On the TV channel we were watching yesterday evening here in Santa Barbara (Monday 4 May) the news was dominated by three stories. First came the “Jihad Watch Muhammad Art Exhibit and Cartoon Contest” in Garland, Texas, organised by the American Freedom Defense Initiative, which turned out to be no joke when two men were shot dead outside.
When I checked it out this morning, Jihad Watch’s website was full of vitriolic attacks on the “sharia-compliant” Daily Mail for publishing a photo of the event with the cartoons blacked out. In this way I learnt that there really are people who despise the Mail for its political correctness – also that this news story had reached Britain.
So that was the first item. Third was the naming of the royal baby. Americans seem to love William and Kate – even though they've named their children after the royal couple on the wrong side of the Revolutionary War – and now, apparently, so do we. Because what's not to like? British republicans are having a thin time just now, in spite of the nation's temporary love affair with Plaid Cymru’s magnificent Leanne Wood who once referred to the Queen as Mrs Windsor.
Understandably there wasn’t time for any of this context on the American news programme, though a commentator did point out that Prince William drove the baby home from hospital himself, in contrast with the rather too regal Hillary Clinton who hasn’t touched a steering wheel in years.
Sandwiched between these two items was election news. Not our election, obviously. Two more presidential hopefuls had thrown their hats into the ring. As of yesterday there were three days left before the UK election and 564 before the US one. I suppose there must be some formula for weighing temporal immediacy against geographical distance. So far, anyway, Americans are more interested in their election than in ours. And they’re probably right to be, even though our own offers more hope and seems less predictable even at this late stage.
It’s a dismal thought, but in global terms the result of the UK election is relatively insignificant. We’ll be making choices about austerity versus public investment, the tone of our engagement with Europe, and the survival or destruction of the NHS – things that matter a lot to us. But whoever wins is unlikely to bomb Iran.
There’s been a lot of scare-mongering back home about the danger of a left-of-centre coalition that might tie Miliband to more radical policies than Labour’s own. But here in America, where the old two-party system is still intact and the only coalitions are internal ones, the Republicans seem hopelessly entangled with the kind of people who sound off on the website of Jihad Watch, and whose hostility to fellow citizens who happen not to agree with them makes the SNP's quarrel with Westminster look like a Downton Abbey cricket match.
When their election comes, American voters will have to choose between two capitalist imperialist parties, one less rational than the other. Let’s hope they choose wisely. They’ve only got 563 days left to make up their minds.