I have a fair amount of Americana in me - having been educated at an American boarding school (Woodstock School, India) and then at an American theological college(Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Chicago). So when the presidential elections come around I struggle to shrug off compulsive behavioural patterns!
2008 has proved the biggest struggle of all.
From the moment a Republican candidate, in a public debate back in January, was asked about what he thought of the 'submission passages' in the Bible (golly gosh - did he really get asked that question - in a political debate?). But wait - there's more! He gave a pretty conservative response and was greeted with thunderous foot-stomping applause...
... Through to the way the inflammatory comments of a Democratic candidate's minister threatened to bring down the entire candidacy of that candidate (really?! - do ministers have that much power over there?) ...
... To yesterday's forum where for the first time in the 2008 presidential race McCain and Obama stood on the same stage together. And what stage was this? Saddleback Church - the Saddleback Civil Forum! And who stood between them with his arms draped around both of them? Rick Warren! Not exactly a great photo opportunity for their separation of church and state, is it?!
It was staggering. It trumped the Olympics coverage for me (although I did manage to switch channells briefly to watch Phelps get Gold #8).
So many observations flood the mind from yesterday. Here are a handful:
1. The prominence of Christian faith in the American context. If a candidate is to win they must convince the American public that their faith is deeper and more authentic than the faith of their opponent. And the more you can lean to 'the right', rather than to 'the left', the better. And so on the hierarchy of evil, abortion is worse than global poverty.
2. The bias of the media. Fox News' advocacy of 'the right' is almost comical in its brashness. Never have I encountered such bias in a branch of the media. Sometimes I wonder if I have tuned into David Letterman by mistake...
3. The impact of communication skills. The smooth intelligent oratory of Obama still seems to be eclipsed by the bumbling, self-deprecating, story-filled style of McCain. This change amazes me. We are a long way from JFK and so very close to GWB.
4. The surfacing of the issues of political correctness. In the Democratic nomination process we had gender and race and now in the Presidential race we have race and age. In reality they are not surfacing explicitly - but they are there alright.
5. The influence of context. John McCain cannot really be understood unless you live in the USA and absorb the prominence they give to patriotism, to freedom and to honouring the military. My children watching with me could not comprehend the weight of the applause he received for the comments he made from within this framework. The fact that Barack Obama received no "bounce" in his poll ratings from his 8day visit to key foreign countries is staggering, making me wonder if - at the end of it all - he makes most sense beyond the USA.
And a word about "Uncle Rick" (I call him "uncle" because Barby's maiden name is "Warren" and some years ago I did little to stop a rumour going around NZ that he was Barby's Dad - or Uncle ...). Well - I thought Uncle Rick did really well. One hour with Obama and then one hour with McCain, asking them exactly the same questions with each candidate unable to hear the other one's responses. Great template. Probing questions. Stopping short of baptizing a candidate or a party. Yep, he did well.