Sometimes stereotypes are nothing more than lazy, biased, agenda-motivated fallacies that have no grounding in truth and should be totally ignored. But every now and again that rarest of rarities emerges: a generalisation about a group which is not only true and hilarious, but also cautionary and slightly disturbing.
Todd Akin: Republican senator from Missouri, believes the female reproductive system has it’s own method of dealing with rape and therefore any question of his stance on abortion changing in the case of pregnancy in this instance is irrelevant. Also is on record for saying that babies born from rape are God’s plan anyway. Oh and he’s on science committees.
Rick Perry: Texan Governor, “Mr Perry, you’ve executed more death row inmates than any other governor in modern times…” the interviewer is cut off at this point due to tumultuous and enthusiastic applause and cheers from the crowd.
Ron Paul: When asked if he would help save someone in intensive care… “That’s what freedom is all about - taking risks. This whole idea that you have to take care of everybody…*shakes head in disbelief” (Interviewer) “Are you saying society should just let these people die?” - voice from crowd “Yayuh!”
Rick Santorum: Soldier on active service in Iraq on video link to the presidential candidate saying how he had to lie about who he was in order to sign up due to his homosexality. Santorum’s response is to grimace in disgust as the crowd boos the solidier.
Sorry to pander to those who would argue that one side of the US Political system is too easy to mock. I won’t attempt to avoidasize or defendify my position any longer…
“They never stop thinking up new ways to harm our people. And neither do we”
When one nation identifies itself as pre-eminent amongst others the temptation to rank it alongside various comparable predecessors is too great to resist. The United States is an empire of contradictions, uncertainty, and controversy and most importantly is entangled in a relentless struggle for legitimation. This final attribute is perhaps what confirms its place in the canon of great civilisations throughout the history of mankind: an only barely concealed attempt to authenticate itself in the mould of past leaders poorly veiled under an idealistic hubris.
Manifested in the forms of kingdom, republic and empire the success of Rome is surely the benchmark by which all subsequent powers are judged. Idealised and glorified to the point of absurdity - the duration and power of this force is both magnificent and at the same time terrible: the enslavement of the known world and destruction of all resistance in the name of an ideal. Rome itself as an empirical phenomenon is an unimportant factor in the accumulation of status as world conqueror: the bastard offspring of Hellenic culture, Etruscan tradition and wandering nomads on the Italian peninsula; the amalgamation of outcasts, criminals and homeless drifters into a concept of citizenship and belonging which remained for over a thousand years. The essence of Rome as we know it is as the most powerful and enduring force to which the world has ever borne witness.
In spite of a plethora of failings and an almost ceaseless internal struggle over power, constitution and what Rome itself actually represented the era of Pax Romanum is a suggestion that under one ruler the world can more or less know peace. Dare one wonder if this could be replicated, on the condition that a sufficiently similar clone of the Roman Empire itself could be found? Or would it be that the world to which peace must be brought is too different from the one overseen by the men on the Palatine Hill.
Maybe it is more prudent to examine first whether the tool at our disposal remains the same for the job of world peace (for the U.S. read, ‘world police’). America is without doubt the product of a mesh of established nations and cultures, and has struggled with the teething pains of independence – from the Euro-envy of the characters in The Age of Innocence and The Great Gatsby to the almost comical lengths undertaken to construct faux- Classical structures upon Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. The really deeply engrained similarities between the Romans and the Americans however lie in the concept that citizenship itself entails a responsibility to a set of morals held by some mythical character- where the Romans had Romulus as the noble founder of their culture America repeatedly makes use of it’s ‘Founding Fathers’ to find in their own near history worthy examples to follow.
