At home, Barack Obama is waging a battle against Republicans who want to slash the budget. Why has his campaign manager gone to Britain to work for a pol who's doing the same thing?
During the past two weeks, the dynamic of the 2012 presidential election has shifted, and President Obama has moved out to a modest but significant lead against Mitt Romney. No developments in the economy or the world can explain this shift. That leaves the campaigns themselves.
London’s Mayor Boris Johnson, known simply as Boris to his ardent fans in Britain, seems all but certain to reclaim his post in the mayoral election scheduled for Thursday. But the enthusiasm Johnson inspires is only partly related to the policies he’s pursued in office; it has as much to do with his shaggy hair, quirky personality, quick wit, and idiosyncratic habits. Londoners, however, aren’t the only ones who have a quirky mayor to call their own.
Unless something dramatic happens—fast—the general election will soon be upon us, with Mitt Romney as the Republican nominee, and President Obama fighting for a second term. But if the primary season has proven largely predictable, the next phase of the presidential campaign will likely have more than a few surprises in store. Romney and Obama will be competing on a playing field more polarized along partisan and ideological lines than at any time in recent history.
In The Iron Lady, a figure named Margaret Thatcher orders the sinking of the Argentinean battleship, the Belgrano. She “wins” the war of the Falkland Islands, just as she had won leadership of the Conservative party in Great Britain and had become the nation’s first female prime minister. As such, she imposed austerity cuts; she beat down the trade union movement; she gutted many parts of her country, especially the manufacturing north; and she restored a version of prosperity in the financial services industry that was lifted on the wave of the Internet.
Mitt Romney has shed the dark blue suit, white shirt, and pale blue tie of his 2008 campaign for an open-neck tattersall shirt with its sleeves rolled up. His sideburns are graying, and his eyes are lined, but he still sports a boyish grin and radiates the can-do enthusiasm of a man who is promising to turn the country around the way he once turned around the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.
English conservatives don’t really take to the streets, at least not with dispatch. In the United States, only eight weeks elapsed between the passage of the 2009 stimulus bill and half the country erupting into Tea Party-themed protests. In Great Britain, the first noteworthy rally in opposition to excessive spending and debt took place this spring, and the offending government, the Labour Party under Gordon Brown, had already been voted out of power a year ago.
It's a basic fact of politics that partisans of both sides always think their party compromises more readily than the other party. At the same time, I think it is the case that, though Democrats overstate their own party's tactical weakness, Democratic leaders really are more probe to compromise than Republican leaders. One reason is that Republicans are a homogeneous conservative party, while Democrats are a heterodox mix of moderates and liberals.
Seventy years ago, in the summer and fall of 1940, Western civilization teetered in the balance as Britain stood alone against Nazi-controlled Europe. Other major world powers did not lend aid; Russia supported Germany, and the United States remained neutral. After Britain resisted the assault of Nazi bombers, in what was dubbed the “Battle of Britain,” the country was saved and German momentum stymied. The whole course of the war then radically shifted.
On Friday, May 7, for the first time since 1974, we woke up the morning after the British election and didn’t know who our prime minister would be. No party had won an absolute majority, and so, for a period that a BBC-TV documentary has dubbed the "Five Days that Changed Britain," Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats, held the balance of power and negotiated with Gordon Brown, who was still entrenched as prime minister, and the Conservative leader, David Cameron. Finally, the Tories cut a deal with Clegg.