When the Cool Kid Came to Visit: a British perspective of Obama’s tour

Get the best cutlery out and hide the mangy dog. Tidy the living room, hoover the hallway, and put the baby pictures away. The cool kid from school is coming round today and we need to make a good impression.

These universal sentiments—unless you are the ‘cool kid’—reverberate their way through all young, impressionable, children. Recently these thoughts of gross immaturity were adopted by a nation state: Britain.  

During President Obama’s visit to Britain, the British media’s coverage was just as embarrassing, moist, and uncritical of President Obama as Prince William’s wedding.

The British public were shown video clips of Prime Minister David Cameron showing his cool, African American, friend off. Even after the transatlantic couple won a point during, that so English of games, table tennis, Prime Minister Cameron awkwardly gave President Obama a high-five. I’m sure if the microphones were near, Prime Minister Cameron would have felt obliged to say something ridiculous along the lines of “nice one dude” or “awesome brother”. In short, the public relations machine at ten Downing Street failed to manufacture the ‘cool factor’. This was mainly because Prime Minister Cameron tried to emulate President Obama’s natural ease, rather than pursue a more English persona a la Christopher Hitchens, Martin Amis, or Cary Grant. Subsequently, Prime Minister Cameron tried too hard to impress and seek approval from the cool kid in class. So, I must grade Prime Minister Cameron ‘A’ for effort, but ‘F’ for execution.

Public relations failures acknowledged.  There wasn’t much public discussion of policy either. For instance, President Obama appeared on Andrew Marr’s political talk show. Mr Marr’s show is similar to C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, a weekend wrap up of the political events of the past week, but with some banal bohemian/folk music and a segment where either authors try to unscrupulously plug their books or a minister tries to unscrupulously defend some miserable measures his ministry is introducing. 

Mr Marr is the softest interview anyone in politics can experience, unlike Mr Marr’s infamous, sometimes petulant, colleague Jeremy Paxman. President Obama’s interview was classic Marr: boring, monotonous, dry, and tiresome to watch. In fact, what’s most surprising is the BBC’s reluctance to sack Mr Marr considering what a terrible interviewer he is and what a loathsome and hypocritical character he has become. This good fortune is represented throughout the interview by Mr Marr’s eternal and disturbing smile; “I can’t believe I have a job, I can’t believe I’m interviewing Obama” Mr Marr surely pondered.

Returning to the interview, Mr Marr’s most searching question was as follows: “And that means talking to the Taliban at some level?”.  This friendly, thus uncritical, question is in contrast to the searching questions most politically minded Britons would have asked President Obama. Mr Marr could have gained some respect asking any of these questions, but he went into default mode.  Despite President Obama’s previous reservations that he wasn’t sure whether he could endure a Prime Minister’s question time, he must have felt being in the British political spotlight is a doddle after his interview with Britain’s ‘top political journalist’.

After we were shown President Obama’s interview with Mr Marr, President Obama delivered a speech. In his speech to the British public, President Obama exclaimed “we are one civilisation”. My first impression: cliché. My second: who’s he trying to kid? “We are one civilisation” is a riff that supports a communitarianism philosophy that, at its base, scoffs at the idea of state sovereignty and patriotism. I’m in no doubt the great majority of proud Britons, who are not versed in contemporary political philosophy, didn’t understand the seriousness of President Obama’s radical speech. Of course, the media played along and didn’t present any criticism of President Obama on this front, either.

In summary, then, President Obama’s visit to Britain proved one thing: we can all still be easily mystified and wooed by a great orator. President Obama’s visit could have been a great opportunity to present a friendly yet stern, sceptical, and inquisitive Britain. Instead the media and politicians alike--armed with their rose tinted spectacles and autograph book to boot—yearned for President Obama’s praise and affection. This fan boy parade was one of our most sickening hours.


Ian Silvera



Tags: obama, Britain, cameron, Queen, England (all tags)


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