what is the city but the people?

Here’s a fun fact about Marco Rubio, the 41-year-old Republican Senator from Florida: his first job was building cages for exotic birds.

He’s not the first politician to start small; Ronald Reagan washed tables in a women’s dormitory, Jimmy Carter worked on his father’s farm and Barack Obama worked in an ice-cream shop. (My first job was as a cashier in a supermarket. I would regularly restrain myself from slamming tins of baked beans onto the feet of kiddies who, ignored by harassed parents busy emptying enormous trolleys, would climb up to play on the conveyor belt.)

Now that the election is over and the GOP is hiding in a cupboard rubbing cream on its slapped arse, political buzz is focused on where the party goes now and who should take it there. Rubio is one of the young generation of Republicans being touted as a possible candidate for 2016.

A politician since the age of 28, Rubio came to national attention when he entered the Senate in 2010. Ticking all the boxes of the GOP youth wing – a conservative, Catholic son of Cuban immigrants, married with four shiny children, charming on the stump, looks good in chinos and pale blue button-down shirts – he had been thought of as a possible VP for Romney, and was given a high-profile speaking slot at the Republican National Convention.

rubioRubio is a small, neat man, rather stocky and pear-shaped. His hair, slightly fluffy at the front, looks like it may be receding. Yesterday I sat in the back row of a small room in a D.C. museum and watched him being interviewed. While he doesn’t have the physical presence of say, a Santorum or a Gingrich, he is quietly effective at stilling a room. Perhaps it is because he looks so young and unassuming; he wouldn’t look out of place in khaki shorts leading a troop of Boy Scouts.

When Rubio gives a speech, he pauses every now and then to make sure his point has hit home. He is funny, charismatic. When he is interviewed, however, he turns into Henry James; why use just one word when twenty will do? In amongst all the predictable guff he uttered (will you run in 2016? “I want to focus on being a real good US Senator”) I picked up the following words: kids, faith, struggle, dreams, success, belief, family, values, principles, jujitsu (yes he said that, respect). Brevity is not a characteristic that comes naturally to politicians, but Rubio better get used to not saying the same thing five different ways if he wants people to listen.

After the interview I attempted to write a list of the issues that Rubio had spoken about. It was easier to remember the names of all the boys I had kissed in my teens, and I had pretty much blanked out those pitiful years.

The only thing that really stuck in my mind was Rubio’s response to the question ‘is homosexuality a sin?’ He replied that his faith teaches that it is indeed a sin, as is lying, stealing, coveting your neighbour and wearing turtle-necks if you’re a guy (I made that bit up but damn, it should be a sin).

But wait, what’s this? You will be reassured that after condemning the homosexual population of America to a hell with no cocktails or show tunes, Rubio stressed that he isn’t going to get all judgey-wudjey on your gay ass. Glad he cleared that up.

Rubio and others such as Paul Ryan and Bobby Jindal are scrambling to distance themselves from the negative messages that oozed from Romney’s campaign. I am reminded of David Cameron’s attempts in 2005 to dispel the view that the Conservatives were the nasty party, a label that returns again and again. The GOP is still in shock that it misjudged the electorate so badly, but there is recognition that things must change within the party, as Rubio said yesterday: “We have to apply [our] principles to the 21st century“.

The GOP has its work cut out convincing the public that they can embrace, and speak for, all Americans. Rubio maybe the man to start that process. What do you think?

 

i approve this message

I am bereft.

No more debates, polls, rallies, speeches, commercials, interviews, reports, documentaries, photo-calls, in-depth articles, out-of-their-depth articles, profile pieces, diary pieces, speculative pieces, twitter-spats, commentators and talking heads.

Goddamn it.

But oh man, what a year. Every moment of the Republican nomination battle and the ensuing election campaign has been an education into a political process so utterly baffling that trying to understand it must be how teenage boys feel when faced with a diagram of the female sexual organs.

Picking my favourite moment from the past year would be like asking a nun to choose her best outfit. There are however a few candidates:

Women. The utter dogshit of a mess the GOP got themselves into with their ludicrous, unnecessary and fundamentally dangerous ‘war on women': omitting contraception from health care insurance, the introduction of vaginal probes, the offensive labelling of women as ‘sluts’, the proposed defunding of Planned Parenthood, and the idiot senate candidates with their pro-life ‘legitimate rape, fakey rape’ arguments.