And what of world influence? It would be easy to suggest that through some other manifestation of control such as capitalist dominance and military ascendency the modern Americans are following in the footsteps of the great Roman tradition of conquest. The real measure of influence can be seen as the global desire to be incorporated (no matter how well disguised) into the leading society. The city of Rome throughout the Republic (and deteriorating ever after) was at best poor: racked by disease and fires, constantly in envy and awe of cities such as Athens and Alexandria and the home to murderous and exploitative. In spite of this Rome was undoubtedly the place to be – officers would be terrified of any posting which would render their services unto some provincial backwater, everybody knew that things were happening in the capital: the fate of the world was being decided in the city of Rome. And now? Any real examination of the United States reveals a nation racked by debt, internal struggle between ideologies and religion and race and one could go on indefinitely… however it is difficult to dispute that the American lifestyle has permeated the deep places of the globe. People drive American cars, wear American clothes, watch American movies, adopt American idioms – but at the same time are fully conscious of the fact that the much-fantasised ‘American Dream’ is thoroughly unattainable.
Any smartass can quote Steinbeck and Fitzgerald in relation to the lack of American Dreams being realised– any man on the street can see that Americans have no national health service. Any smartass will tell you about the struggle between Pompey Magnus and Julius Caesar for ascendency in post-Republican Rome and any man on the street can see that his friend stabbed the first emperor to death.
“Not because I loved Caesar less, but because I loved Rome more”
Similarities established. Now for the task of bringing peace to Earth: the Pax Romanum occurred after a period in which world dominance was wrested from various individual states – the territories surrounding the Mediterranean sea were bent over the imperial knee and beaten into submission with the iron Roman legion, through a process of dependency and tribute control was gradually attained over vast swathes of land by wanton conquest. Vendettas were continued – the most obvious against the Carthaginians, less famously against provincial kings such as Mithridates, all in the name of upholding the notion of Rome and grandly establishing the great works of it’s genius across the known world. So far America is several stages behind in this process – but perhaps is in an accelerated rate of accumulation of the kudos of ‘arriving’ at true greatness. Having successfully shaken off the mother nation of England, overcoming a civil war intact, establishing a strong constitution with the desperate fear of too much power resting in the hands of one man, meddling in the affairs of global politics and winning great wealth and respect from other countries, getting involved in wars against peoples who pose little or no direct risk to themselves under the pretence of protecting American values internationally…
What next then? How does the most powerful empire in the world exert itself pacifically over its younger sibling nations? For this perhaps we can look at the various methods employed by the Romans and subsequent big fish. The Romans hugely enjoyed constructing temples (to Gods and culture) for the enjoyment of it’s citizens, it enforced the law fiercely and most importantly preserved the infallibility of the eternal dream of Rome – the ‘Roman Dream’ never died and still keeps people up at night in the twenty first century.
Charlemagne chose religion as the most important factor to be maintained and honoured during the Carolingian regime – something that could never truly be defeated but yet still gave moral advice and set an example. Religion was used throughout the Middle Ages to ‘enforce’ peace upon others under the flag of liberation from the spiritual wasteland of heresy/paganism. If we turn our heads to the right we see the Ottoman Turks using a combination of bureaucratic intelligence and religious fervour to conquer and maintain peace – and under Darius and his ilk the Persians before them used Zoroastrian ideas to ‘liberate’ people from ‘the Lie’. What do all these empires have in common in their implementation of peace? They all needed to destroy in order to create.
Put down the white flag. In this nuclear age we daren’t consider the possibility of a ‘serious’ world power with nuclear potential actually engaging in combat with someone whom might merit the use of it. The world reaction to the Nagasaki and Hiroshima bombings was enough to show not just the Americans that military might and ostentation no longer cuts the mustard if one truly wants to defeat people (and not just eradicate them). The Americans must be subtler – they must carefully ensure that their own senate of capitalist leaders remains in power and isn’t overthrown by some great general on his return from Gallic conquest and glory. One by one the neighbouring lands must bow to the greater power and understand that to unify or die is their very real predicament. The events since 2008 show how the seemingly limitless trajectory of American ascendency has been transformed into trillion-dollar debt and the risk of national bankruptcy. The American people have a notion of Americanism and are proud of it however don’t contribute very much in the way of direct financial support – post-Imperial England saw the rise of the welfare state, the post-Imperial shell of Rome in the form of Constantinople became an excessively proud but modest entity.
They woke up from the dream of global hegemony. Could the same happen to the USA? As with all the great leading societies in world history the zenith has been short and overlooked due to the unrealistic belief in constant and exponential growth. The twentieth century saw Wilson, Roosevelt, Kennedy and Nixon, Bush Jnr. and now Obama shape how the world developed and its constituent parts interacted – could it be that the real pax Americanum has passed us by whilst we were waiting expectantly to see what would happen next?
