Dynastic battles viewed from abroad

Two American aristocrats fight for the crown - how does it seem in Britain?

Dynastic battles viewed from abroad

By Quentin Langley

Dateline 08 December 2000.

In any US election the President or Vice-President represents continuity, and European governments will normally prefer the familiar. Of course, ideological factors are also influential. There is little doubt that in 1980 Margaret Thatcher preferred the challenger to the incumbent, where this year Tony Blair is one of Al Gore’s most enthusiastic supporters. In 1992 there were concerns the world over when a President on first name terms with virtually all world leaders was defeated by the Governor of a small, landlocked, state which few foreigners could place on a map. If Gore had been challenged by a Governor called Racicot or Keating concerns would have been as high this year. But this Governor is different: he speaks Spanish; he runs a state we have heard of; and he has a very familiar name.

The wider public has been able to follow this election far more closely than any previous one. We have access to the same cable news channels that Americans watch. We can read American newspapers on the ‘net and subscribe to American e-mail groups. We have heard the same stories that you have. We heard that George W Bush was stupid. But the facts show that his academic record is superior to Al Gore's. We heard that he mangled his words. But we saw the debates and, like you, we concluded that he won two and drew the other.

We were told that Bush was ignorant of foreign affairs, but this was the debate he won by the biggest margin. In any case, we have seen his team: Cheney, Schultz, Baker, Powell and Scowcroft and, of course, the Governor’s father. Former President Bush is still respected the world over. But then, to put it mildly, you didn’t throw him out for paying too little attention to foreign affairs.

Like you, we heard that Governor Bush thought he had a right to the Presidency. But a closer look tells a different story. When he was born his father was a student at Yale. It was Gore’s father who insisted that the birth of his heir was front-page news. It is Gore who has made the pursuit of office his obsession. Governor Bush came very late to politics. It seems that Governor Bush had a fairly ordinary and, aside from the tragic loss of a brother, very happy childhood: playing in the dirt with friends and brothers on a Texas ranch. It was Al Gore who had no house to call his home, just a hotel suite in Washington DC.

The other thing the debates told us is that the Vice-President’s reputation for being stiff and cold is no exaggeration, unlike so much else we have heard about him. His body language displayed no warmth and at least once it was rather menacing. Little wonder that kissing his wife boosted his poll ratings so much: it is the only public display of human feelings that America has seen from him.

We have followed, as you have, the stories of Gore’s supposed invention of the Internet, the legislation he didn’t sponsor and the lies surrounding his father’s record and his sister’s death, and we find them troublesome.

But of all the lies Al Gore has told, the one that seemed most heartfelt was the one about his mother singing “Look for the union label” as a lullaby. When I saw this I could see in my mind a small boy alone in a hotel room with no lullabies or bedtime stories, just a bell to summon room service. And, suddenly, everything about Al Gore fell into place: his inability to show any emotions, despite studying at the feet of Bill Clinton; his tendency to exaggerate his already impressive achievements; his persistence in the election, no matter how many times the votes are counted. Inside, Al Gore is a little boy yelling at his parents: “Mummy, Daddy, look at me!”. It is easy to feel sorry for him, but he still scares me.

Copyright © Quentin Langley 08 December 2000

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