That the GOP leadership mewed pathetically at the worst offenders instead of censuring them appropriately underlined the vulnerability that political parties in the U.S. face where the concept of collective responsibility (and the sanctions that come with it) does not exist. It was also a major distraction from what the GOP really wanted to talk about: the economy.

The Republican strategy to win the female vote culminated in Ann Romney declaring “I love you, wimminn!” at the Republican National Convention, an embarrassing contrast with Michelle Obama’s statement at the Dem Convention that “women are more than capable of making our own choices about our bodies and our health care“. It was the Women’s Institute versus Mumsnet. In the election, unmarried women voted two-to-one for Obama. In other words, get your politics out of my pants, Mittens.

The Republican Candidates. The ‘Wait, What ..?’ Group Award goes to Newt, Rick, Ron, Mitt, Jon, Rick, Michele and Herman who took part in the political version of a talent contest but with no talent.

The Republican debates – twenty of them over ten long months – sparkled with the kind of crazy you have to pay extra for at a crazy convention. Rick Santorum proved the most fun/terrifying with his belief that radical Islamists are rampaging through Central America and his accusation that Obama has waged a war on religion so vicious that it will inevitably lead to a French Revolution-style manning of the tumbrels. Rick Perry impressed me talking about the “lavatories of innovation”. These are of course in the same bathroom as the sinks of invention and the bidets of advancement.

Newt Gingrich, though, holds a special place in my heart for suggesting that America should apply the Pope John Paul II template of foreign policy to both Iran and North Korea. I might be going out on a limb here but I’m not sure kissing tarmac is going to swing it. I’m not even sure North Korea has tarmac.

The balls-aching lunacy of all the candidates meant voters sensibly went for Mitt, the lesser of the crazies, but the fierce competition over so many months did lasting damage to the GOP, turning it into an object of media derision and forcing Mitt from his hitherto moderate position to one of severe conservatism, draining the party of more sensible support.

The Vice-Presidents. Paul Ryan was supposed to be Robin to Mitt’s Batman, the glowing future of the GOP who would get America excited about a Romney administration. The intriguing combination of nerd plus hunter (Ryan, Chairman of the House Budget Committee, taught his nine-year-old daughter how to shoot a .243 light-caliber Remington 700 bolt-action hunting rifle) got the GOP all sweaty-palmed until they realised that this would not result in the long-term bounce in the polls they had hoped for. Ryan sank faster than a dog in a vat of kibble. Personally I think Ryan was squashed by Mitt’s advisors at the first sign of an opinion. To make matters worse, he was then bitch-slapped in the VP debate by Laughing Joe Biden, who made up for Obama’s poor first debate with a combative and assured performance.

Clinton. Like a magnificent master plasterer, he filled in the cracks with style. Enough said.

David Axelrod’s mustache. Obama’s wingman Axe announced that if Obama failed to win Pennsylvania, Michigan and Minnesota, he would shave off his mustache of forty years. The American Mustache Institute was outraged, stating “It’s incredibly irresponsible for Axelrod to be playing games with such an exceptionally powerful mustache”. According to the Institute, Axelrod’s mustache is a ‘chevron’, a style typically favored by law enforcement.

And then there’s Mitt’s disastrous European tour; his dismissal of 47 per cent of the population; the death sentence doled out to Big Bird on live television; Joe Biden and every photo-call he’s ever done .. I could go on, but I fear you would get bored and I would become rather maudlin.

Unlike the winner.

And what of the loser? He is a mug in a store on sale for $1.

Politics is brutal.

those they left behind

As Romney and Obama battle it out tonight in one of the most heated and sterile environments known to anyone who’s not a lab technician, spare a thought for those good folks for whom the words ‘it coulda been me’ never rang less true.

Let’s take a peak at what Romney’s fallen comrades are up to this evening.

Michele Bachmann and her lovely wife Markiss Evergreen Bachmann plan a quiet evening at home, testing HPV inoculations on carrots and cloning eyelashes in their laboratory of crazy. Later, they might swap make-up tips and try on wedding dresses.

