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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Britisher Is Astonished By You Yanks

Posted by Matt Davis on Wed, Nov 5, 2008 at 2:34 PM

Despite my occasional efforts at a wacko punk veneer, I am at heart a conservative prone to underestimating people and being disappointed by them. This, I suspect, is a nature/nurture issue, stemming from being born in Britain. Because last night, sitting at the Oregon Convention Center next to Teresa Teater (whom else would I be bound to watch Obama's victory with, I pondered), waiting in vain as my two tasks for the evening began to look less and less accomplishable, (get Jeff Merkley's remarks following the outcome of his race, which didn't get decided, and find out what's happening to the ballot measures, the most important of which was 50.18/49.82 by 10pm...), I realized at last how I am fundamentally different from you Americans. The British Guardian sums up the English disbelief this morning:

They did it. They really did it. So often crudely caricatured by others, the American people yesterday stood in the eye of history and made an emphatic choice for change for themselves and the world.

I imagine we felt similarly surprised in Boston, during the tea party. Just when we've decided you're all fools, that you couldn't pull together around a common ideal to save your lives, you, er, well, you pull together around a common ideal to save your lives. This would never have happened in England, never in a million years.

I still don't really believe what happened last night. As Obama's speech aired, two African American guys who were on my left got onto the press table to watch it. I was talking with them, thinking how strange it was that an African American man was addressing them, and me, and that they had more in common with the guy in power than I did. Again, I was struck: This would never have happened in England. Admittedly, we abolished slavery before you did. But race aside, we have a rigid class structure. Obama winning the presidency last night was the British class equivalent of a barrow boy being made King. It wouldn't happen there. There's a conservative streak running through our nation that just doesn't exist in yours. And for that, God Bless America.

I've spent the last eight years accepting the fact that Bush was the end of this country, that I was around at the demise of America as a relevant world power. I thought it would be fun to stand apart at an ironic distance, chronicling the bonfire. Because what other option did I have? I'd never experienced some of the other spectacular rallies this country has been through. I only had a British sense of doom and gloom to fall back on. Now, today, I have to start seeing things differently.

If you're American, you're better than me because I didn't believe in some part of me that last night was really possible. I'm glad I live here among you.

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