Barack and the brandy

Rednecks might vote for Obama if they knew about his namesake

I have no doubt that majority opinion among our readers is firmly on the side of Barack Obama in the American presidential elections. And the same opinion prevails on the east coast of the United States. But where I am, in the heart of rural Virginia, it is permitted to express doubts, and as you travel inland the doubts get firmer.

Not that people have anything very precise to say about what really troubles them about Barack Obama - vague references to his lack of experience, his uncertain loyalties or his peculiar companions merely reiterate, in negative form, the features that make him so attractive to the middle-class voters on the coast.

Only one feature of Obama seems to present a clear obstacle, in redneck eyes, to his prospect of being elected, and that is his first name. How could anyone get a name like Barack? What does it say about a guy, that he comes into the world with a name that nobody else could conceivably have as his own?

As a contribution to peace between the factions, I offer to my neighbours an explanation of Obama's name. "Barack" means apricot in Hungarian. Of course, you have to pronounce the "c", and it is only when written down that you get the point. But, to those in the know, this name evokes a direct path to peace and reconciliation.

The Hungarian apricot brandy - barack pálinka - is one of those drinks that form an immediate atmosphere of goodwill and toleration between potential rivals, and the habit of taking a glass of it before a meal explains why Hungarians have lived through all the trials of modern times without falling out. Of course they quarrel, but usually over important issues: women, or religion, or the principles of tonal harmony.

Politics vanishes from their consciousness with that first fiery assault on the oesophagus, and usually by the time the meal is served they are ready to sit down in affable goodwill beside their opponent. It is thanks to apricot brandy that the Hungarians were able to set aside all differences in 1956 and unite against Soviet occupation.

The apricot is a difficult tree, sensitive to year-round temperature: it grows in Moravia but not in Bohemia. Indeed, the borders of the apricot are the borders of Hungarian expansion in the late Middle Ages, and something of the Hungarian ability to put politics to one side survives wherever the apricot flourishes.

There is no better use for this dry, papery fruit than to distil its ferment into brandy, and one of the best apricot brandies I have tasted was a home-made variety from Moravia, clear as crystal, with the aroma hovering above it like a memory. The fire subdued to a warm glow in the gut. Just such a drink will be needed on election day, when the coastal regions vote for change, and the rest of America votes to stay the same.

Roger Scruton is a philosopher and countryside campaigner as well as an author and broadcaster. Widely regarded as one of Britain’s leading right wing thinkers, his publications include the Meaning of Conservatism. He has also written on fox hunting.

This article first appeared in the 06 October 2008 issue of the New Statesman, Perils of power