Rick Perry will be watching the debate at his local saloon bar. He is practising his full-on, Texan-rodeo holler of  That fella steam-irons his chaps, FACT!” every time Romney opens his mouth. Rick is currently high.

At least Rick is getting out of the house. Pity poor Ron Paul. Locked in the attic by his duplicitous son Rand, he sits shivering in his too-big jacket, listening to the mournful cries of his bedraggled band of followers in the yard outside as Rand picks them off, one by one. “End the Fed!” they cry. Then, “Ouch.” None of Carol’s fine French Puff Muffins* for you tonight, Ron.

And what of Newt Gingrich and the lovely Callista? Now out of restraints, Newt is busy in his shed with no time to waste on debates. His mountain-shaped models are coming along just fine, thank you. “All Callista needs,” he muses, “is a jumpsuit and visor and she’s good to go. Her hair was BORN to be in space.” Newt isn’t bitter. He sees further than the power than might have been his. He sees beyond.

Ahh Rick Santorum. He almost came from behind. This evening he will preach a sermon of peace and love to his children, then repair to the barn and lie on a bed of shale, awaiting the call from the RNC. He will forgive their mistake, and accept the nomination with good grace.

Meanwhile Herman Cain is gettin’ busy pouring the cocktails and dimming the lights. “Only one debate counts tonight,” he grins, “ribbed or regular?

*I got the Ron Paul Family Cookbook!

sledging in denver

What do Condoleezza Rice, former US Secretary of State, and Chris Broderick, guitarist with thrash metal band Megadeth, have in common?

Do they favour the same brand of breakfast cereal? It’s possible. Are they aficionados of the 1983 sci-fi television mini-series ‘V’, a compelling allegory of Nazi persecution? Maybe. Perhaps they both enjoy the cool comfort of 600 thread-count luxury Egyptian cotton sheets? I know I do.

Or do they relax of an evening in a comfortable lay-z-boy, a dry sherry to hand, with eyes closed and a smile gently flickering across their collective face, as they listen to a recording of Paco de Lucia playing Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez? This may well be true. Condi is known for her love of classical music, and Chris studied classical guitar, rating Paco as his favourite guitarist.

What they actually have in common is that they are alumni of the University of Denver. And what is so special about this university, I hear you ask? I’ll tell you. It is the venue for the first 2012 Presidential debate.  This Wednesday, Obama and Romney will meet in the Magness Arena at the University of Denver to debate domestic policy.

Over the past week, both camps have been downplaying expectations about the performance of their man. The Republican team having been bigging up the debating skills of Obama, while the Democrats have been stressing their opponent’s focus on the debates (David Axelrod commented that the invasion of Normandy took less preparation than Romney is putting into the debates).

In his skirmishes with fellow candidates earlier this year, Romney’s tendency to Flashmanise (see D. Cameron, PMQs passim) when under pressure gave viewers a peek behind his normally rather reasonable facade, and revealed a political naivety that has come back to haunt him throughout his campaign (“Wanna bet? 10,000 bucks?“). Admittedly his opponents were not the sharpest tools in the debating box, but both Newt (blunt hammer) and Santorum (screwdriver) managed to score some decent hits (Santorum, in fact, started the debates as the kiddie desperate to play with the big boys and ended them as a force to be reckoned with – a strange, shale-wielding force, but a force all the same).

Can television debates make a difference in an election? Research suggests that winning a debate can have a short-term impact on voting intentions, and the ensuing media coverage can help inform voters who did not watch the debates. So it’s all to play for, right? Well, that’s debatable (see what I did there). According to a 2008 Gallop poll, only two presidential debates, Kennedy vs. Nixon and Gore vs. Bush, had a significant impact on the outcome of an election. The Daily Beast has more on that here.

Sadly for Romney, it is looking pretty tricky. The polls make for grim reading, and he can expect a few uncomfortable moments in this first debate over his taxes and the now infamous 47 per cent comment. Obama, to be fair, cannot take a win for granted. He is working hard to persuade the electorate that the 2008 stardust still clings to him, that the change he promised can still be a reality.

Perhaps the debates should be spiced up a bit. Make them debate in costume. Or in verse. How about Fight Club? The first rule of Presidential Debate Club? You don’t talk about Presi … oh well, that’s out for a start. The levees of Twitter will surely burst on Wednesday evening as waves of comment, judgement, insult and ridicule pour across the Twittersphere.

