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Friday, May 18, 2007

Enter Gordon Brown Who Reminds me of …

I have mixed feelings about the Prime Minister to be. I was put off the first time I ever saw him by how much he reminded me physically of Richard Nixon – the jowly face, the body language, even the way he had of speaking. That was a long time ago, but makeovers later and the Nixonian aura still persists for me

Gordon Brown is a hard fellow to warm to, as was the disgraced President. But one must try to give the man a chance. But I do think he’s a bit of a “strange” one, though that does not mean he won’t be a great leader. I wish him well and I hope we find him to be a leader of wisdom and depth who can rise to the challenge of a country suspicious of its leadership and worried about the future and the direction we seem to be heading.

It is a strange system that can simply change Prime Ministers at the whim, or not, of one man. Doesn’t seem very democratic. I really do wonder if Gordon Brown is ‘electable’ without becoming Prime Minister first. The United Kingdom, like the United States does not elect it’s political leader directly. The United Kingdom is, however, electing a government. Americans really don’t think that way. First of all, it’s complicated because the Head of State in the UK is a sovereign born to the role for life. The closest we have to a Prime Minister is the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Majority Leader of the Senate.

It is very valuable for Americans to study how politics in the UK works. It explains why our own government is the way it is. Our government was created to correct what were deemed to be the faults of Parliamentary Sovereign Britain. The most evident method of doing this was the system we have of ‘checks and balances’. This is an important concept to have developed, but there is a price to pay – government stagnation.

For example, in Britain, the government of the day can raise taxes within hours! (Un-American!!) In Britain the government of the day is elected for 5 years – in the U.S. the government can change dramatically every two years. The Queen has an interesting way of putting things to a new Prime Minister when she asks him if he or she can ‘form a government’. In Britain ‘government’ means do you have enough of a consensus to do the job? A Government is 'of the day'.

I love the concept here of the ‘loyal opposition’. For every ‘government’ there is a ‘shadow government’ and every minister in the government must stand up and defend the policies of the day and is answerable directly to his ‘shadow minister’ in particular and must also be able to respond to questions from other honourable parliamentarians. The most striking thing to me about Parliament is its intimacy and almost informality amidst all the tradition and politeness of the ‘honourable friends’.

Most Americans believe that ours is the greatest democracy in the world and our Constitution is the best in the world. I don’t believe this – other countries do have democracies that can rival ours. Somehow all the safeguards that the founding fathers came up with didn’t stop big government. It is a fact that when the Constitution was written , it was assumed there would be Constitutional Conventions held that would bring forth Constitutional reform – when the amendments to the Constitution are longer than the original document, it seems to me perhaps it is about time to start over again.

But I cannot in my wildest imagination come up with who we find to perform such a task and how we would ever be able to get 50 states to agree to its adoption. And so comes some more wisdom from the British! They have an ‘Unwritten Constitution’. I used to joke about this as an instance of British arrogance. Now I think it a mark of genius!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

What a Difference a Year Makes

Two days ago I returned from a trip to visit my mother in Connecticut. As it happens, my last trip was almost exactly one year ago and it seems to me, as a non-resident, that there have been a lot of changes in that time.

Shortly after returning home last year – about a month later – I became aware of The Daily Kos and as a result there have also been big changes in my own awareness of how things stand in the US. But it is also true that my affiliation with DK has made me see things from a perspective that isn’t entirely reflective of how things appeared to me when I was actually there on this most recent trip.

The 2006 mid-term election seems to have brought the media up short and coverage now seems to be much more balanced and honest than it was on my last visit. In my own Congressional District (CT-5) a talented “youngster”, Chris Murphy, trounced the “unbeatable” Nancy Johnson. Murphy ran an excellent campaign and won despite the scepticism of many local Democratic Committees. Thank you Howard Dean and your grass-roots legacy – you have proved that the Democratic Party is still electable.

Back to the media – suddenly Wolf Blitzer sounds even-handed and not the pawn of a Republican media baron. He sounded absolutely companionable with Jack McCafferty. Even Chris Matthews seemed a tad thoughtful! Charles Gibson, disappointingly seems to be upholding the more Republican view – but in ever such a nice Charles Gibson kind of way! However, almost everybody seems to be biding time and fervently hoping that somehow the President can be stopped in his tracks and that Congress will do what it has to get the troops home. Some in the media are held hostage by the dilemma of the US having caused the debacle in Iraq, we have an obligation to stay until it’s sorted out – but I have the sense that most people see it as a never-ending quagmire that we will never be able to solve and so better to cut our losses and get out now. It’s really important that Congress steps up to the mark and the sooner the better. Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid seem to be maintaining their popularity to the consternation of the Republican mafia – one just hopes the rest of Congress has the balls to see this thing through and do what they’ve been elected to do. They will be out next time if they don’t. Unless one is particularly interested in politics most Americans would rather ignore the Presidential Hopefuls – except for Barack Obama who attracts enthusiastic crowds wherever he goes.

I also noticed a big change in attitudes toward Green Issues. Possibly this is due to the violent and unpredictable weather the US has been suffering. But most likely this is due to the work Al Gore has done and his film An Inconvenient Truth. Even so, it doesn’t seem to have dented the American enthusiasm for the SUV – loads of those still creeping up behind me! I was surprised that the price of gas was so high – but why should I be – no election this year. Still one ‘helluva’ lot cheaper than Europe – half the price.

The country is holding its collective breath and seems to want some real change. Its good to see ads on TV promoting single-payer health care. There is a lot of momentum building in the political arena, but I hope that by the time its time to vote again that the masses aren’t so numbed by boredom with it all that it will be impossible for them to become politically engaged.

I missed the debate between the Democratic hopefuls, but saw the Republican efforts. All the political pundits I saw seemed to think that both debates were similar in terms of effectiveness. No one really blew it. Rudy Guilliani, John McCain, and Mitt Romney came out on top. Of them all I agree most with the former mayor of New York, but I also liked the Governor of Wisconsin, whose name I can’t recall. He’s the only candidate of both parties who has actually outlined a plan for getting us out of Iraq – and no one I read or heard commented on that let alone discussed it. So much for someone who offers more than sound bites. And so it will go on, I’m sure.