Brits Back Obama, Remain Skeptical Of U.S. Politics

The presidential decision, as one of my British friends described it, is akin to choosing between Coke and Diet Coke in McDonalds. It really doesn't make a difference either way, because neither candidate will be able to make any dramatic changes in America.
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British Prime Minister Gordon Brown backs Obama. Russell Brand (we think, but he didn't make himself too clear on this one at the VMAs...) is also in the Obama Camp. Now a BBC poll shows that the majority of the world, given the chance, would stamp their hopes next to Obama's name on the ballot. But do Brits back Obama wholeheartedly, or because there seems no better option?

Judging by the furious debate being held on the Facebook group I created called "What the Rest of the World thinks of America," Obama and McCain are no more than a hair's width apart.

"This election is more symbolic than anything else," said Dave Roe, a graduate from my alma mater (The University of Kent) with a degree in politics. "The election of the first black president would be nothing short of radical, and if you are reading the British media it seems as if he is going to walk it. Read between the lines, however, and this is going to be close; Obama is seen as too intellectual and McCain knows how to play the Washington game."

The results of a BBC survey released last week suggest that presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama is the preferred candidate internationally. The poll spanned 22 countries and surveyed 22,500 people to discover that global sentiment leans in Obama's favor by a four-to-one margin, with 46 percent of participants saying that Obama would improve America's relationship with the rest of the world if he took office, compared to 20 percent who believed the same of Republican Sen. John McCain. All 22 countries were dominated by a pro-Obama sentiment, but four out of ten survey participants remained undecided.

That's 40 percent of the world not being able to choose between two of the most politically opposed candidates America has ever seen. These guys are the definition of polar opposites: young versus old, liberal versus conservative, rookie versus veteran... Or so it seems.

The presidential decision, as one of my friends described it, is akin to choosing between Coke and Diet Coke at McDonalds. It really doesn't make a difference either way, because neither candidate will be able to make any dramatic changes in America. Many Brits believe that there is one thing and one thing only that controls ebb and flow in the White House, regardless of who sits in the Oval Office: it's that dirty word again...OIL.

"Resources are scarce, and it's not irresponsible of Bush or McCain to secure them for their own citizens," said John Bakie, a Kent graduate in history and politics. "Oil has peaked, and it is only going to become more expensive and more difficult to obtain in the future. You may think [Washington's] attempts to secure oil in the Middle East are a waste of cash, but really they need to secure [oil] because if they don't then Russia or China will eventually."

Faced with the pressure of two competing super-powers, no president can resist the battle for oil, regardless of experience, race or views on the Iraq war.

"[Obama and McCain] are both guilty of taking part in the back-scratching culture of U.S. politics," said Roe. "It's just that Obama has been doing it for fewer years so it's easy to paint him as this kind of idealist."

And now is no time for ideals.

"Long-term of course the U.S. needs to reduce its dependency on oil," said Bakie. "But it takes time and money to develop these technologies, and given a recession is upon the western world, both time and money are also scarce. We are moving towards a trilateral age, and the three powers of the world (the U.S., Russia and China) will all be aiming to secure the world's remaining resources for themselves, and it's quite reasonable to see why they would."

So, what happens when the oil runs out? According to these Englishmen, governments don't peer far enough into the future to care.

"None of this is sustainable in the long-term," said Bakie about the oil rush. "But governments aren't long-term, and the people who run them now will be dead in 30 years. But that's another problem altogether..."

Despite growing apathy in for either candidate, Brits are leaning toward Obama. Prime Minister Gordon Brown praised Obama's political mentality in a piece he wrote for Parliamentary Monitor magazine, stating that the Democrats were "generating the ideas to help people through more difficult times." It was an unusual move for a British government head. Prime Ministers in the past have favored a more neutral approach to presidential politics by declining to state a preference and staying safely behind party lines.

Unlike Russell Brand, who declared his Obama-love in a manner much less tactful than the British P.M. While hosting the MTV Video Music awards, the British comedian ignited a frenzy of complaints by pleading for America to elect Obama "on behalf of the world," calling President Bush a "retarded cowboy" and no doubt successfully managing to embarrass both the British public and Democrats everywhere.

But despite Brown's backing, a nine percent lead in a BBC world service poll, and Russell Brand's ruined career, the Obama campaign has suffered some setbacks recently. A number of polls indicated a lead for McCain after the Republican convention, and critics attributed a renewed urgency in Obama's recent public appearances to the explosion of support for vice-presidential candidate, Gov. Sarah Palin. The Democrats will be pleased to know that Palin isn't going over so well in the U.K.

"I think McCain's election would be a bad time for America," said Daniel Clarke, who graduated from the University of Kent with a degree in Biomedical Science. "Put aside any problems you have with him, and think [about the] very real chance that [Gov. Sarah] Palin could become president. Now there's a headache for the world: an evangelical, pro-life, pro-guns "hockey mum" commander-in-chief who wants creationism taught in schools and Alaska to be independent."

It's refreshing to virtually hop across the Atlantic and get a bird's eye view of what my generation is thinking about the presidential campaign. Many thanks to the twenty-something British intelligentsia and their unbridled pessimism.

N.B: The conversation has since spiraled out of control into discussions of "dying superpowers" and the end of world (2012 apparently).

A version of this post originally appeared on Pop+Politics.

This week OffTheBus is publishing a variety of stories that cover the presidential election from an international perspective.

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