Thursday, 9 August 2012

There is no "Leader of the Free World"

Last Thursday, the BBC News magazine had an article entitled US election: How can it cost $6bn? It's an interesting piece, not least for seeing how people try to rationalise spending "more than the entire annual GDP of Malawi" on an election. (It's not just that America is bigger, they spend an order of magnitude more per head on the election than us Brits. (This is despite, as far as I can tell, having a much more restricted set of options - it's a two party system! How hard can it be?!))

That's not really what I want to rant about here, though. The thing that riles me is that oft-repeated and ill-founded superiority that many Americans seem to have:
Michael Toner has his own favourite analogy: "Americans last year spent over $7bn [£4.5bn] on potato chips - isn't the leader of the free world worth at least that?"
Ignoring the fact that perhaps is perhaps a poor reflection on how much Americans spend on potato chips rather than a good reflection on the cost of elections, (1) There is no such thing as the "Leader of the Free World" and (2) if there was I certainly wouldn't pick an American politician for the job.

I recognise that back in the Cold War days, things were a bit different. The "enemy" was the USSR and America probably really did lead the "Free World" in opposition. Today, however, the "enemy" (such as there is one) is not communism or terrorism - it is population growth and climate change. Where does the Heartland Institute and other fossil fuel lobbying organisations find most traction? Which country failed to ratify the Kyoto Treaty? America. Not the kind of leadership that I'm after, I'm afraid.

I am not saying that I think America is terrible and Britain or Europe is perfect. However, I am saying that Britain/Europe is easily as good as America in the "Free World" stakes and, in some arenas, a damn sight better. I am happy, for example, to live in a country where guns are heavily restricted, and where it is not legal to fire someone just because they are gay.

I'm not so happy with Britain's willingness to follow our American cousins into war, or the level of support and protection that the cult of Scientology gets here, or our terrible libel laws, but other (non-American) countries, happily, do much better on those counts. America is a great nation (in both senses) but it is not the great nation and non-Americans don't spend all their time wishing that they'd been born in the U.S.

Americans sometimes remind me of the medical students that I went to University with - they have been told that they are the greatest and the best so often that they cannot understand why anyone would not want to be like them. I probably could have done medicine if I'd wanted - I had the grades for it - but I didn't out of choice. I found Genetics more appealing. I didn't have the same choice about where I was born, clearly, but I am just as (or more) often thankful for being British rather than American than I am regretful that the opposite is true. (I do like American Football!) I find Britain (and several other countries) more appealing.

So, America, please stop calling your President the "Leader of the Free World". It's annoying, it's not true, and it's counter-productive if you are after respect.

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