Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The eyes of the world are turned towards Washington DC

And so the big day has arrived, and all of the news coverage is of the inauguration of that nice Senator Obama as President.

The British have always felt more at home with a Democrat in the White House, regardless of the affability or competence of the man himself, and I suspect that this is due to the chasm in ideology between Europe and the US.

Even the British, with our so-called special relationship, find Republicans hard work. The fixation with guns and religion is alien to most of us, given that we've banned handguns and licenced everything else. As for religion, we tend to the view that our faith, or lack thereof, is a private matter, not to be broadcast. Even the evangelical movement here is rooted in the Afro-Caribbean community, and hasn't really penetrated the consciousness of the rest of the population.

We're also more internationalist in our outlook. Whilst Kennedy, Clinton and Obama had travelled widely prior to their election, and not just to fight, many Republican contenders have been less travelled. Our experiences within a common Europe engender a belief in collective action, whereas Republicans tend to the view that, given that they have the capability, they can act alone, at least to some extent.

Bill Clinton was so popular here that, even in the midst of the impeachment hearings, his approval rating was 63%. Regardless of what he did at home, he was felt to be willing to persuade allies to act in concert, rather than browbeat them into acquiescence. His support for the Northern Ireland peace process was invaluable, and the warmth of the welcome given to him when he visited Belfast was utterly genuine.

George W Bush will be irredeemably linked to the invasion of Iraq, an action opposed by the majority of the British people, and the cause of too many resented deaths of young servicemen and women. Regardless of the validity of the invasion, it was felt that the US was ignoring the international framework for conflict resolution, faulty and ineffectual though it has often been.

We also struggle with questions related to the role of government. There is a far greater sense that government has an active role in building a better society, whereas Americans, particularly Republicans tend to be suspicious of 'big government'.

And so we welcome President Obama. He represents politics that we can relate to, but with added charisma and a sense of romance that we aspire to. He looks like a statesman, sounds like one too. The only worry is that we expect too much of him, but he's clever, articulate and appears to be managing our expectations closer to reality.

I wish him well...


Julian H said...

"As for religion, we tend to the view that our faith, or lack thereof, is a private matter"

Hmm, then why so many CofE types in our Upper House? Why so much CofE time on the state-sponsored media's news and current affairs programmes (including Rowan Whatshisname's 15-minute free advertisement on prime time Radio 4, in which he admitted to knowing sweet FA about economics but was still given the whole stretch to preach at us about the financial crisis)? Why do employers immediately give in to a bus driver who objects to an atheist advert, when any "non-God" objection would be laughed at, and the subject told to get on with their job or find a new one?

Sorry, I don't mean the language to sound aggressive, at least not at the author - and yes, we seemingly have less fanatics here than in the USA - but we're far from achieving universal understanding that religious beliefs are merely private and should not be shoved down everyone's throats.

Mark Valladares said...


Point taken, although I did use the word 'tend' with great care.

Disestablishment of the Church of England is one of those 'we really ought to do it, but it has little meaningful impact and will upset a bunch of voters' things that requires a bit of courage. Yet very few take the statements from the Church of England seriously any more. Where an individual churchman, such as John Sentamu, speaks with genuine moral authority, people tend to listen, but in the generality, how much attention to people give the likes of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Their voting record in the Lords is generally poor, and a recent question from the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham related to the rate of interest paid by HM Revenue & Customs when repaying tax. Hardly an issue of public morality...
I tend to think that a number of issues that you raise stem from a fear of offending people rather than any great adherence to the State religion. It certainly doesn't have the influence that it once did.