Cameron and Obama, Culture-Changers


Here's my column today on the cultural underpinnings of the candidacies of Barack Obama and David Cameron, both seeking to lead their respective countries in looming elections. Money quote:

David Cameron and Barack Obama now occupy strangely parallel places in the political culture of Britain and America. They are both young, dynamic, loquacious and extremely well-packaged politicians. They are creatures of their respective parties, and yet distinguishable from them. Obama has done his time in the precincts of Chicago politics; Cameron has worked his way patiently up the Tory machinery.

But Obama’s reasoned tone and serene religious faith set him apart from the vices of the American left, just as Cameron’s easy-going empathy distances him from the detritus of the “nasty party” on the right.

The appeal of both, however, lies, I think, in the expressive nature of their candidacies for high office. By their very backgrounds they each represent to their respective countries the latest answer to an old question. In America, the oldest and densest issue is race; in Britain, the oldest and once insurmountable issue is class. Obama is the postracial candidate for America; Cameron, in turn, represents a candidacy that is, at root, postclass.

Whether both can navigate these somewhat treacherous waters is, of course, another matter.

(Photo: white hands hold up Obama signs by Jeff Haynes/AFP/Getty.)