There is a bit of America in all of us. For some, it has forced its way in, and for others like myself it’s crept in, unbeknownst, in the middle of the night, and now won’t leave.
This week I’ve been on holiday in Istanbul. It’s a spiritual place, where even the criminals are spiritual. I was walking along the Bosporus when a man approached and said very politely: “Can I have your purse, please?” When I said no, he couldn’t, he said: “OK, thanks anyway. May God bless you.”
I stayed at a lovely hotel run by beautiful Turkish men who all looked like Omar Sharif. Every night at midnight they had an “Obama watch”: no matter where they were in the hotel they would turn on the nearest TV to see if Barack Obama was still alive. I was in the hotel lift when two Japanese women got in and asked: “He alive?” When I said yes, they said: “OK, we back to bed.”
On the night of Obama’s big speech, around 3am in Istanbul, the owners put a big widescreen TV in the lobby and a notice in the doorway which translated as: “IMPORTANT. Everyone must watch black president hurricane speech tonight. It is important to stay awake: it will change lives.” I think that was the entire US news for the week in fewer than 20 words.
A new era in American politics has begun, the era of double acts; this is not so much a presidential election but more a reality show. It’s called Last Candidate Standing. John McCain and Sarah Palin are the American version of Des and Mel; Obama and Joe Biden are the Morecambe and Wise.
What I’d like to know is, who wants – like McCain – to start a job at 72 years of age? Most people are retiring, not starting to run the world. And while so much is expected of Obama (he has to be George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Bill Clinton rolled into one: anything less will be failure), McCain just needs to remember to turn up and then stay awake.
My friends in the US rang me the day after Palin’s speech to ask what I thought of her. I said: “I’m not sure yet, but I can tell you what the people of Turkey think.”
A discussion show on a Turkish TV channel had people debating the issue. “She’s got five kids, the daughter is 17 and pregnant . . . but that’s OK. It’ll bring the voters in, because all the working class will understand her position and vote for her.”
Me, I think it’s all a set-up. Don’t be surprised if the baby is born two months prematurely and turns out black. Anything for votes. But I do admire Palin – I wish I could go Quran thumping, salmon fishing, shooting and hunting moose, then skin it and make burgers out of it for lunch, catch the imam’s Friday sermon, and also find the time to wear a sexy-but-not-butch power suit the following day to a press conference. I haven’t even had the time to cut my toenails since I got back off holiday. She’s obviously Wonder Woman – if I had to do all that, I’d end up looking like I’d spent the night in a Lidl doorway.
And if I were McCain in the White House next year, I’d be worried. I certainly wouldn’t be accepting any invitations to go shooting on Palin’s ranch.
I sat behind two American businessmen on the plane back to London. They were about 60 years of age and discussing Palin. One said to the other: “Well, thankfully, she doesn’t look like a lesbian, and isn’t aggressively intimidating like that ogre Hillary Clinton.” The other man replied: “Oh, I’d do Hillary.”
I wanted to shout into their hearing aids: “Like either of you stands a chance!” Clearly, men see American politics in terms of Angelina Jolie v Roseanne Barr.
I feel sorry for the daughter: I’d hate to be 17 and have my 44-year-old mother look hotter than I do. On the plus side, the Palin campaign should give a boost to the economy, through Specsavers.
The empire strikes back.