I hope that both candidates will at least indulge in a cheeky bit of sledging, the amusing practise of aiming insults at an opponent to put them off. Nothing they say, however, will ever surpass the now-legendary comments from two international cricketers during a game:

Bowler to batsman: “Why are you so fucking fat?”

Batsman to bowler: “Because every time I fuck your wife, she gives me a biscuit”

By the way, the Megadeth genius strummer ain’t wrong. Paco de Lucia is the master, and this is dreamy, stirring, wonderful stuff.

balloons and stardust

So are you excited about voting in your first election?” I asked a young colleague at a work dinner.

Yeah, kind of,” she replied, “But I don’t think I’ll bother with the presidential vote. I mean, I wanna make sure my state gets the right representation, and that’s what’s important, right?

I waited for a moment to see if she was joking.

Oh. Um, would you mind, can I just borrow this?” I asked. Reaching over the table to pick up her fork, I held it above the back of my hand. “I’m going to have to stab myself now because if I don’t, I will be incredibly rude. Is that ok?

She looked at me like I had just shit on her salmon.

So the conventions are over. In less than sixty days America will go to the polls, and I will watch, fuming with jealousy, as my friends and (some of my) colleagues vote.

Last week, I went to Tampa and saw this man. Paul Ryan, the newly appointed Republican vice-presidential nominee, has the most powerful body in the history of conservatism since the emergence of the Tea Party. I give you Exhibit A:

Exhibit A: ooh wot a hottie

In person however, his physique does not easily translate to formal clothing. His suits look thin and cheap and are far too big for him, hanging low as if he has stones in his pockets. As a result, he seems awkward and gangly and actually rather skinny. See Exhibit B.


Exhibit B: massive dork

Ok, so when I say ‘in person’, I mean from a distance of about fifty feet; the seat that a very kind friend had managed, with some difficulty, to secure for me at the Republican National Convention was high above the main stage. I peered at Ryan on a big screen as he gave his acceptance speech. His eyes were a little watery and red, as if he had been swimming without goggles. His hair looked like velcro.

As for Ryan’s speech .. well, it has already been taken outside and beaten to death by every fact-checker, commentator and journalist going, so I shan’t bore you with the detail.

But watching Ryan speak was an added bonus; being at the convention and seeing the craziness for myself was the main joy. There was too much to take in. The delegates on the convention floor were a rippling mass of colour, bobbing up and down to wave their placards, moving through the aisles to chat, a throb of sound that hushed only when Ryan spoke (others were not so lucky, having to give their speeches over the noise). The very funny Matt Stopera at Buzzfeed provides this brilliant summary of the sheer spectacle of the delegates, and then some.

I watched Rick Santorum make slow progress round the hall, stopping constantly for photos, his daughter trailing behind. He is a tall man with a surprisingly commanding presence. There is no ambiguity about Santorum. You know what he stands for, unlike Mitt. Ann Romney’s plea to delegates earlier in the week to love her husband as much as she does was an attempt to quash the GOP’s fears that people just do not know Romney well enough.

Personally I found her speech patronising and rather embarrassing (“I love you wimminnnnn!“). And why didn’t she wear an up-and-coming American designer? Schoolboy error. Having watched Michelle Obama’s speech to the Democratic convention in Charlotte this week, there’s no contest. Michelle’s speech was the London Olympics compared to Ann’s Beijing.

From my sedentary position on the sofa, the Dem convention looked much more fun that the Republican. Who would you rather have seen? Clint Eastwood making an utter arse of himself talking to an empty chair, or Bill Clinton, John Kerry and Joe Biden? The balloons may have come down in Tampa, but the stardust glittered in Charlotte.

I wish I’d been at the convention, particularly to see this. SPOILER: you will cry.

.

It seems appropriate to mark the first birthday of this blog with this post. I started it as a rambling account of my new life in DC, but it soon morphed into a competition to see how many ways I could say “Republicans? What the fuck is up with that?”

God knows what I’ll write about after the election.

confused about American politics? me too.

So, where were we? Ah yes.

