White Elephants and Ridiculous Asses

It’s loathsome and it comes around once every four years. No, I’m not talking about the Olympics. I’m on about American politics.

A lot of people get themselves really jazzed with American politics. I mean, I get it — the President of the USA is an important person, so it’s good to keep up with events. But some people actually seem to enjoy it. Are they sadists?

For the past two weeks my favourite radio programme Up All Night has been hijacked by these American politicos talking enormous amounts of horsey-poo. Dr Karl’s excellent science podcast was this week unbearably difficult to listen to because presenter Rhod Sharp was sitting there in Denver surrounded by lots of people cheering. (To add insult to injury, the podcast was less than half the length it normally is.)

The thing about these party conventions in America is that they always seem so detached from reality. I know this is not an original comparison, but it really is like pantomime. A politician can say the most banal, boring thing with a clumsy delivery, but the crowd will still cheer and applaud like crazy. Bring up the enemy and they boo and hiss. And at the end of the day you will still be no clearer about what anyone will actually do if they are elected.

And speaking of the applause, and the cheering and the whooping. What is with it? I wandered into a room that had the Democratic Convention on the television last week. All that was happening was some kind of upbeat music was playing, and the people were cheering and whooping and dancing. I must have been in the room for three or four minutes. I left before anyone actually uttered a single word. I mean, what is this? The world’s biggest laughter therapy class?

When I see stuff like that, it just makes me think everyone that is sitting in that room is delusional. John McCain is never just John McCain. He is always, always, “The Next President Of The United States Of America, John McCain”. What makes them so sure? That is just cocky. I would kind of get it if it was obvious he was going to win, but even then it is like tempting fate. When Neil Kinnock tried it here in 1992 he got hammered. So why does this stuff sit well in the USA? Perhaps it is one of those things where they think, “If I say it often enough it will become true.”

Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I think politics should be about the issues. At least in Britain the parties pretend to talk about policies during their conferences. In America, party conventions just put too much emphasis on the razzmatazz. It’s all about the glitz and the glamour. Then there is the emotive nature of it all. Most of it seems to be about tugging on the heart-strings, and they’re not very subtle about it. It’s just too saccharine for me.

I am certainly glad I don’t live in America so that I have to actually face to prospect of having to pay attention to all of this nonsense. If you ask me, it is no surprise that turnout in the USA is so low. I would hardly be overjoyed by the prospect of choosing between the White Elephants Party and the Ridiculous Asses Party.

It is true that politicians can be quite off-putting here in Britain as well. But at least they put me off because of what they say. American politicians put me off because of what they do and how they present themselves.

What gets me is the fact that they think I would be impressed with any of the sort of silly things they do at conventions. It’s like when they get a group of people to stand behind the speaker. I think it’s meant to look like he’s so popular that he’s always got scores of people standing around him. In actual fact it looks like the speaker is facing the wrong way without realising it.

When Michelle Obama started speaking at the Democratic Convention, all of these placards suddenly appeared from within the audience. It looked like there were hundreds of them. “MICHELLE”, they said. Why was that? Were they worried she was going to forget her name? Why don’t they make her check the inside of her underpants like the rest of us have to?

I only include the video to prove the point about the placards. Don’t watch the whole video — it only encourages them. Incidentally, the first word is not even uttered until 1:19.


  1. well it is all about at whom these theatrics are aimed … the set up the speaches can only be as intelligent as the average voter they try to get.

    These “conventions” are not much different from the big US sporting events for example. Just look how the big games look – basketball, hockey, NFL, baseball … I thought people actually go there to watch the games. Well, I have been to few ice hockey games in the States. The grandstands were empty most of the time during the game, everybody was out lining up for coke and fries and burgers. Then the interval started with all the silly shows and everybody was back in the seat 🙂 …

  2. As a North America-phile, I’m biased of course, but what I’ve seen of UK party conferences leaves me unenthused. They are grey, attended by party members who look as if they would rather be anywhere else, and do nothing to inspire either the audience or the viewers.

    By contrast – whilst US party conventions may be a bit OTT; you just have to tune out the excess clapping and hooting – they are at least fulfilling their purpose; inspiring the party faithful to get out there and raise funds and canvass the undecided or the apathetic. I didn’t see one glassy stare during the coverage of the DNC (or during the little of what I could stomach of the RNC) and yet heard plenty of policy. Americans, on the other hand, probably see it completely differently – but the grass is always greener etc.