After an extended absence on my part (what do you mean, you didn’t miss me?!) due to endless PhD drafting and then holidaying, I reckoned it was time to get back on the horse.  Figuratively speaking – given my allergy to horse hair, were I to actually do so, I’d end up in hospital.  Anyway, I was itching to write something and about something… but it really does look like there’s nothing going on here.  I mean, apart from the floods and the riots, the borderline homophobic parliamentary motions and the ongoing debates over what happens when (if?) Scotland becomes independent with regards currency etc.  But you’ve covered all that.  So what do I write about?

Well, I guess those of you who don’t have an interest in politics outside Scotland might want to look away now.  I’ve spent the last couple of weeks in the land of the free and the home of the brave.  Where choice is king, everything comes with peanut butter (including pretzels, which were awesome) and an ambulance call out costs you three grand.

I do love the States though.  I love their enthusiasm for sports – college sides have 100,000-seater stadiums for their American Football teams (and graduation ceremonies).  That’s bigger than our pro-teams.  I love their enthusiasm for their colleges – their affinity with an education establishment where they attended lasts a lifetime (including dancing to the college fight songs at weddings!).  Most of all, I just love their enthusiasm.  Here we struggle to serve people with a smile – there you don’t just get told to have a nice day, its got to be a great day.  One guy saw I was off out running (in ridiculous heat) and told me to have a “great one”.  Enthusiasm.  That’s something we can learn.

You wonder where I’m going with this.  I kind of wonder too.

To politics, of course.  We’re in a down year for elections in the States, but the race for the Republican Presidential nominee to challenge President Obama is kicking off.  While I was on holiday they held a straw-poll for candidates in Iowa (first state to hold its caucus for candidates, scheduled for Feb 6th 2012) in which Minnesota Representative Michelle Bachmann narrowly beat out Texas Representative Ron Paul to win the non-binding poll.  There were NINE names on the ballot paper, plus a space for a ‘write-in’, in which Texas Governor Rick Perry gained the support of 3.6%, of voters – despite not actually entering the race until the day of the poll.

So, at the moment, its a crowded field for the Republicans.  There are no fewer than FIFTEEN formally declared candidates at this point, with no real front-runner.  Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney (a candidate the last time around) held that position for around four months, when the race began – and is still a top-tier candidate.  But his lead is now just 2 points over the recently-announced Rick Perry.  Michelle Bachmann’s support among social and Christian conservatives looks to have dipped a little with Perry’s involvement in the race.

When I was in the States, I took this photograph of a t-shirt:

While its George W. Bush, and its mocking Obama’s “hope” slogan from the 2008 Presidential election, it does make a point:  A lot of what Obama promised to change hasn’t changed.  Yes, there have been global economic conditions which have made some of his promises difficult to achieve (healthcare, for example) but there are also things he could have done and simply has not (like closing out Guantanamo Bay).  He had a Democratic Congress for the first couple of years of his term, and it made very little difference to what he could and could not achieve in office.

The point is that this is a very winnable election for the Republicans – and that’s not something you would have expected to hear in the immediate aftermath of Obama’s election.  But if the Republicans are going to win back the White House, they have to pick a decent candidate.  From the current field, its difficult to see who that is.  And even among those who are speculated to run, but haven’t yet announced, there are not any really inspiring names.  Sarah Palin isn’t going to beat Obama – and you wouldn’t want her to even if you were a Republican.  Ditto John Bolton, the former US Ambassador to the UN.  I’ve seen a couple of interviews with him and he just comes across as an arrogant, for want of a better word, dickhead.  Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani would be a good bet, but given his more liberal views on some things, plus family issues, he’s unlikely to get the nomination.  There’s even a white power advocate and former Klan wizard (David Duke) planning a presidential run.  Which lets you know just how crazy the Republican race might get.

Anyway, I’ve got some friends in the States who might give us some on-the-ground chat about the Presidential race.  Not that this election will have any bearing whatsoever on events in Scotland at all.  But its an election, and we all love elections, right?

No wonder you guys didn’t miss me…