As with the empires aforementioned so it has been with past Presidents – the attempt at gracious integration into a society no longer familiar to them under the blanket term ‘elder statesmen’ has proved difficult. The challenge for any empire lies in the afterlife – the maintenance of grace and command of respect from others as it steps aside to let the new ascendant take over the alpha role. The most that can be hoped of a dominant empire is that the rise is not too bloody, the reign is not too uncomfortable, and the decline and fall leaves intact something beautiful.
Boris Johnson: international political phenomenon, recently elected to a second stint as Mayor of London and described by Jeremy Paxman as “hairdresser’s despair”. Johnson is féted as the revival of the old school Tory of PG Wodehouse and Evelyn Waugh novels – classically ‘posh’, undeniably privileged and a political cartoonist’s dream.
In spite of his reputation as an insult to the political classes and example of the ‘born-to-lead’ type now said to dominate the Conservatives Boris is immensely popular, and perhaps a little more need be said about this rogue element.
A former editor of The Spectator Boris has had his finger on the pulse of UK politics for a while now. Interviewing Lord Bingham for the publication in 2002 he discusses the creation of a Supreme Court in this country (now come to fruition) and delivers a typical Boris performance: “Lord Bingham is a wiry, athletic-looking fellow”. He has a reputation for haughty honesty, willingness to get involved and weakness for anything bicycle-related.
As for earlier life, he explains an exit from a career in management consultancy: “Try as I might, I could not look at an overhead projection of a growth profit matrix, and stay conscious.” His extra-mayoral career has had ups and downs, when standing for Rector of the University of Edinburgh in 2006 he prompted an unprecedented high turnout to make sure he didn’t get the post (finishing third of four) – clearly a man with a tendency to polarise public opinion.
As Mayor of London he has been successful, his campaign message this year highlighted previous achievement and a good track record: “the murder rate is down by a quarter, crime on buses by over a third. We have increased investment in our creaking transport infrastructure, and cut tube delays by 40 per cent.” Okay, so Boris only won by a 3pc margin over Labour’s Ken Livingstone (former mayor and polar opposite of Johnson) but it cannot be argued that the ‘Boris effect’ isn’t immensely powerful.
Boris has been in the news recently due to his criticism of the BBC being overtly left wing and biased against the Tories. In his column for The Daily Telegraph he criticises the “mentality of the BBC man” for holding “an innocent belief that everything in life should be “free” ”. Boris drops the bombshell when he states the British Broadcasting Corporation is “statist, corporatist, defeatist, anti-business, Europhile and, above all, overwhelmingly biased to the Left”. He calls for a Tory successor to the post of Director General this Autumn in a hope to help Britain rediscover it’s “spirit of enterprise”.
But surely being lefty and rude to politicians and the rich is sort of, well, the job of the BBC? Harriet Harman tweeted that Boris should stay out of it. A BBC spokesperson told the Huffington Post that “Our approach means asking difficult questions of politicians”. Labour MP Ian Austin tweeted that “BBC job is holdng(sic) politicians 2 account”. Dare we examine whether the BBC goes too far when it comes ‘2’ politicians? Or whether the Labour party should get to work on an economic policy instead of spending all day on Twitter?
The BBC programme Newsnight hosted by media attack dog Jeremy Paxman is a great platform for a bit of old fashioned bullying and character assassination under the banner of ‘holding politicians to account’. In October 2011 JP started his interview with Boris by calling him a “hairdresser’s despair”. Well used to underhand and lazy insults from those with no accountability Johnson chooses to ignore Paxman in order to get on with the interview (focussing on the significance of the London riots of last Summer). Paxman, sensing the opportunity to maul Johnson on the original topic slipping away, quickly turns the conversation towards Boris’ potential candidacy for future Conservative leadership. As mayor of the city one would think that Johnson has a certain interest in talking about London and not indulging Paxman’s idle speculation. Boris good-humouredly says how the main differences between himself and the PM is their bodyweight, and tennis ability. Paxman furiously decries the politician for his childishness: begging the question – if you wanted a serious interview why kick-off with a quip about the hairstyle of the Mayor of London?
