By CBSNews.com London Producer Tucker Reals
The British can't stand President Bush.
Reaction to the midterm election has been clear and unvaried.
"At Last, U.S. Wakes Up And Boots Idiot Bush," read a headline in the tabloid Mirror. "It's The War, Stupid," the more respected Independent advised the U.S. president.
As an American living in London, the first thing one becomes accustomed to is English people putting on a bad Texas accent in pubs and cracking jokes at the expense of our president.
After six years in office, his efficacy as a punch-line seems to have worn off little. Perhaps that's because Mr. Bush came into office as the very image of all things the Brits tend to make fun of America for anyway — he swaggers, takes himself very seriously and has an accent that most here think of as typically "American."
So the political smack down dealt to Mr. Bush in Tuesday's election was well-deserved and long overdue in the minds of everyone I have spoken to on the subject over here.
Determined to learn why the British find our president so totally unbearable, I decided to do something very risky this morning; speak to English people during their morning commute.
The English like to believe that when they are walking to the subway, (the Tube in London) waiting on the platform for trains, riding in trains and walking from the station to work that they are sealed inside an impenetrable bubble and nobody else can see them — let alone speak to them.
I violated this social rule 12 times in the name of journalism, with varying degrees of luck.
Of the five men and five women who did agree to answer several questions about the U.S. election, only one man was unaware of it taking place, and one woman said she was aware of it, but really couldn't care less.
I asked my eight willing subjects why they cared so much about an election taking place across an ocean that wouldn't even determine a new leader for the United States, let alone any leaders in their own land.
One word, the same word, shot forth from every one of my eight subjects' mouths almost as if it had been loaded on a catapult and the tether suddenly cut. "Bush!"
Without exception, they were all very happy to see Mr. Bush take a hit. One man actually said "it was great to see him get the smack he deserved."
"It's The War, Stupid"
Four people — somewhat fewer than I expected — immediately followed "Bush" with "Iraq." The war in Iraq is hugely unpopular in Britain. More than 120 British troops have been killed in action, and many back home were firmly against Prime Minister Tony Blair's decision to join the U.S.-led invasion to begin with.
Blair's own popularity has suffered tremendously for his close relationship to the White House. He is regularly referred to as "Bush's lapdog" verbally and in political cartoons.
But again, it all came back to Mr. Bush. One 37-year-old man told me he believed President Bush's policy in Iraq and Afghanistan — but mainly Iraq — "had created a breeding ground for terrorists."
"People in the Muslim world see what's happening there, and they want to fight back," he told me.
The War For Terrorism?
Three of the people I spoke with see President Bush as a major factor driving global terrorism, rather than successfully working to reduce it. These three said they were either "scared" or "fearful" of Mr. Bush or his policy, or considered him "dangerous" as a world leader.
Charlie Beckett, director of the journalism think-tank at the London School of Economics and Political Science, points out that Iraq is inextricably linked to issues that Britons are dealing with domestically on a day to day basis, chiefly the threat of Muslim fundamentalism inside this country.
As subject number six, a 30-year-old man on the train told me, "You guys affect everything that happens here; trade, defense, culture. We have a very close relationship."
Many here believe that Iraq, the Mideast and to a lesser extent Afghanistan are contributing to the "radicalization" of young Muslims living in Britain and generally making relations with them more tense. And at the heart of all those issues is the U.S. government.
Separation Of Church And State, Please?
Beckett says Mr. Bush also rubs Britons the wrong way due to a very strong distaste in the U.K. for any mixing of politics and religion. The U.S. Constitution demands it, the Brits practice it.
While most recent U.S. presidents have been openly religious, none of them appeared to let their faith so directly guide their policy in the wider world as does Mr. Bush.
Classification of world issues in simplified terms such as "good and evil," makes the British very uncomfortable — I have actually seen people physically wince when they hear the President make such comments on television.
"There are feelings here of an increasing cultural gulf" between the U.S. and the U.K., says Beckett. "The president has reinforced them."
George W. Bush, President Of The World
"He's the leader of the free-world," one woman told me with a good deal of emotion, and seemingly bemused by the fact that I should even ask why our president's persona should bother people over here. "He's the most hated president ever," she added bluntly.
English social anthropologist Kate Fox describes her own countrymen in her latest book, "Watching the English", as a very modest group who seek at all costs to avoid self-important talk, egotism, and anything else that could be considered any form of gloating.
I've been here a year, and I agree.
Mr. Bush is quite frequently described by Brits as an egomaniac. It would seem that while the British clearly understand and accept the fact that a U.S. president does hold the highest office not just in his own country, but in the whole world, they would really prefer that he wield that power with characteristic English modesty.
That is hard to come by in Texas.
In short, it seems to me that the English have felt betrayed by our present leader's policy, and also perhaps betrayed by the American people for putting a man in office who is viewed as having very little regard for the opinions of an old and close ally.
One woman told me from her seat on the Tube that this election had, "reaffirmed her faith in the American public."
If there is a positive cultural outcome from this election as pertains to U.K.-U.S. relations, it may be that our cousins from across the pond will be happier to see us at the next family reunion.
By Tucker Reals