Magazine article The Spectator

The Giant Panderer

Magazine article The Spectator

The Giant Panderer

Article excerpt

New Hampshire

I JUMPED in my truck the other day, switched on the radio, and couldn't figure out who'd retuned from my favourite country station to what appeared to be a slightly barmy black evangelical preacher hollering in the most ludicrously exaggerated cadences. On the other hand, what he was hollering about didn't seem terribly pertinent: `I have made more trips to Africa than I have to Asia!' he roared at one point. Perhaps it wasn't a religious station at all. Perhaps it was a consumer show with some disaffected TWA passenger complaining about his air miles.

But no. It was vice-president Gore giving a speech in Baltimore to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. `A spirited AI Gore', according to the New York Times. Well, that's one way of putting it. Another would be `grotesque'. For some reason, whenever he's appearing before a black audience, the vice-president feels obliged to lapse into some strange minstrel act, a-hollerin' and a-hip-swayin' like some big black mamma telling her shif less man to hush yo' mouth. I don't know what an audience at, say, Wolverhampton's borough council hall would make of Mr Gore if he turned up to give a speech on Anglo-American relations and insisted on delivering it in a Black Country accent, but the blacks in his own country seem genially tolerant, at least at the NAACP. And you can't blame them. Underneath the Pat-Boone-sings-- Aretha-Franklin act, Al was definitely playing their song.

Back during the days when li'l Elian Gonzalez was in the news and vice-president Alian Gorzalez belatedly decided to jump on the bandwagon, there was briefly a theory that Al Gore might be the first candidate in the history of US politics to over-pander. The panderer was getting laughed at. But in Baltimore the Veep was back on friendly turf. No one laughed. Instead, they cheered. Even the more-- trips-to-Africa line was cheered. If you're up the Zambezi and you come across a white man jerking arhythmically and hollering at the natives, just tip your topi and say `Dr Gore, I presume?'

What was he doing in Africa? Well, he was there on government business, I expect. I wouldn't mind betting he's never spent a dime of his own money flying to the Dark Continent. But no doubt it was important stuff. Attending Mobutu's funeral? A campaign fundraiser at a Hutu machete convention? Who cares? Most African-Americans have never been to Africa, but for some reason boasting about the number of times you've flown executive class on Air Chad is automatically assumed to be a sign of how well you understand the concerns of black voters.

I love this great republic but I never feel more thankful to have been born a subject of the crown than when the question of race comes up. Tony Blair has his Clintonian bullshit moments - such as threatening to cut off funding unless museums and art galleries attract more black visitors (though surely making more black people go and stare at paintings of dead white men is only going to reinforce any insecurities they might have). But this is just a bit of Blairite flim-flam on the fringe: compared with America, Britain is at ease with itself on the matter of race, as is Canada and most of the Commonwealth Caribbean. I don't think it's irrelevant that the only black American with a shot at being elected president is the son of Jamaican immigrants. If Colin Powell ran for the White House, he'd be the first president since the early years of the republic to be the child of British subjects.

In contrast to Al Gore doing his `I have a dream' karaoke act, General Powell is closer to the island lilt of Michael Manley. Musing on why West Indian immigrants do well in the USA, to the resentment of some African-Americans, the general said, `For one thing, the British ended slavery in the Caribbean in 1833, well over a generation before America did. And after abolition, the lingering weight of servitude did not persist as long. …

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