It always very frightening as someone living in the UK to watch the US Presidential elections unfold. As we speak English coverage of the events is easily accessible to us. In addition there has been a long and close relationship between the USA and the UK which means that political developments in that country, especially in terms of foreign policy and to a great extent economic policy as well, impinges heavily here. Of course US foreign and economic policies impact on almost every country, but I think it is because British culture borrows so quickly from US culture that we feel it very quickly. In fact the average British person pays more attention to what is going on in the USA than they do to France let alone Germany or our other partners in the EU which are geographically much closer. Partly this is because so much of culture in terms of music, television and movies comes direct from the USA. In fact, though, this is sometimes good in showing up our differences as American humour though it sometimes works, can also fall flat in the UK and our perception of fashion and of the rest of the world is very different. Our attitude to guns and religion, two pillars of contemporary US society are completely opposite to those of the USA and this is why the announcement of Sarah Palin as the Republican Vice-Presidential candidate last week is so alarming to us.
Britain is a secular society. Most of the people who send their children to faith schools are neither devout nor regular attenders at religious services. They just like the selectiveness of faith schools. Only about 4% of people in the UK regularly attend a church service. People from other faiths notably Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism and Judaism who live in the UK and make up a few million people are probably more attentive to attending, but even among these communities it is less common. Any DIY store has more people in it than any church on a Sunday in the UK and in some areas any DIY store has more Muslims in it than the local mosque on a Friday too. Tony Blair tried to make the UK more religious but most British people are not interested. We tend to see the American evangelicals let alone the fundamentalists as actually rather odd, and even quite scary. I think it is probably something to do with irony and cynicism which are so prevalent in the UK. We dislike anyone who is so certain of themselves and the message they are bringing. This is why even ardent Christians in the UK tend to adopt a far quieter tone than their US counterparts. I think it also stems from British individualism. Church means community and we are very against having anything to do with community, and as I have said before, British people do not like responsibility. They like power and to be heard, but they are unwilling to do anything in return and as any American (Christian) will tell you, a community needs people to put in as well as take out. So, when we see someone like Sarah Palin who introduced religion into the local government politics of a town of only 5000 people, then we get worried that it is going to spread even further upsetting our status quo.
As for guns, though we have far fewer gun deaths than the USA they hurt the British a great deal more. We also see a direct connection between the ownership of any guns and gun deaths, whereas the Americans, Palin in particular, see a difference between them happily gunning down bears and moose and shooting wolves from a helicopter and drive-by shootings in Los Angeles. We do not see a difference. Maybe it is because hunting in Britain has always been elitist, on privately owned land and not always involving guns. In the USA gun ownership is seen as a democratic element, in the UK it is seen as the realm of lunatics or snobs. Maybe I am wrong in this because Canada has more guns per head than the USA and the wide open spaces that the USA has but far lower gun crime.
Thus, you can see why Sarah Palin is frightening to the British. She comes across as a gun-toting fundamentalist and one who is liable to take that attitude into the foreign policy field with all the nightmare outcomes we have seen in Iraq. Of course, we have been here before. She is more articulate than George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan though sharing the same views. This is part of the problem. Bush has proven to be pretty ineffectual. In a crisis such as the terrorist attacks of 11th September 2001, he just froze like a rabbit in headlights. However, that meant that the response though over-dramatic, was slightly less catastrophic than it might have been. Palin in such a position probably would have interned every Arabic-American in the country (bar those like the Bin Laden family who were close friends of the President and make great financial contributions, of course) stirring up racial hatred on a scale not seen in fifty years. If you think the Americans are no longer capable of this, you should have read what one Thai woman working in a shop on the East coast of the USA said following the 2004 tsunami. Whether clear of or oblivious to her origins, customer after customer said they felt that the people of South-East Asia had suffered the tragedy because they did not believe in God. This showed immense ignorance, as there are millions of Christians in the region anyway and where does it say God punishes unbelievers (since the Deluge) in this way? Also what does that imply about the three hurricanes currently lashing South-East USA, in the Bible belt? Anyway, the added element of Palin is that though her experience is not extensive, she comes across as efficient in a way Bush and Reagan never did. Efficiency combined with dogmatic views is very hazardous to people. Hitler was more efficient than Bush ever was, but equally as dogmatic, Stalin was equally dogmatic but even more efficient than Hitler so killed millions more and remained in power longer, thus you can why we worry over here in the UK.
Now, of course, you may say, well she is only going to be Vice-President. Who remembers anything Dan Quayle achieved or even Al Gore (he is better remembered for what he did after he left office than when in it)? I think Colin Powell and Condeleeza Rice have had more impact during the Bush years than Dick Cheney (or even Bush himself). The hazard is of course, if that she may not remain vice-president for long. John McCain is currently 72. If he wins a second term in 2012 he will be 80 when he retires in 2016. Ronald Reagan was 70 when he came into office and 78 when he left and ill-health affected his career. Sarah Palin is currently only 43 and will be only 51 by 2016 so far younger at a time when you would be thinking that she would stand for President than many of her recent predecessors, Bush was 52, his father was 65 when he took office, Bill Clinton was 47. Of course with McCain's age she might take up the reins far sooner. McCain is seen as a maverick and not an extremist, certainly a more old-fashioned Republican in style than the New Right. This is why he picked Palin to appeal to the more extremist wing of the Republican party.
They have been growing in influence since the Reagan days and their policies are leading to abstinence as a state-promoted sexual policy and the teaching of creationism in a country which is turning up some of the most exciting fossils in the world. The death penalty has increased in usage year on year, guns are not being controlled and the prison population of the USA is close to 1 in 100 people in the country. With Palin in power they would not have to wheedle and persuade, their policies would become the mainstream and so shutting out the bulk of the American population. It will also hearten such extremists across the world raising global tensions and meaning that with the UK probably under a Conservative government lacking in any policies, that we too will begin to be bugged by their self-righteous, bigoted policies.
Why have I called Sarah Palin, the 'Manchurian Candidate'. Well this goes back to the movie 'The Manchurian Candidate' (1962; remade 2004). In this the vice-presidential candidate has been kidnapped whilst fighting in the Korean War and taken to Manchuria (North-East China) where he was brain-washed by the Chinese before being returned to his unit. The conspiracy is to get a Communist-controlled person to become US President. This involves having another brain-washed person assassinating the president and so his vice-president taking over, as Lyndon Baines Johnson did after John F. Kennedy's assassination in 1961. Of course no-one needs to assassinate John McCain, he may fall infirm or die of his own accord. If not Palin only has to sit it out until 2016 to be elected on her own accord. So, as in the movie we have a vice-president ready to step into his shoes and assert a more radical policy. This is what the New Right have been working on for the past twenty-five years. They know they cannot probably get one of their own elected directly, at least not for a couple more decades, but this back-door way secures them control of the White House and God help the rest of the World, when this happens.