The other day I was standing in the gift shop at the National Museum of American History staring at the display of donkey- and elephant-branded merchandise when a stocky white guy in his mid-thirties came over and grabbed an armful of red GOP t-shirts and a large metal “Republican and Proud” plaque. “Can’t resist,” he said to me. I suppose he thought I would be sympathetic because I was wearing a t-shirt that said “Sports!” in that curly American writing that Coca-Cola has probably trademarked.
“I work in healthcare,” he told me, after I nodded and grinned mutely like the weak-kneed liberal I am at heart. “Everyone around me is a Democrat. And I own my own business, so…” So, I guess, it hasn’t been bought out and asset-stripped by an investment fund yet, at least. Maybe he’s a medical insurance provider and Obama is running him into the ground by forcing him not to discriminate against pre-existing conditions. I said, “Well, at least it’s not a lawn sign!” and made my escape. I’ve seen surprisingly few lawn signs, actually, in the two weeks I’ve been in the US.
I can’t write anything quite like Christian Lorentzen’s brilliant series of blog posts from the national conventions, partly because I’ve been to neither of them. I did watch Ann Romney’s speech, on the enormous television of my yoga-practicing Texan Democrat host in D.C. And I watched Biden and Obama, too, in an apartment in Hoboken that has a deer’s head mounted over the table and an Obama ’08 sticker on the fridge. One of these juxtapositions may be ironic. To be honest, the guy in the museum is the only openly Republican I’ve met here so far. It was that “small business” thing that got me. As if really, him and Mitt, they’re just the same, they’re both businessmen. Mitt’s tax breaks are his tax breaks.
On C-Span, whenever a Democrat mentioned gay rights, the camera cut to a guy in the crowd wearing a lilac shirt. They cut to United Auto Workers signs every time Biden said “General Motors is alive” — which was often. Once, they cut to an obese Hawaiian lady, texting. Nothing gets in the way of a text. This is the first election cycle I’ve watched this in the right time zone. And now I’m wondering if I would trade it all in to have seen George Osbourne get booed by thousands of Paralympic spectators. If only I’d stayed awake for Clint Eastwood and that chair.
Tom Cutterham is a DPhil student in history at Oxford University.