Sunday, September 14, 2008
The Baby Shower
Our baby’s getting showered right now. This is quite an achievement, as she won’t be born for another four months. But as she will be half American, she’s experiencing the first benefit of her dual citizenship.
I’d never heard of a baby shower until Jo announced that we were about to have one. Apparently it’s a party for an expectant mother where, as well as silly games like “guess the circumference of the bump”, played with rolls of toilet paper, friends and family “shower” the about-to-be-born with gifts. I’m not actually invited to this shindig – mercifully it’s an all-female affair – but I’m trusting it might save me a few bob in Mothercare. In fact, as this shower is taking place in Los Angeles, and we’ve flown five and a half thousand miles to be here, I’m secretly hoping the baby booties, or whatever we’ll be receiving, will be encrusted with diamonds.
I do like these curious American customs. There’s something wonderfully old-fashioned and apple pie about them. It’s easy to think of Britain and America as just one big English-speaking community, but actually we’re worlds apart. While Britain has allowed national pride to be derided, and family values to virtually disappear, almost every American, irrespective of race, still sheds a tear when the stars and stripes are unfurled, and loyally assembles the family round the dining table at Thanksgiving. I don’t know when the Old and New Worlds’ paths diverged, but there’s something rather charming about America’s homespun traditions and conservatism.
Charming, that is, until you see what this conservatism can do to its politics. To the vast rump of Middle America, Sarah Palin represents the American dream. With Down's Syndrome child in her arms and her four other children and childhood sweetheart husband by her side, she personifies the American family ideal. But it’s not the family that Sarah Palin has placed in the forefront of her campaign, it’s God. And that, for most of my democrat friends on the West Coast, is reason enough to signal the end of the line.
Sarah Palin, gun toting moose huntress, violent opposer of gay marriages, staunch pro-lifer, advocate of creationism lessons in schools, global warming sceptic, has crossed the line between church and state that lies in the political sand of every true democracy. For her, the Iraq war is a holy war, “ a task from God.” It’s no coincidence that her political star has risen just at the time when the fundamentalist Christian right wing has taken control of the Republican Party. Her campaign already sounds like a religious mission. She’s even against sex education in schools, despite the fact that her own 17-year-old daughter has got herself pregnant.
In Britain, Sarah Palin’s ultra-conservative politics would have made her unelectable, or perhaps consigned her to the fringes of the extreme right; in America she’s now considered mainstream. And that’s pretty scary. The possibility that she could be one heartbeat (and a fragile McCain heartbeat at that) away from the White House is making intelligent Americans on the East and West Coasts despair.
In a bar where my male friends and I have gathered to pass the time during the baby shower, Guido, who’s Italian but has lived for many years in LA, puts his head in his hands. “My God, I know our Italian politicians are all corrupt; but the American politicians are just plain stupid.” The woman who could soon be in charge of the world’s foreign affairs only obtained her first passport last year; she has yet to meet a world leader. As her inexperienced face stares down at us from yet another “exclusive” television interview (you’d think she was the only candidate), another friend adds, “You’re so lucky. Your child will be born British. With that gun-toting zealot, I really fear for the future of our children.”