Opinion Columns & Blogs

Steve Cameron: How the British view America and Obama

Steve Cameron

LONDON -- A month and a day after the presidential election, I left Merced and moved to northern Scotland.

There are countless uncertainties about taking up residence in a new country, but I was pretty sure one thing would be doggone gratifying.

Certainly everyone in Britain must be gushing about Barack Obama.

Oh, yes.

After all, residents of the United Kingdom had bestowed George W. Bush with an approval rating of exactly 6 percent last October.

At roughly the same time, a poll on election preferences conducted by a national newspaper indicated that British citizens preferred Obama over John McCain by ...

Now read this slowly ...

A margin of 88 to 12 percent.

Perhaps you don't remember, but I've written previously during my tenure at the Sun-Star about spending two years in Scotland.

That was 2004 to 2006, and back then, it seemed as though everyone I met -- at golf courses, in shops, on the street -- would hear my American accent and then instantly ask: "What were you people thinking when you elected that character Bush? Once was a wee bit crooked, maybe, but twice?"

After two years of that guff, I couldn't wait to see my Scottish mates this time around.

Imagine my shock, then, to arrive back in the U.K, and discover the country in a state of overwhelming terror.

I rang my pal Martin O'Donnell, a bright and politically savvy soul, prepared to hear psalms of celebrations.

Instead, Martin was nearly paralyzed with fear.

"My God," he said immediately. "Obama won't live six months. I'll bet someone has cross-hairs targeted on him right this second."

OK, that was Martin. Just one guy. A bit over the top, surely.

But after a few days in England and Scotland, it became obvious that nearly everyone here shares the same fright.

This sounds like some wild generalization, but I assure you it's not: Brits expect Obama will be assassinated.

More specifically, they believe he'll be shot.


And yes, they do love him. They believe he's likely the one person who possibly might sort out the troubles of this sorry world.

They're praying that he'll survive to lead America -- which to them means setting an agenda for all mankind.

Unfortunately, they don't like his chances.

At all.

It's been nearly two months now, Obama is ticking right along -- thank you very much -- and I was beginning to think that maybe all that hysteria I heard was quieting down.

But then on Monday, columnist Charlie Brooker devoted an entire column in The Guardian -- London's best and most thoughtful newspaper -- to admitting that he could barely endure Obama's inauguration.

Here, try on Charlie's lead paragraph...

"Last week I watched the most frightening horror movie I've ever seen. It was about three hours long and, incredibly, it all unfolded live. I'm talking, of course, about the inauguration of Barack Obama. Yes, it was inspiring. Yes, it was uplifting...but it was also terrifying on a very human level because, just like you, I was watching it with the terrible nagging suspicion that he might get shot at any moment."

Here's another passage ...

"It's hard to keep check on expectations; we're all yearning for him to single-handedly save the world. Hearing him referred to as 'President Obama' on the news still seems too good to be true, like waking up the morning after falling in love and wondering whether you're dreaming.

"But we're also aware that he's not the Man of Steel; painfully aware too that the world contains its fair share of racists and paranoid gun nuts, which is why many of those tuning into the inauguration did so with a mixture of joy and trepidation."

Brooker claimed that "everyone he knows" has voiced the same dark fear, and that deep down, most of them want Obama to retreat into some bomb-proof cave and govern America from hiding.

Since Charlie shared his fears in The Guardian, thousands of ordinary Brits have bombarded talk shows to agree that they, too, are scared witless.

Remember, we're a lot closer to Europe and the Middle East over here -- so people grasp the world's problems a bit deeper in their gut.

These people once were bombed day and night by the Germans, and their suspicion that some nameless idiots are planning more madness just over the horizon is built into their DNA.

Britain also was dragged into Iraq by the Bush cartel, and they've lost a larger proportion of soldiers to that mindless conflict than the United States.

They crave calm and order, now they see it in Obama and ...

The idea that this man actually would exit a vehicle and walk the streets of Washington strikes them as utter insanity.

For starters, just about every Brit pictures America as a nonstop gunbattle.

These folks believe we're completely crazy to stuff handguns into bedroom drawers, and simply assume a country as nutty as that will absolutely, positively produce a loony with an AK-47 who can slip past the Secret Service.

I heard a radio show this morning on which a succession of callers agreed -- I'm serious now -- that Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin would shoot Obama herself if given the chance.

Americans, I'm afraid, have utterly no idea how the rest of the world views us.

Consider this: In Great Britain, a sensible country which is our closest friend and ally, a significant share of population believes Barack Obama faces the same level of daily danger as, oh ...

A provincial judge in rural Colombia.


So very, very sad.

Steve Cameron is the former sports editor of the Sun-Star. He is now a magazine writer and author living in Cullen, Scotland.