Newt Gingrich bowed out of the campaign for the nomination with a verbose and graceless speech so heavy with narcissism that it’s a wonder he didn’t plummet through the stage after spraying his horrified audience with a sticky layer of grandiosity. Rick Santorum finally endorsed Mitt Romney with the same level of giddy enthusiasm that I reserve for bleaching my tea spoons. And this week’s political bombshell was North Carolina’s landslide vote to ban gay marriage and civil unions (but hey, you can still marry your first cousin in N.C., excellent news for those keen on six-fingered offspring). President Obama’s subsequent public backing of same-sex marriage was seen by Republicans as a declaration of war on the institution of marriage, and fueled a twittergasm so powerful it blew Mitt Romney’s mom jeans clean off.

Welcome to the 2012 general election. Romney will be the Republican challenger unless Ryan Gosling decides to run. It is all very exciting, if rather confusing; the American political system is like a massive, breathless equation for which there is no right or wrong answer and anyway the myriad of rules keep on changing because basically fuck you.

My quest to achieve a greater understanding of American politics led me not only to wonder how the trumpeting hell this country actually gets anything done, but also to a number of odd words and phrases that require explanation. So for any non-Americans who might vaguely be interested, here’s my attempt to make things a little clearer.

Bundlers: Sadly, not people who envelop you with lovely big, warm hugs and give you a chocolate biscuit. Bundlers are people who circumvent the limits on individual political donations by giving the maximum amount allowed, then collecting from others and bundling all that money together. Politicians are not required by law to release the names of their bundlers, although Obama has (Romney has not). At the recent official dinner in honour of David Cameron, 41 of the 364 guests were Obama campaign bundlers. Can you imagine that happening at an official dinner in Downing Street? Um ….

Convention (national): This is like our annual party political conference, but happens every four years to pick the party’s nominee for president. Well, when I say pick, I mean anoint. Each party’s nominee is generally chosen well before the convention is held, so the occasion is more a rally cry to the masses and probably a bit of a piss-up with some extra-curricular shagging on the side.

Delegates represent their states at their party’s national convention, and cast a vote in favour of one candidate. Sounds simple, right? Nope. The number of delegates per state is not based on the number of residents, so smaller states can have more delegates than larger ones. A number of delegates can also be awarded as a reward for party loyalty. Have a look at this and tell me if you understand the system any better. A pint of D.C.’s best to anyone who gets it and is willing to explain it to me.

Convention (brokered): A situation where no one candidate manages to gain the majority of delegate votes to enable them to win the nomination outright to challenge for the presidency. Unlikely to happen this year, although Ron Paul (bless) will take a good number of delegates to the Republican convention which, by the way, will take place in Florida from the 27th of August and ** I REALLY WANT TO GO ** if anyone would like to get me accreditation and take me with them?

Electoral College: OK, so America has been to the polls. All the votes have been counted. We have a winner! Er, not so fast. The Electoral College has yet to vote. Huh? Well, a long, long time ago, some men with top hats and whiskered faces thought that giving ‘the people’ the ultimate decision on who the next president should be was a little reckless. And some of ‘the people’ thought Congress couldn’t be trusted with the power to elect a president. So a clever person thought up a system whereby ‘the people’ would vote for electors to cast votes on their behalf. The elector will generally vote the way his or her state has voted, ratifying the popular vote, but on occasions they haven’t – George Bush v Al Gore is probably the most famous example. God, I wish Twitter had been invented then. Can you imagine? Hashtags galore.

Spiking the football: This is an American football term for when a player intentionally throws the ball down to stop the clock (I think). The phrase is used in politics to suggest seeking credit for something in a rather showy manner. Most recently, Obama was accused of spiking the football for politicising the anniversary of the death of Osama bin Laden. I imagine the British version is ‘over-egging the pudding’. Or ‘have some respect you total dick’.

Spox: Shorthand for spokesperson. Unlike in the UK, spokespeople for politicians here are not anonymous, speak publicly and often have their own twitter accounts to push their master’s views. Makes for much more fun and bitchiness.

