Cooper gets my vote in political junkie contest

John Byrne

Human passions. They're frequently inexplicable. I mean, some people actually like Coldplay (without irony). Others dig discussing the inner workings of cars. A perverse section of society enjoys ginger-nut biscuits.

Most baffling of all are the weirdos who label themselves 'political junkies'. Those who grow flushed at the sight of an exit poll. Who slobber like dogs at the thought of a by-election. Who giddily crunch numbers and ravenously consume raw electoral data.

The US presidential election is their World Cup; their Oscars. A quadrennial political junkie holiday. A chance to escape the muck and mire of local political parochialism and bask in glamorous Americana.

An opportunity to smugly explain an esoteric electoral process to the uninitiated (ie, me).

For such addicts, the choice this week was not Romney vs Obama, but (George) Hook vs (Matt) Cooper. Both decamped to the US, but who won the popular vote?

Hook plonked himself in the lap of power, on Capitol Hill, and spent the week hammering home his yanko-philia. We heard much about the "great continent of America" and "this great day in American democracy".


The Newstalk website backed up the gushing audio with video blogs of George looking awestruck outside the White House, and almost as awestruck at the cornucopia on offer in a local diner ("25 different kinds of bagels, a dozen kinds of cream cheese").

"America, yay!" was the core message of the week.

On Tuesday he spoke to Susan Davis (Republican) and Nuchhi Currier (Democrat), who were there, ostensibly, to discuss the Republican party's failure to woo female voters. George, however, was keen to showcase his knowledge of historical campaigns -- mentioning Dewey vs Truman, and asking how different America now was from the days of Stevenson vs Eisenhower.

"Well of course, George, I wasn't around in 1953", quipped Davis, "So I can't speak to that exactly."

Tea Party blow-hard Michael Graham was summoned before George on Wednesday to "eat humble pie". After an off-colour "joke" about how Obama's re-election had left him contemplating suicide, he declared it "a very bad day for those of us who don't want America to be Europe".

He acknowledged that the Republican "brand" (ugh!) had a problem, but claimed, astonishingly, that its problem was that it wasn't right-wing enough. "Every Republican who's lost since Reagan," he said, "has been a squish, internationalist, moderate Republican."

An incredulous Tom McGurk called Graham "a sort of cappuccino Ku Klux man in many ways". "Fox News has poisoned the well," he added. "It has cheapened the whole business of American politics... the nastiness, the... sub-textual racism."

Back in New York (on Tuesday), Matt Cooper and guests discussed this very phenomenon -- namely, the rise of 'partisan' television and 'in-your-face advocacy'. How much, Cooper wondered, had such television impacted upon American political culture? "It's hugely important," said veteran journalist Pete Hamill.

Contemporary television, he went on, "emphasises conflict, because that's the essence of drama. And they tip over from drama to melodrama too often."

Cal Thomas, a Cooper regular, (surprisingly) agreed. "People make money off conflict," he said. "They keep stirring the pot... to keep us divided." A complaint that rang slightly hollow given Thomas's relationship with Fox News (pot-stirrers extraordinaire).


Thomas was in more combative (and ugly) form on Wednesday. Bemoaning a "fundamental cultural shift" that had seen America become "increasingly like Europe, more secular, more dependent on government". The values he grew up with were, he said, disappearing:

"We are parading things that used to be called abominations in our streets and demanding that they be considered normal". What these "abominations" actually were was left to listeners' imaginations, but it didn't take much of a leap to conclude he was referring to what conservatives might call "non-traditional lifestyles".

So who won the radio war? I'm calling it for Cooper. Where Hook was hyperbolic and emotive (to the detriment of decent debate), Cooper's more nuanced prodding actually produced some illuminating moments (Cal Thomas notwithstanding).

Political junkies are still weird, though. Particularly those who like ginger-nut biscuits.