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Why is the US mocking our 'Harry Potter' election? | Hadley Freeman

British voters and politicians have been treated to quite extraordinary levels of condescension from American commentators

There have been many irritating elements to this election, not least the unignorable, looming realisation that this country's finances are about to be put in the hands of a man whose only qualification in the study of money seems to be that his wallpaper-designing family has a lot of it.

But perhaps most trying of all has been the degree of curious condescension British voters and politicians have been treated to from American commentators: "America's Deadbeat Older Brother, the United Kingdom, is holding an election for Best Wizard! Or Prime Minister, or something," snarked the reliably snarky website Gawker. Only four weeks long! No smear campaigns! And those cute accents!

Even Saint Jon Stewart slipped into this all-too-easy mode on The Daily Show last week, when he amusingly yet not entirely fairly managed to reduce the UK election down to a little squabble about bus passes. "You all know you used to rule the subcontinent, you do know that?" he asked, while unscrewing a salt shaker and slicing up some lemons.

To characterise America as the Champions League and England as the Johnstone's Paint Trophy final suits both American self-aggrandisement and British self-deprecation, and is an easy source of lazy laughs. It's the Grumpy Old Nations approach to international relations, and as someone who is lucky enough to pay taxes in both the UK and US, I try to avoid this cheesy stance. However, there are times when it's hard not to think that, yup, we Americans sure do things bigger and better

Last week, something happened in Rochdale that you may have heard about. A pensioner demanded that Gordon Brown inform her of the origins of eastern Europeans, Brown muttered in his car that she was "bigoted", the pensioner huffed to the Mail on Sunday (reportedly for £80,000) that she was more outraged that he referred to her as a "woman" than a "bigot", and the UK media dubbed this ripple in a teacup "Bigotgate". You want Bigotgate? I'll show you Bigotgate.

The same week that the UK rightwing press was crowing that Brown's "gaffe" proved that "immigration is this country's most incendiary issue", America was facing the prospect of it being illegal to not be, if not racist, then let's say race-ish, in one of its states, Arizona. Read that again, slowly.

Thanks to the passing of a law – known officially as SB1070, and unofficially as "nazism" by a Cardinal Roger M Mahony, as quoted in the New York Times – police are now not only required to demand documents from anyone of whom they are "reasonably suspicious", but Arizona citizens can sue the police if they think they have failed to harass a "suspicious looking" person.

As several politicians, Democrat and Republican, have pointed out, this sounds distinctly like racial profiling. Arizona's governor Jan Brewer has denied this, but has failed to specify quite what kind of looks count as "suspicious". And Gawker's accusation on Monday that the Arizona State Senate majority leader and proponent of SB1070, Chuck Grey, was following not one but two white supremacist groups on Twitter doesn't exactly help Brewer's claim. Nor – as Frank Rich pointed out in last Sunday's New York Times – did Rush Limbaugh's recent linking of the birther movement and SB1070 ("I can understand Obama being touchy on the subject of producing your papers. Maybe he's afraid somebody's going to ask him for his." Um, if memory serves, they did, Rush and he produced them). Not that Brewer seems to give a damn what people think.

If I have failed to convey the true nature of this bill, maybe this will help: the Bush family finds it offensive. Perhaps SB1070's supporters should use that as a tagline: "SB1070: the law that's so rightwing, it makes the Bushes look moderate."

One person who does like it, though, is the politician formerly known as Maverick John McCain. Again, this is an example of America doing things on a much larger scale than the UK. If you think Labour has lost its moral compass over the past 10 years, meet John McCain, the man who three years ago said that America needed to find a "humane, moral" way to deal with illegal immigrants. Two weeks ago he told – Fox News, who else? – that these "illegals" are "intentionally causing accidents on the freeway", a statement that manages to make querying where eastern Europeans flock from sound intelligent.

The setting for McCain's announcement is telling. The engine that has moved America's Republican party to the right of the Bushes has been Fox News, home of Glenn "Obama's a racist" Beck and Bill "I just wish hurricane Katrina had hit the UN" O'Reilly.

Where America has highly partisan TV and neutral broadsheet newspapers, Britain takes the opposite approach, and Fox News's equivalent in this country is not, surprisingly, a Murdoch product but the Daily Mail. There are many, many complaints one can make about the Mail but, so far, the Conservative party has managed to resist having its policies dictated by it (it remains to be seen for how long Cameron resists being dictated to by Murdoch), and, reluctant as I am to defend the Mail, at least that paper speaks out explicity against the BNP – unlike Fox News which actively champions looney pockets such as the Tea Party movement.

So yes, Britain, we Americans may recently have been mocking the "laughable tameness" of your political system and election. We might make jokes about the election being decided by Harry Potter's sorting hat. But the truth is, we're just jealous. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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