Larry King Letter from London: American Ex-Pats Vote

After hearing a BBC podcast reference to American ex-pats voting in the U.K., I asked Larry King [now a London businessman--not the CNN Host or the author] for his thoughts. After a little throat-clearing, he let men know what he knows...

[There is a] deep- seated fatalism of the British soul, which as someone said not long ago, means all Brits are not only aware death is a certainty, but are pretty sure it's coming by no later than next Tuesday if you're not pretty damned careful...

So life is good. Summer is here, the sun is not only warm but visible for most of the day, and I had a picnic with a pretty girl yesterday. Omar Khayam talked about a jug of wine, a loaf of bread, and thou, and he just about nailed that down, although he might have included an addendum about stopping after the first jug of wine. But as Oscar Wilde pointed out, anything worth doing is worth doing to excess, and at this point I think I'll leave Omar and Oscar to thrash that out between them and address your actual question:

The role of the American expat in the coming elections. Uh, damned if I know. I haven't voted for an American presidential candidate since 1992. And I'm not (yet) a British citizen, so I can't vote for the locals. I'm slowly reclaiming my political virginity, to coin a wildly improbable metaphor. But as I understand it, the wider role of the expat largely defies analysis, anyway. I hear different numbers about how many Americans live in the U.K., but the one I hear most often is around 200,000. That's undoubtedly more than any other single European country, since living here is like Expatriate 101, the introductory course. You don't have the language issues (or you don't think you do; then you refer to a pair of trousers as pants and everybody giggles nervously, since ``pants'' in Britain always and only refers to underwear). The food is familiar, if your mother never learned to cook very well. More important, London is the banking center of Europe and in some respects the world, so a lot of American banks and brokerages and such have big branches here. They ship over their young Master of the Universe types in car-load lots, to put a little polish on them and show the locals how things are done. The locals regard them balefully, as you might imagine, but the first rule of finance is that for every trade you must have a buyer and a seller, and the second rule is, the man who stands between them and handles the deal can earn a very comfortable living. The Brits have several centuries of experience acting as middlemen, and they'll tolerate Americans if they can make a few quid off them. All of that is largely off the point, to which I now return. People in banking and finance tend to be Republicans. This is because they make obscene amounts of money and they would prefer to keep as much of it as possible. They feel about taxes the way vampires feel about garlic. So, a disproportionately large number of American expats expatriate themselves to the U.K., a disproportionately large number of those are in finance, and a disproportionately large number of the people in finance are Republicans. It's a big bloc of votes. On the other hand, you have a lot of other expats who are here and, more frequently, on the Continent for far different reasons. They are the neo-bohemian, left-over-hippie, spiritual descendants of the Lost Generation of the 1920s. If you could round them all up, they probably would form a larger bloc of votes than the London finance crowd. But the absentee-ballot process more or less requires a certain amount of stability, since you need to have some evidence of the last place you lived and voted in the U.S., and neo-bohemians tend to be rootless and disenchanted, almost by definition. So they aren't really a bloc and a lot of them don't bother voting. Those who do, or at least those I know, lean so far left they're all but horizontal. That makes them Democrats, when they're not off voting for Ron Paul or Ralph Nader or some other wild-eyed spoiler. What that all means, I think, is that the Republican expats and the surly hippie-come-latelies cancel each other out, numerically speaking. Students, of whom there is a very large number doing their junior year abroad may hold the balance of power, and military personnel, of whom there is also a very large number, doing what they hired on to do. And here again, for every art history major hanging out in Florence and learning to drink wine and eager to vote for Obama, you've got a hard-bitten master sergeant whose political inclinations are probably somewhat less dewey-eyed, I think it's fair to say. So, as I said earlier, damned if I know. Handicapping this race is probably harder than most, since we have no incumbent and people in general seem, as the master put it, if not disgruntled, certainly far from gruntled. Expats are no different from other Americans in that respect. How that will play out in November I'd hesitate to say. I do seem to detect somewhat more enthusiasm for Obama than I saw for either Gore or Kerry. Conversely, I think the Republicans are more enthusiastic about McCain than they were for Dole in 1996 or Bush in 2004, although not necessarily than they were for Bush in 2000. And I think I can safely say that if Hillary somehow pulls a rabbit out of the hat and finangles her way to the nomination, a fair number of nominal Democrats will say the hell with it. The leftward crowd here appears to think the first thing Hillary would do with a rabbit is go all Glenn Close on us and boil the poor beast alive. So those are my thoughts, disheveled and rambling as they may be. Sorry, but I really shouldn't have opened that second jug of wine.


Larry King is an American-born expatriate I know who lives in London. He is not the talk show host, nor is he the author of The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas. From time to time, he contributes a Letter From Europe to my column. Below, I list the letters that have appeared so far.

Larry King's Letter from Europe: Very Little Happens in August (Sep. 6, 1999)

Larry King's Letter from Europe (Feb. 2, 2000)

Larry King Takes Over The Column: Spring in London (April 10, 2000)

Of Twits And Things (July 24, 2000)

Larry King on Eurostar (March 19, 2001)

Joe Brancatelli and Larry King on Rail Travel (March 26, 2001)

Larry King on Foot and Mouth and British Tourism (April 2, 2001)

Larry King on 9/11 (Oct. 15, 2001)

Larry King on Lords and Dukes And Journalists (Feb. 11, 2002)

Larry King on Presidential Greatness (March 4, 2002)

Larry King on British Broadcasting (March 11, 2002)

Larry King on England, the U.S. and the Middle East (April 29, 2002)

Larry King on the case FOR the war with Iraq (March 24, 2003)

Larry King Deconstructs A Blunkett Remark (August 19, 2004)

Larry King On The British Election (May 9, 2005)

Larry King On 7/8 Bombing (July 10, 2005)

Larry King: Bye Bye Blair (May 28, 2007)

Larry King: Thoughts On The State of Journalism and Teaching (January 18, 2008)

Larry King Letter from London: American Ex-Pats Vote (May 19, 2008)

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