October 21, 2004,
Remember Monty Python's old Upper Class Twit of the Year Contest? Competitions included Insulting the Waiter, Waking the Neighbour, Taking the Bras Off the Debutantes, etc. Now that the U.K. newspaper The Guardian is printing screeds from prominent Britons instructing U.S. citizens how to vote, I suppose we can add another: Patronizing Middle Americans.
Since I live in Los Angeles, it's actually quite a relief to finally see people outside Hollywood take the mantle of clueless elitism off our hands for a while and run with it.
These open letters to Ohio voters are part of the newspaper's Operation Clark County project. Because this particular section of western Ohio is especially divided Al Gore won Clark County by just one percent in 2000 (although Bush took Ohio by four percent) the Guardian is asking readers to write undecided Clark County registered voters and "express your views on the policies and candidates in this election."
Why should U.S. citizens care what residents of a foreign country think? Because, the Guardian explains, the Declaration of Independence has something in it about showing "a decent respect to the opinions of mankind," although "of course, who you urge your voter to support is entirely up to you."
That's a disingenuous qualifier if there ever was one, because you'd have to be an idiot not to know which candidate the left-leaning Guardian hopes will win. But as Absolutely Fabulous's Edina once protested, at the notion that visitors with drug convictions might not be allowed in the U.S., "It's not a conviction, darling." Added Patsy: "Just a firm belief."
Naturally, the blogosphere has been having fun at the Guardian's expense. "This is possibly the most important thing I've ever done at work," the employee who helped set up the paper's Operation Clark County website gushed online. To which U.S. blogger Jim Treacher responded: "Don't sell yourself short, kid, people need coffee, too."
Australian journalist and blogger Tim Blair wondered whether the U.K. paper hadn't stolen his idea, since after reading "[columnist] Jonathan Freedland's mewling in the Guardian about how he couldn't vote in the U.S. elections," Blair had sarcastically suggested that Freedland "and his fellow meddlers...simply identify and adopt a random individual living in one of the battleground states and target that person with emails, letters and telephone calls begging them to vote against Bush."
Sounds like the paper may have taken Blair up on his suggestion, which in any case will probably backfire. I happen to have a friend, Jackie Danicki, who was born and raised in Ohio but moved to London when she was 19 and has lived there for the past eight years. So I asked Jackie for her Ohioan-cum-Londoner's perspective on the Guardian's campaign.
"It's typically condescending of European leftists," responded Jackie, an associate at The Big Blog Company, a new enterprise that creates commercial blogs. "Sadly, Brits in general with a few refreshing exceptions tend to have something of an inferiority complex when it comes to America...I guess if your empire used to dominate the globe, and then an upstart bunch of colonials soundly trounced your nation as world superpower, it might leave you feeling a bit impotent.
"So I find it wholly unsurprising that a left-wing paper like the Guardian thinks it only natural that Britons have a say in the U.S.'s elections," she continued. "What I do find quite shocking is that they think the voters who have had their personal contact details distributed on the Internet by this media outlet are going to be at all happy to receive letters from foreign strangers."
Jackie's British boyfriend Antoine Clarke, a writer for the Centre for the New Europe think-tank, is counteracting the Guardian campaign by sending a Clark County voter a handwritten letter explaining that he is deeply unhappy with British socialized healthcare; that unemployment in his section of London is twice that of Clark County; and that he admires President Bush's actions in Iraq.
Meanwhile, Big Blog Company partner Perry DeHavilland, a founder of the British libertarian blog Samizdata, also has roots in the U.S. Although raised in the U.K., he was born in California to an American mother and retains U.S. citizenship. Perry emailed me: "I can think of few things more calculated to annoy ANY group of voters than a bunch of foreigners who probably know far less than they think about the issues telling people how to vote. It is SUCH a bonkers notion!"
But to return to the Guardian's Upper Class Twit contest: I'd say that of the first three open letters the Guardian ran last week, Lady Antonia Fraser won it hands-down over John Le Carre and Richard Dawkins.
Certainly spy novelist Le Carre made a fine, scolding attempt by informing Americans that the world "now looks on in horror, not just at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, but at what you are doing to yourselves." And Oxford professor Dawkins really gave it the old college try with this nannyish admonition: "Don't be so ashamed of your president: the majority of you didn't vote for him."
But both these guys are pikers compared with Lady Antonia and her fantastically twitty lead: "O duty/Why hast thou not the visage of a sweetie or a cutie...?" which somehow segued into the news that "if you back Kerry, you will be voting against a savage militaristic foreign policy."
Not that Lady Antonia is against all militaristic foreign policy, and here's her dreamy World War II memory proving that she likes Americans, really she does:
"Brought up in Oxford, I regarded [American soldiers] as gods, generous gods. I shall never forget Hank, a composite of the very young American soldiers who regularly got my brother Thomas and me into the Ritz cinema...In fact, Hank, in retrospect, looked rather like the Great Tom, my cinematic hero in Saving Private Ryan..."
Ye generous gods and little fishes, as they sort of used to say when Lady Antonia was a girl, no way can Dawkins and LeCarre compete with that!
Catherine Seipp is a writer in California who publishes the weblog Cathy's World. She is an NRO contributor.