The view from London: Election 2012, roast beef and Romney

I’m settling down to eat Sunday roast beef and its various accompanying vegetables in my local pub in South London. Various singletons and couples are reading the ‘quality’ Sunday press; the Independent on Sunday, the Observer, the Sunday Telegraph and the Sunday Times. One couple is sitting nearby. She reads a pull-out glossy magazine, he reads a three page supplement of Obama vs. Romney. The small baby boy is bashing his Yorkshire pudding with his rattle as if it were the most bashable object on the planet.

Like Dad, I’m reading all the coverage of the U.S. election, and am enjoying the comment and analysis, the pros and cons, the calm and then hysterical. First and foremost I look for the infographics. All but one carry the inevitable horizontal stacked bar chart with blue on the left, and red on the right. In the middle of the bar a marker annotates “270 to win” and on the left the graphics states that Obama has 201 solid votes (here’s an nice twist on the traditional stacked bars from the Telegraph by the way). It strikes me odd that I’ve never ever known American politics to veer to the left. The friends I studied with at Poynter in 1997, and the wonderful faces I have since met at various “West of the Atlantic” newspapers and SND events over the years have a “central” political bias, and only sometimes ever veer to the right. Mitt Romney, the GOP candidate, has 191 solid votes. I enjoy a mouthful of beef and then swallow a slurp of red wine.

Having followed American politics rather closely since 1997 — although I have to admit slight Bush-bashing in later years — I don’t really know what to make of this election. I rather agree with Rupert Cornwell, U.S. correspondent for the Independent on Sunday:

“Rarely has a presidential campaign been as unsatisfying as the one now drawing to a close. The incumbent has been relentlessly negative, the challenger consistently mendacious. Neither has deigned, beyond the most vacuous generalities, to tell those whose votes they seek what they propose to do if entrusted with office. In 2008, the promise of change was in the air, of youth, novelty and, however naively, a sense of cleansing. In the final stages, the winner was not in doubt. Four years later, the reverse is true. The air is stale, ‘change’ has been stripped of meaning, and of novelty there is next to none. The contest has pitted a Democratic incumbent who has fallen back to Earth, perhaps inevitably, against a Republican who, at least until these past few weeks, was deemed to be running the worst campaign in modern times, failing to excite swathes of his own party, let alone the electorate at large.”

Ouch! I need to think and eat. A roast potato, carrot and celeriac smothered with creamed horseradish is my antidote of choice. A glug of wine. Right. Now back with the journalism. My god it is dirty. Various columnists shoveling rhetoric into their column inches and not withholding at all. Everything seems very personal as if their life course will change depending on the result on super Tuesday. Janet Daley comments in the Sunday Telegraph that “if Obama loses the White House, everyone — absolutely everyone — will attribute that fact to the fatal first presidential debate. And that will be largely right, not just because the President performed badly but because the public expectation of Mitt Romney was so dramatically contravened. Having been traduced and travestied by an Obama-worshipping mass media, Mr. Romney simply became himself: reasonable, intelligent, obviously pleasant and impressively commanding of the argument. The electorate was not just bowled over with surprise, it was outraged by the misrepresentation of this man who had been depicted as half-monster, half-buffoon. American voters learnt an important truth not only about Mr Romney, but also about the systematic bias of the media — which would not regain the public trust again, and thus became worse than useless as cheerleader for the President. As one pundit put it, the media had ‘loved Obama to death.’ ”

Having read thousands of words and I have barely touched my lunch. The pub is full and now everyone wants a newspaper to devour. It is cold outside, condensation on the windows, candles have been lit, I feel very seasonal and think of past thanksgiving parties in Boston. Whatever happened to the Tea Party movement of Sarah Palin and other eccentrics alike? Was this all pre-Romney? The pit bull and bear connotations remind me of Putin and Russia. Will the Russian head of state always feel the need to wrestle animals?

The young boy is still pounding his mashed vegetables and his t-shirt is as mess. Kanye West and Jay-Z’s ‘No Church in the Wild’ is playing in the background. The father of the young lad is now analyzing a well-designed infographic which is turn analyzing the latest polling data from no doubt realclearpolitics. The map illustrating electoral college votes is a geographical representation rather than the current trend of showing “blocks per college votes” per state. I think I prefer the rounder, more friendly and easier-on-the-eye “Lambert Conformal Conic” projection that I noticed in the Independent on Sunday. I also notice that “six out of the last eight presidents are left-handed. The exceptions being Jimmy Carter and Dubya Bush.” I am left-handed. Romney is right-handed. I have grey hair, he dyes his. Romney opposes stricter gun laws, I see no reason for public use — this is now personal.

I now feel prepared to converse with my Atlantic colleagues over politics and pumpkin at a friend’s “U.S. election” dinner party on Tuesday. I know that 11 key battleground states will swing it overnight, and that all merry hell will be unleashed on the population of Ohio, the Buckeye State by leaders’ elect, and that they, as well as most of America, will decide who will be feeding their families in the White House come Christmas.

Second course anyone?

(Michael Agar is the SND regional director for the city of London, and for the entire UK.)