Friday, July 30, 2004


How America Plays in Europe: Wendy's Loses the Vote

By Philip M. Stone

GENEVA, Switzerland, July 29, 2004 -- Maybe the Democrats meeting in Boston ate it all up (at Wendys?), but watching their convention on television proved yet again that American political campaigns are a whole different ball game to the way such things are done in Europe.

I, of course, viewed the convention with "knowing" American eyes. But Mrs Stone, who has lived in America many years, is not an American, and while she understands that Americans are "different" what she saw going on in Boston was just a tea bag in the harbor too much.

To be fair I got her started on the wrong foot. There was Mrs. John Edwards up on the podium declaring that day was John and her's 17th wedding anniversary. Brought a tear to the eye. And then she said they would celebrate it as they do every year -- at Wendy's. In all likelihood, that comment, just like Bill Clinton's definition of what having sex means, won the men's vote but lost the women's.

I sweetly turned to Mrs. Stone and told her that for our 18th anniversary next April since it was good enough for Mr. and Mrs. Edwards then it was certainly good enough for us and I was taking her to Burger King ( since we don't have a Wendys in Geneva.) No more of these expensive lakeside restaurants with white tablecloths, waiters and the like.

Now I should add at this point that my wife is a natural red-head. I should have remembered that before I spoke. I certainly remembered it after she spoke. Take it from me, we are going to an expensive lakeside restaurant for our 18th anniversary.

But her reaction to Mrs. Edwards was really something in itself. "What a stupid comment," she exclaimed. And she carried on in the same vein for some minutes more. I tried to explain that Mrs. Edwards was showing she was one of us -- the common folks. It was then explained to me we are not common.

I continued that the Edwards' were successful and rich lawyers but they were trying to show the country that just because they are rich, and that John and Mrs. Kerry are rich, that doesn't mean they don't understand mainstream America, how it lives and what it wishes for.

"It is not my wish to have my anniversary at Wendy's" she fumed, and that was the end of that. Or so I thought.

"What is she doing up there on the podium in the first place," she continued? Now that was a fair question. Why are Mrs. Kerry, Mrs Edwards, the kids etc., up there giving speeches? This is supposed to win my vote?

Putting my minor in US political science to good use for the first time since I left university some 35 years ago, I started to explain what Americans want to see in a candidate, and that includes the family -- family values and all that -- but she'd have nothing of it. Do the Democrats really believe they will get votes because the wives and kids tell us how great their patriarchs are? One would like to think the vote is earned on what Mr. Kerry and Mr. Edwards say they will specifically do for the country. But in America is that how the vote is won, or is it something else?

It's that "something else" that non-Americans don't trust about Americans. In the US the vote is not based just on the issues, but on personality, how voters can identify with the candidate etc. Sure, some of that might have some play elsewhere, but in America it is a fine science.

With Geneva six hours ahead of Boston there was a limit to how late we would stay up to watch all of this unfurl. But my wife declared the damage was already done. Had she been eligible to vote, the Wendy's comment would have cost the Democrats her vote.

So then, because I just don't know when it is smart to be quiet, I said she was acting like a typical American -- making a political decision based on something outside what the candidates said they would do for her. I told her that her very American reaction proves the politicians are right -- that voters don't just make their decisions based just on the issues.

And, again, she reminded me she was a natural red-head.

Copyright: Philip M. Stone

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