Thursday, September 27, 2012

Cameron's a winner in US despite quiz fail

As the British press derides David Cameron for his ignorance of obscure historical questions, Ewan Watt says the performance earned the PM many fans across the Atlantic.
Nearly a decade ago, Tony Blair was treated to a rock star reception in the United States. Amidst the war in Afghanistan and military intervention in Iraq, Blair was America's most visible ally, a steadfast – and thoroughly articulate – proponent in the so-called "war on terror". Nine years on, our cousins across the pond still can’t get enough of him.
Americans, however, have not had the same opportunity to enamour themselves to David Cameron. In truth, his time should be now. Thanks to two years of royal celebrations, an exceptional 2012 Games and the cult of Downton Abbey, "Brand Britannia" has never been stronger. We didn't do too badly at the Emmys the other night either.

And without wading too much into the prime minister's well-heeled background, he is undoubtedly the kind of person most Americans picture leading their closest ally. Selling Cameron to the American public right now is hardly the most difficult task in the world. Or at least it shouldn’t be.
Hours after chastising the United Nations' General Assembly for their inaction in Syria, the prime minister would get his moment of Atlantic exposure on The Late Show with David Letterman, a one-time funny-man who despite his chequered history, still occasionally pulls in a viewership the size of Wales. It was a strange setting for the prime minister.

Cameron, unlike Blair, can come across as awkward and does not possess the same gift of self-deprecation, something that’s crucial on any American chat show. On shows like Letterman, when you’re told that you’re a guest, you’re more of a play thing for the host to humiliate. Given that it’s Letterman, who wasn’t even funny back when Cameron was advising Norman Lamont, it’s all the more painful.
"These appearances are seldom a roaring success, but an exercise in damage control"
Cameron, unfairly, will be largely remembered for his shortcomings on British history. Challenged by Letterman to answer some "dumb American questions", Cameron failed to translate the term 'Magna Carta' and answer correctly who wrote Rule Britannia, leaving the prime minister protesting "I have ended my career on your show tonight."

Among discussing other matters such as Europe, the Empire, the Olympics, domestic austerity, and Britain's burning of the White House 200 years ago, the British media will salivate watching Cameron fail in his history test. It's what we enjoy doing.

To an American audience, however, Cameron came across as a good sport and informed, diplomatically discussing thorny issues in his host country such as gun control and the profiligate spending in US presidential elections without coming across as patronising. A rare breed. For exposure to a US audience, it was a pretty good try out.
"On the show, the prime minister acknowledged that in Britain he was “not very popular at the moment.”
From polls, that's certainly true. But even if he's no Blair, Cameron was inherently likeable and all too willing to be the diminutive figure and play along with his host.

That's the point of the show. And even if people don’t like him back home in Blighty, "sounding like the guy from the film (the King's Speech)" will certainly win him a few friends over here.
  • Ewan Watt is a Scottish-born, Washington, DC-based public affairs consultant. He lives in Alexandria, Virginia. You can find him on Twitter @EwanCWatt


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