The Times, London October 31, 2008

At times during this half hour of mawkish misery you longed for the wit and wisdom of a debate featuring Sarah Palin. America’s supplies of tissues must have been exhausted during Barack Obama’s 30minute election broadcast late on Wednesday night. It had been billed as a “closing argument” by the Democrat’s seemingly unstoppable campaign. In reality, it was an all-out, no-holds-barred weepathon with a feel-bad factor pitched somewhere between the third act of Schindler’s List and the slaughter scenes in Watership Down. I emerged from my TV room sodden-eyed and legs trembling, wishing that Iran would just drop the bomb and get it all over with. It began, as these things so often do, with a flugelhorn. Then pictures of windrippled cornfields. Then footage of children and old people smiling — the tape slowed down a little, to make their happiness appear somehow tragic. When Obama, made his entrance he was wearing a sombre black suit (pictured right) and standing in what appeared to be a log cabin. You could practically smell the coffee roasting. This was Obamaland, where everything is safe and warm, where Big Brobama loves you and keeps the evil profit-doers at bay. You, too, could go to Obamaland, went the subtext, just so long as you voted for the man with the “D” next to his name. But in case Americans didn’t realise what was at stake, Obama set out to demonstrate what a God-forsaken, economically devastated shell

Review: A no-holds-barred Weepathon

of a nation they now live in. So we cut to a harried mother named Rebecca, from North Kansas City, Missouri, who complained that her husband Brian, who works at a tyre plant, has to stand up all day, even though he has a dicky knee. We were treated to a glimpse of Brian slumped on his sofa, looking fed up. He had planned to have surgery in June, said Rebecca, but because of the rising cost of living he couldn’t afford it. We then saw Rebecca rationing the food in her fridge, balancing her cheque book, and driving her humungous SUV in the moonlight. From this purgatory we emerged again into the comforting fuzzy goodness of Obamaland. “We measure the strength of our country not by the number of billionaires we have,” he boomed, “but by whether a waitress who lives on tips can take the day off to look after a sick kid without being laid off.” Then we were back in the wasteland of He Who Must Not Be Named — the dark wizard Bush (whose dead half-brother, McCain, has been exhumed to carry on his dastardly work). This time we were in Sardinia, Ohio, with an elderly AfricanAmerican woman named Juanita who needs 12 different medications each day for rheumatoid arthritis. Her husband Larry lost his health insurance when he retired, so he took out a loan to pay for the pills, and now, at the age of 72, he has been forced to work as a salesman at Wal-Mart. We saw him putting on his name-pin with an expression of sadness and contempt.

Then Obama brought up his dead mother. It was enough to make you pine for the wit and intelligence of a Sarah Palin debate. I had hoped for goosebumps and that swollen feeling you get in your chest when you know that something good might happen. But instead I just felt downbeat; not only because of America’s obvious problems but also because of Obama’s willingness to exploit them so mawkishly. Republicans have always used fear to their advantage. Now it seems that the Democrats are just as skilled with self-pity. It’s a measure of just how poorly McCain has run his campaign that Americans seem to be buying it.

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