The other day former ambassador Sir Christopher Mayer was on the radio talking about the American TV show West Wing. What he was really talking about, though, was the national character, the national propensity toward cynicism. Politics in Britain is viewed with pessimism, politicians are seen as "rogues and scoundrels" while in the U.S., though they really may be rogues and scoundrels, there's a reluctance to believe our leaders aren't sincere.
That's why Jeb Bartlett and his noble henchmen were so admired, by fans from both ends of the political spectrum. We wanted to believe the office was occupied by men and women of character. We all wanted, as one commenter put it, to live in Jeb Bartlett's jurisdiction.
I'm not sure Americans are quite as idealistic as Sir Christopher thinks, despite the examples set by the West Wing cast, but he did make some good points, particularly about the different levels of "schmaltz" that are tolerated in the young Republic. The same sort of show could never be made here. The nearest thing was the comedy Yes, Prime Minister, which portrayed the Prime Minister as a bumbling fool. Though taller than Martin Sheen, Jim Hacker (Paul Eddington) lacked the stature of Jeb Bartlett. PM Hacker was more likely to quote from a Quango guideline than quote from Job.
It's all well and good for the Americans to admire, from the remoteness of the television screen, a leader like Jeb Bartlett, but the British people would be uncomfortable with a leader they had to look up to. That might lead toward a national optimism that just wouldn't set well. As Sir Christopher says,
The difference between Americans and British people is Americans say, "this situation is serious but it's not hopeless". British people say, "It's hopeless, but it's not serious."
That pretty much sums it up.
If you're a West Wing fan, or if you're an Anglofile, you'll find it a fascinating discussion. You can listen to it here.