Barack can rival Dave for the distinction of being the true ‘heir to Blair’.
In fact, just as all American literature, according to Hemingway, came out of Huck Finn, so has all post-Tony politicking come out of Tony.
What would you say is the most essential quality for political success? Intellect? Decisiveness? Patriotism? Honesty? Courage?
If you think it’s any of these, you’re as hopelessly retrograde as I am. A modern politician not only doesn’t need any of such qualities, but in fact they can hold him back terminally.
The most, nay only, important qualification for high office these days is ‘charisma’, that is superficial appeal to the lowest common denominator of the electorate.
And specifically? Well, a modern ‘leader’, whatever his social, educational or cultural background, has to come across as a ‘man of the people’. This doesn’t mean, as it used to, that he has to love the people, empathise with them, devote his life to their well-being.
Again, such things would today be at best irrelevant and at worst detrimental. No, being a ‘man of the people’ means acting and sounding like most of them. And since modern education is guaranteed to make most voters sound like ignorant louts, modern politicians know exactly what to do.
Hence, as politicians this side of John Prescott tend to be middleclass and reasonably well schooled, their success depends on their ability to do accents. This is more akin to the talent possessed by Rory Bremner or, in America, Kevin Spacey than to the gifts of a George Canning or a John Adams.
American political machines were the first to cotton on, which is why Ronald Reagan, a man of rather modest ability, had such a successful political career. Mind you, Ronnie didn’t have to work too hard to pretend to be a man of the people: he was just that, and where he fell short his B-movie talent was sufficient to correct the deficit.
Neither Tony nor Barack (nor certainly Dave) is a natural speaker of ungrammatical jargon, so they had to work at it. Tony showed the way by dropping the aitches he was born with, though sometimes he forgot. But he got top marks for trying.
Harvard-educated Obama had to take a seemingly opposite but in fact identical route to popular appeal. If Tony dropped his aitches at the beginning of words, Barack drops his gees at the end of them.
In his excruciatingly slow and typically meaningless speech, sharing and caring becomes sharin’ and carin’, ameliorating becomes amelioratin’, and socioeconomical disadvantaging becomes… well, you get the gist.
You can’t argue with success: Barack has won two elections on the strength of his impersonation ability (no other qualifications seem to be in evidence). But there’s a risk involved.
Some people who come from the groups to which such pathetic tricks are supposed to appeal are very sharp cookies indeed. They may not sound the way a Harvard professor or an Oxford don are supposed to sound, but they know a phoney when they see one.
The actor Samuel L. Jackson is one such man. Raised by a single, working-class mother, he picked himself by his bootstraps all the way up to higher education and a successful film career.
He grew up naturally speaking the way Barack is so desperately tryin’ to learn, which is why he can see through such offensive patronising with X-ray acuity.
In a heart-felt diatribe Jackson told Obama (whose two presidential campaigns he supported) to “be f*****g presidential”.
The star of Pulp Fiction pulled no punches: “Be a leader… Look, I grew up in a society where I could say ‘It ain’t’ or ‘What it be’ to my friends.
“But when I’m out presenting myself to the world as me, who graduated from college, who had family who cared about me, who has a well-read background, I f*****g conjugate.
“How the f*** did we become a society where mediocrity is acceptable?” asks the thespian somewhat rhetorically.
The problem, Sam, is that mediocrity isn’t just acceptable. It’s actively promoted as the essential precondition for nonentities like Tony and Barack or Dave and Dubya to grab the brass ring.
When we had statesmen rather than spivs, it was understood that prime ministers or presidents possessed superior qualities to those of your average lout. They’d then use such qualities to help the average lout have a more fulfilling life and ideally stop being a lout.
Similarly, an intelligent grown-up doesn’t baby-talk to children. Instead he sets an example of how they should sound when they grow up. This isn’t to suggest that politicians should be paternalistic – only that they ought to have respect for their office and their people.
Then there may be an outside chance that both the office and the people will be worthy of respect. Things being as they are, our spivs will continue to play their little games.
Perhaps Barack ought to take locution lessons from Jackson, or rather his character in Pulp Fiction. Why stop at dropping the gees?
Barack should go on TV and announce, “Ah be yo’ presi-dent, ‘n ah knows y’all gotta mainline into nationalised medicine, jes lahk de Brits.”
I can’t guarantee the phonetic accuracy of this recommendation, but something like this will go down a treat with the electorate. Barack still probably won’t do an FDR and get a third term, but he’ll keep democracy at the level where it now belongs.