Humour plays serious part in US political point-scoring

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Humour plays serious part in US political point-scoring

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Veteran political journalist Cokie Roberts shared her insight on the US primary process with euronews, interviewed by satellite link, from the Republican event taking place in New Hampshire.

Adrian Lancashire, euronews: “Ruthless humour seems to play a prominent part in the process of picking the person who might end up president of the world’s most influential country. Do Americans take this seriously?”

Roberts: “Americans take it very seriously, but humour does have its role, and of course if candidates are standing on a stage together, as they were over the weekend, in two debates, it is easier to go on the attack if you do it with a little joke, or with a little smile. You do not seem quite so fierce but you are still making the point that you think the other guy is not the guy to be president.”

euronews: “In a country as diverse as the US, is there a sense that the word of some states is more important than others, for example comparing Iowa and New Hampshire – is that fair to say?”

Roberts: “You know, a lot of people think that neither one of these states should have anywhere near as much of a voice as they do. They are very small states. They are not representative of the country as a whole. But one of the advantages to it is that the candidates really do get out there and go around and meet almost every voter in the state. It is quite remarkable. Iowa’s process is less democratic. Its meeting – in these caucuses as they are called – is just a set period of time, for just a couple of hours in the evening, so anybody who works at night can’t vote, whereas New Hampshire it is much more of a regular election day. So I think it does have slightly more impact. It also allows independent voters – people who are neither Democrats nor Republicans – to show up and vote, and that tells us something about the election in the fall, the general election, because, as independents vote, that is how the election turns out.”

euronews: “What does it say about the Republicans today that the campaigners undermine each other the way we’ve seen? Are the Democrats laughing?”

Roberts: “Democrats are enjoying this Republican primary. But it is not just what the opponents say about the men they are running against which is interesting – it is what the men themselves say. Because if they try to get the people who are the most ardent Republicans out to vote, often they make statements that are so conservative that it will turn off those independent voters in the fall election, and so that’s what the Democrats are having the most fun watching: it is the candidates putting their own feet in their mouths.”

euronews: “One contender says Obama is a loser, another swears by Catholic tradition and another says take the US out of the UN. Lots of remarks like this. How much do polarised positions represent public opinion? Don’t they create division?”

Roberts: “Well there is a lot of division in this country right now. It is very polarised, much more so than it has been in our recent history. You have all kinds of television programmes and Internet articles that have the effect of pushing people to the left of the Democrats and to the right of the Republicans, and we are living in a very polarised time. That is why those voters in the middle – the voters who are neither Democrats nor Republicans – are so important, come November, and it is very possible that what the Republican candidates are saying right now in New Hampshire is turning off those independent voters in the fall.”