Brown’s effort to co-opt Mr Obama likely to flourish... He implied that the American people had endorsed what is now his main contention: that parties of the centre-left are best qualified to cope with the downturn. America has morphed in his rhetoric from the source of economic evil to the fount of political wisdom.

The trouble with this analogy is not just that Mr Brown is a droning killjoy and Mr Obama is not. It is that Mr Brown is an incumbent where Mr Obama is an insurgent. Mr Brown has been at the apex of government through the years that incubated the economic woe. Few Britons listening to Mr Obama’s rhetoric will feel it vindicates their incriminated prime minister.

I find this whole process amusing; as if a light switch were flicked, America has gone from an object of near-universal disdain to one of near-universal aspiration, in the person of Barack Obama. It's a crude generalization, of course, but it's interesting to see how his election has, if only temporarily, short-circuited habits of mind concerning politics not just in the US, but worldwide.

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