Super PAC: Hmm this is an interesting one. A Super PAC (political action committee) is an organisation that campaigns on behalf of a candidate although is not directly connected to him or her, and is often run by former staff members. Super PACs are controversial because they can raise unlimited funds (not just from individuals but also from corporations and unions) and the disclosure rules on who the cash comes from are pretty hazy. Many of the negative advertising campaigns that ran during the Republican nomination campaign were funded by Super PACs, and no doubt the same will happen during the presidential campaign. The amount of money involved is extraordinary; Romney’s two super PACs, for example, have so far raised $80 million.

Surrogates: Nothing to do with babies. Surrogates are representatives of a candidate running for office who will campaign on their behalf. This could be another politician or even the husband or wife of the candidate, and enables a campaign to cover ground more easily during a campaign. Michelle Obama has acted as a surrogate for the President on many occasions, as latterly has Mrs. Mittens.  

Swiftboating: Not, as you might think, some dodgy Dutch fun involving bottoms and right-wing propaganda (google it). This term originated in 2004 when presidential candidate John Kerry was accused of fibbing about his military service in Vietnam by a group who called themselves the ‘Swift Boat Veterans for Truth’. The term caught on and is now used to describe nasty and negative public smear campaigns. Horrid.

That’s it for now. Don’t yell at me if I got some of it wrong. I might fling a few more phrases your way as the campaign heats up. You’ll thank me for it later when you’re able to show off to your mates in the pub.

rejection

Please don’t worry about it, I’ve seen far worse,” explained the dentist. “We treat a lot of people from the World Bank.”

I had fretted that my first time with a dentist here in the States would result in him bolting in terror once he saw my British teeth, but it turned out I had nothing to fear as my teeth are in fairly good nick, if a little wonky. Thus the dentist encouraged me to see his colleague to judge if I would be a good candidate for invisible braces. I duly did. And was duly rejected.

Apparently I would need a few teeth moved about in a slightly more invasive way than I had anticipated before the braces could go on. I had foolishly got quite excited about finally having perfect teeth (and naturally the resulting hot boyfriend/better job/bigger boobs), so to be informed “Sorry, you’re just not a good candidate unless you want your jaw sawn in half” was like being told to fuck off by a nun. I shuffled home after the appointment, miserable to my core, and went to bed early in a massive huff.

This shattering episode in my life is no doubt on a par with the utter dejection Rick Santorum must have felt as he exited the fun game of pick-the-crazy. He threw in the towel earlier this week after realising that he would lose the primary election in his home state of Pennsylvania, which is sort of like having your boyfriend tell you he’s dumping you for another girl while you’re still in bed with him.

So, farewell Rick. You were the light that bathed that shining city on the hill. Your determination, passionate oratory, and ability to articulate and manipulate the basic fears of hard-core conservatives kept you in the race far longer than anyone imagined. You will be remembered for your sweater-vests and your love of bowling. Please don’t come back in 2016.

Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul are still in the race for the nomination – hurrah! – but they increasingly remind me of those crap mascots you see at lower league football games, there to be mocked and to give the game some colour. Newt is threatening to tattoo his forehead with the words ‘All The Way to Tampa’, because clearly that will look so professional when, as President, he hosts the G7.

It will be fascinating to see what role, if any, Rick plays to support Mittens in his campaign for the presidency, for the campaign has indeed started in earnest. And if this week is anything to go by, the fight for the White House will be as mucky as that between the Republican candidates.

A few days ago we witnessed the undignified spectacle of Mrs. Mittens joining Twitter purely to engage in a fatuous argument about stay-at-home mums. It has always been open season on anyone in the public arena who is linked to a political party – however tenuous that link – and who makes a vaguely contentious or clumsy comment, but with the increasing use of social media in campaigning, political roadkill has never tasted so good.

Twitter has become the kindling of choice for political arsonists, and stories that would have previously merited a small paragraph in a newspaper article now rocket up the news agenda, powered with the kind of hysteria not seen since those girls in Salem all got their period at the same time, because of the sheer deluge of instant, on-the-record comments from the protagonists themselves and those closest to them.

Admittedly it’s a delight for me as an obsessive, political nerd to watch from the sidelines, but I don’t envy those who no doubt spend valuable time fire-fighting what are ultimately distractions from the key messages they are trying to promote.

The next seven months are going to be so much fun. It almost makes up for being rejected by a dentist (a fucking dentist! pff).