Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Riling the Americans

Long after the article, eyes drifting over Polly Toynbee's piece for the Saturday Guardian, Here's a Hard Choice for Labour: leader or country (a version of Reasons to be Cheerful, No 2379) I catch this little cadence:

A new leader can change direction: Whiteley says Afghanistan is now a toxic lost cause with the public, and an exit strategy would be a winner. Leave aside whether it is right, if it riled the US that might be popular too.

My bold type. I wondered whether I had briefly gone mad. I know it's The Guardian, so I tried rewriting that as 'if it riled Barack Obama that might be popular too' and 'if it riled Hilary Clinton that might be popular too', but that clearly wasn't right.

For, in the first place, that indicates a total divorce between the President and the state of which he is President, and I didn't think we had given up on Obama (me and The Guardian) quite so soon.

And, in the second place, I wondered if it would help the Labour Party if, say, Alan Johnson went and punched Hilary Clinton right in the mouth. That would rile them pretty well. Oh, all right then, say he punched any American in the mouth. Or accidentally-on-purpose trod on an American's foot.? Or just swore at a bunch of them? Just about audibly? Or maybe we just rile them in a broad philosophical way by saying something cutting about, say, Mark Twain. That's bound to be a winner isn't it, just riling them? Or maybe we ought to go and rile George W Bush? But he's not there to be riled now. Still it could be a good habit to get into. Just riling them.

In fact, forget the other ways of winning an election. Just rile them. As, for example, when Guardian readers were urged to write to Americans in order to persuade them to vote the way they wanted them to vote. That kind of success, that kind of riling. The're all dumb fat slob rednecks anyway, aren't they? Fundamentalist, Bible-thumping, Jew-funded, war-mongering rednecks.

I think what gets me about The Guardian, and it gets me at about gut level, most often in the correspondence columns, but even more on the magazine correspondence page, is smugness.

The sheer death-defying classbound smugness of just being so deep down right, you know. So cool with being right. So cool deep down for being so deep down right. No counter currents in that consciousness. No doubts. Just that comfortable certainty that tells you you are morally the bee's best knees. Where the best thing you can possibly think of doing to demonstrate your rightness is to rile a category that belongs right where you know it belongs, where there is no doubt it belongs, where, essentially, the whole country knows it belongs, since we who are right constitute the country, the right country that is, the country that is worth listening to, the only one worth listening to.

So go win the election for Labour. Rile an American. Doesn't just thinking about it induce a nice warm glow?


Gwil W said...

In the Guardian article you quote the verb 'rile' is ambiguous.
English readers will read 'rile' as: to make angry or resentful.
American readers will read 'rile' as: to irritate.
That's a bug difference.

George S said...

Still seems an odd idea for winning a UK election.

It's the world of assumptions that lies behind the suggestion - that the electorate is The Guardian writ large.

Isn't that just a little flabbergasting?

Gwil W said...

"A plague of opinion! a man may wear it on both sides like a leather jerkin!"
WS - Troilus & Cressida III, iii, 268

"He is a well-developed child of nature and is not skilled in polite phrases and poses. But he is a man of profound feeling, correct and firm principles and incorruptible honesty. His motives are unquestionable..."

°of Lincoln

I go, as best I can, with Carlyle. Others may huff and puff.

Dafydd John said...

Actually, I rather like:

"That's a bug difference."!

Gwil W said...

Dafydd John,
After I posted the reply I also came round to like it myself!
I'd better not make a similar mitzake next week when I have to record a cd to help people with dyslexia.
With you name you can only be from the principality.

Dafydd John said...

Not too keen on the 'principality' bit! But I too have the world's finest slate running through my veins...

George S said...

OK, I surrender to the Welsh.

Rachel Phillips said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ms Baroque said...

George, I completely see what you're getting at here and I have in fact emailed it to someone already, but do you think maybe Polly was being ironic? I mean, she was getting at the same tendency that riles you?

And, er, I know I don't spend much time there these days, but in America I'm pretty sure 'rile' means 'irritate to the point of irresponsibility for one's actions'. It's a peculiarly hicksville kind of word - which a look at the dictionary reveals as being, yes of course, a variant of 'roil' as in boil and bubble, render turbulent. But those mythical hicks are not known for their temperate tempers, so I for one wouldn't want to rile them up.

Anyway, well done - I love a good rant.

George S said...

Hmm, irony...? Polly? Maybe, though the rest didn't read quite like irony.

Polly Toynbee: The Irony Lady.