Like most conservatives, I applauded when Boris Johnson, former editor of The Spectator, beat mad, bad “Red Ken” Livingston in the race to become Mayor of London. Livingston was a thuggish, left-leaning politician of the old school–a sort of neutered British Brezhnev whose orbit was a single city instead of a crumbling empire–whereas Boris brought a pixieish Toryism to bear upon his ever-so-slightly farcical public performance.
Boris is an amusing man. Also a slyly intelligent one. His talent for public for bemusement is, I feel sure, a finely calculated construction. So is his reputation as a disheveled, blond-haired Bertie Wooster, an expensively educated but essentially clueless fop who somehow stumbled into public life. So when Boris Johnson, Tory politician, publicly endorses Barack Obama, I am not only disappointed, I wonder what behind-the-scenes calculation he made. This morning, the London Telegraph reports his public reasoning: “If Barack Obama can do it, it will be the most fantastic boost, I think, for black people everywhere around the world.”
That, of course, is precisely what Barack Obama keeps suggesting, hinting, adumbrating, even as he (officially) presents himself as the candidate who will finally move us “beyond” race.
In fact, Obama has subtly but unmistakably insinuated race into the center of his campaign, and his fans have eagerly conspired to reinforce the racialist overtones of his campaign. The basic line was articulated with admirable clarity by The New York Times a day or two ago when a reporter said that Obama’s candidacy confronted the American electorate with “what may be the ultimate test of racial equality–whether Americans will elect a black president.” But as I pointed out in a comment on that article, the reporter’s “ultimate test” is really a racist examination, for it assumes that if Obama loses it will because of his skin color, not because of his policies.
Boris Johnson’s announced rationale for supporting Obama is cut from the same bolt of cloth. What would be “the most fantastic boost . . . for black people everywhere” is the same thing that would be fantastic for white and yellow and red people everywhere: a President who promulgates policies that conduce to economic growth, the rule of law, and social maturity. The color of his skin is irrelevant, and to pretend otherwise is to perpetuate a paternalist, quota-based racialist thinking.
I referred to Boris’s “announced rationale” for supporting Obama. Is it also his real rationale? I doubt it. The Telegraph says that the endorsement of a Democratic candidate “would usually be considered unusual for a Conservative.” But that is not wholly true. I’ve noticed two sorts of Tories who are eager for the victory of Obama. One is the bitter, old-school anti-American Tory who resents American power and influence and who look forwards to whatever will circumscribe it. An Obama presidency can be counted on to do precisely that, and so it is not surprising that that such chaps have clustered round him.
The second sort is the “worse-therefore-better” brand of Tory who is a true conservative and therefore regards the prospect of a McCain presidency with dismay. McCain, the imperfect conservative, has disappointed conservatives on campaign finance reform, on immigration, on environmental policy, even, at least intermittently, on taxes and judicial policy. Therefore, reason these clever chaps, he would be a poor steward of the Republic. Of course, Obama would be much, much worse, but (so they reason), let him have a spin at the helm for four years: he’ll bollocks up things so badly that a grateful electorate will welcome us true conservatives back with open arms.
I suspect that Boris Johnson inclines more to the former than the latter, though item four in Victor Davis Hanson’s answers to the question “Why Do Europeans Love Obama?” probably also plays a part:
4) Style, style, style. Remember socialist Europe is where we get our designer eyeglass frames, Gucci bags, and French fashions. Instead of a strutting, Bible-quoting Texan, replete with southern accent and ‘smoke-em’ out lingo, they get an athletic, young, JFK-ish metrosexual, whose rhetoric is as empty as it is soothing. The English-only Obama lectures America on its need to emulate polyglot Europe; while a Spanish-speaking George Bush is hopelessly cast as a Texas yokel.
Victor makes the “modest prediction,” were Obama to be elected, “in 5 years, Europeans will prefer George Bush to a “We are right behind you” Obama.” I do not believe Obama will be elected. That will become clearer, I believe, as we approach the first week of November. And by then, I modestly predict, folks like Boris Johnson will discover that, upon mature consideration, they have always really supported John McCain after all.