Whether this treatment is reserved exclusively for Tories (or people with eccentric hair) is a discussion for another day, but surely the BBC would reduce the accusation of bias if they employed interviewers with a little more modesty than the likes of Jeremy Paxman and John Humphreys. The Today Programme is the breakfast listening of many and is rarely without a bit of minister-bashing, perhaps the BBC should consider whether people want to hear terrified young MPs being shouted at by stale interviewers over the chance to hear a bit of, dare I say it, informative broadcasting?
Are Boris Johnson and Jeremy Paxman so different? Paxman left an exclusive private school for Cambridge where he was some time member of the Labour Club. Boris left Eton for Oxford where he was a member of the exlusive Bullingdon Club – backgrounds identical in privilege but with Boris choosing the Tory path to wealth and Paxman the noble role of servant of the public in broadcasting? Nowadays Paxman receives over a million pounds a year from the BBC (funded by the British taxpayer) and Boris gets a mayoral wage of £143,000 (paid for by taxes). During his first term as mayor Boris introduced the ‘freedom pass’ to give elderly Londoners free access to public transport 24 hours a day. In that four years was there a 24 hour period in which Jeremy Paxman took the sour puss off his face?
Blondes have more fun.
Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage came just a day after voters in North Carolina approved a state constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman, and after two top members of the Obama administration publicly voiced their own support for gay marriage.
Vice President Joe Biden said Sunday on “Meet the Press” that he is “absolutely comfortable” with men marrying men and women marrying women, while Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in an interview Monday on MSNBC that he supports gay marriage.And the two are not alone.
In a Gallup poll released Tuesday, 50 percent of Americans said they support the legalization of gay marriage, while 65 percent of Democrats and 57 percent of independents said the same. But support for gay marriage doesn’t reach across party lines – among Republicans surveyed, 27 percent said they support legalizing gay marriage.
Last week Elizabeth the Second (by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith) gave her official address to Parliament. Current pressures and troubles as they are this tradition is perhaps worth a little closer scrutiny.
Watching the spectacle is hauntingly reminiscent of a school assembly in front of some terrifying member of staff whom in spite of age and physical stature commands total silence and respect. A list of demands barely two minutes long, delivered whilst seated next to her consort and an entourage glimmering with jewels, forms possibly the most significant input of the monarch into the government formed in her name- but can this custom still be taken seriously?
Do the political leaders seated obsequiously in front of the throne honestly listen to what is said? Or, like the school assembly in which students are reminded (for the thousandth time) of the need for continued effort and hard work, do the Lords and MPs merely shrug off the anachronistic calls from their head of state and make a beeline for the bar.
In the spirit of the Jubilee it is perhaps best to note some of the ‘Greatest Hits’ of both empire and the monarchical system. The Queen announced how the Duke of Edinburgh and herself would be taking part in “festivities throughout the commonwealth” - a commonwealth which surely relishes any chance to sing/dance/bask in the reflected glory of the Empress? Apparently not. The Times today relays how Yashwant Sinha, former Indian foreign minister said how “you can tell the British public from our side that they can keep their money(…)or divert it to some other country which is in greater need.” Reluctance to accept financial aid?Sounds suspiciously like a country which no longer relies on a mother nation to keep it afloat.
India’s GDP grew over 6pc in the final quarter of 2011 (the less said about ours the better). I would never dream of suggesting that the Queen herself will cease to be embraced as a spectacular figure who works hard for ‘her subjects’ – only that apart from the occasional jolly ‘festivities’ several recipients of her gracious presence and patronage are doing perfectly well on their own now without the help of the UK.
Sunday’s Windsor Horse Show - a terrific day out replete with carriage driving contest (with Prince Philip ‘competing’), a spot of polo and some very humble and loyal commentary supplied by Brit favourites Titchmarsh and Clunes show the truly universal appeal of royal interests. After (with difficulty) banishing the mental image of working class ‘charioteers’ tearing around housing estates in urban carriage driving contests the awkward realisation that the royals may be out of touch strikes like a polo mallet to the gut.
