America is all about big personalities.
Sports, entertainment, business and even politics are all dominated by those with big egos they are willing to share.
Therefore, it comes as no surprise, the list of names being shared as the potential next British Prime Minister has left Americans gasping ‘Who?’ in unison.
As the ‘long, long list’ got whittled down to the current ‘less long, long list’, Americans, those who were even aware of the contest, were flummoxed by the absence of anything close to a household name.
Perhaps it isn’t such a surprise. It is probably worth noting that international news in the US is a strange beast.
With cable TV offering different broadcast access depending on the region or city you live in, as with so much else in this country, there is little that is truly nationwide, spreading from coast to coast, mountains to prairies, farm to penthouse.
There are international feeds like BBC America, TVMonde, RAI Italia available by subscription, and in the wee small hours, CNN or NBC may plug their international feed in to fill time. Anyone who has travelled for business in the US will recall with horror the endless loops of CNN International playing endlessly on hotel TVs.
But, in general, unless you tune in to C-SPAN for its coverage of Prime Minister’s Questions, this collection of goon-like, chinless wonders hoping for the top job will be unknown to you.
So, when ‘Dishi Rishi’, the current favourite we are told, declared he was the next Mrs Thatcher, our news broadcasters and commentators’ ears pricked up – at last, a name they could recall and their viewers may have, only may have, heard of.
Mrs Thatcher is remembered very differently this side of the pond than back home.
Here, she is revered as having been Ron Reagan’s partner in smashing communism and liberating Europe.
Most broadcasters and commentators gloss over the animosity which existed between the two after Ronnie declined to help Maggie out during the Falkland’s War. Instead, they paint a picture of a handbag-wielding guardian of common-sense who took on all-comers and won. Little mention of ‘managed decline’, sale of state assets, union-busting laws, poll tax riots or even milk snatching.
That is probably also due to the fact many of the reporters and journalists they turn to for this coverage are ex-pats, with a remarkable leaning to the right.
There are dozens of them over here; often billed, or self-anointed, as ruthless, hard-hitting ‘bulldogs of the truth’.
That probably isn’t how Brits remember Piers Morgan, or Steve Hilton or Nigel Farage or Toby Young, but they are quick to pop up on FOX and such.
So perhaps it is no surprise Mrs Thatcher gets a hero’s billing in the broadcasts, podcasts and magazines covering UK politics.
We are also much more comfortable here with our politicians being stinking rich. We tend to expect them to be playing fast and loose with such inconveniences as tax and offshore sheltering, non-dom status and family trusts.
Heck, the last President hired his entire family to key roles in the administration and no-one blinked.
Which, altogether, is why – while watching the TV news coverage of Rishi Sunak’s claim to be the next Iron Lady – I had flashbacks to the 1988 Presidential Contest.
Back then, Reagan’s VP had got the nod to be the Republican candidate to succeed the term limited Gipper. George H Bush, recognising concerns about his age, chose the youthful Senator Dan Quayle as his running mate.
Quayle had quite the opposite problem, he lacked any serious experience, and his back story had a few holes in it too when it came to Vietnam and military service. Much like Rishi Sunak, he had no notable political achievements to crow about.
Unable to point to factual success, Quayle took a different route to gain support and began comparing himself to one of the nation’s greats.
The fact the hero he chose to suggest he most aligned with was from the opposite party didn’t dissuade Dan from pursuing this strategy, nor any hard facts to support the claim.
In a live TV debate, Quayle was up against the more seasoned Democrat VP candidate Lloyd Bentsen.
Asked about his lack of experience, Quayle said he had as much as John F Kennedy.
Bentsen responded with what has become a perpetual meme in American politics –
“Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.”
No matter what you think of Mrs Thatcher, there is no doubting she had a telling and lasting impact on politics and society in Britain. Sunak, not so much.
Whoever the Tories select as their next leader and de facto Prime Minister, you hope it is someone who stands for something, has the ability to deliver it, and can rebuild the broken Britain we hear so much about.
To borrow a phrase from Sen. Bentsen:
“Rishi, you’re no Margaret Thatcher.”