The Queen does consolidate her position (sort of) as voice of the people when she expressed her eager anticipation of the Olympics this summer. One can only assume that her majesty is exempted from the ticketing process now universally lauded as harder to succeed at than the modern pentathlon, although this can be understood as she is needed at each venue to welcome and engage with various athletes who will be necessary in recreating the familiar scene of embarrassed grandchild and faux-excited ancestor (see Johnny Wilkinson’s ‘cringe’ handshake post World Cup win in 2003).
To politics then, big hits this year come in the form of reform in the House of Lords (“A Bill will be brought forward to reform the composition of the House of Lords.”) and also in the absence of anything on gay marriage. Lords reform is something which is close to the heart of former Liberal Democrat leader Paddy (Lord) Ashdown who says that with regard to the House of Lords,“We cannot continue with this cob-webbed anachronism”. Perhaps candidate for best ‘elephant in the room’ moment of 2012 – an elephant especially difficult to ignore due to it’s gold outfit and big jewel encrusted chair.
Nick Clegg later said in reference to the speech that he “kind of wrote half of it” - to which the response must be that almost every one in the country could have guessed that the main thrust of the presentation would be soundbites like: “My Ministers’ first priority will be to reduce the deficit and restore economic stability” and “My Government will build strategic partnerships with the emerging powers”. All this shows how due to her minuscule influence over the government she has a tremendously easy job in saying what she’d like done (one might go on to say how the real challenge lies with those carrying the burden of enacting the plans such as Mr. Clegg himself).
President Obama (head of state with infinitely more power both in the decision-making of his government and in the world in general) recently came out (sorry) as supporting homosexuals. The Queen notably ignored them in her presentation. Obama bared his throat to the horrifically large portion of his nation that reject homosexuality and the Queen with nothing to lose left them out of her speech. Children’s minister Tim Loughton recently told a constituent that “marriage as a religious institution cannot be anything other than between a man and a woman”. Oh no. The ‘R’ word. The Queen ended her speech “I pray that the blessing of the Almighty God may rest upon your counsels”. Clearly the head of the Church of England and ‘Defender of the Faith’ puts faith above the promotion of the rights of her gay subjects? Ministers and Peers alike indulge in the vanity of fighting for the issues which matter to their constituents- I concede that reforms and bills don’t always get the glamour and coverage which perhaps their effect in the long term merits, however gay rights is sort of a big deal.
Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper said how “Legislation on equal marriage doesn’t prevent government prioritising jobs, growth or family finances” and it is sort of difficult to challenge her on that. Ben Summerskill head of gay rights campaigners Stonewall calls the issue a “modest measure”. However defence secretary Philip Hammond said that gay marriage was not “number one priority” thanks Philip. The reality is that the government has a responsibility to multi-task, the duty of politicians is to react to what the people want and what can help develop the country as a whole regardless of individual opinions as to what the ‘number one priority’ is. The Queen missed a diamond opportunity to support a group with which she can surely empathise – recipient to abuse by some and seeking a place in modern society.
But then how can the Queen hope to integrate herself with modern politics. It could be argued that ever since the Magna Carta the royals have held an unsteady perch above the political system. Perhaps the answer is this: on the whole the monarch represents the voice of reason. The Christmas speech and various appearances show how she cares. The disinterested reject them, but to listen to them is to hear a measured and well informed picture of the status quo.
The 2010 film The King’s Speech paints a picture of George VI as a man unused to leadership thrust into the spotlight to rally his country at a critical time in British history. He is portrayed as a vulnerable man with a humane sensibility towards the needs of his country. His daughter leads the nation at a time of economic misery and uncertainty without precedent and handles her role with grace, magnanimity, a visible love for her subjects and interest in their wellbeing.
An ICM poll puts a 76pc approval rating on the continuation of the monarchy – which shows that even if they are sometimes infuriating, anachronistic and remind us of elderly relatives they are beloved and valued leaders of the state. The monarchy give so much to this country: public holidays due to weddings; news coverage of Pippa Middleton; an acceptable form of chariot racing; and clients for the dwindling ermine industry. So what if they are politically impotent?