Girl, Interrupting

November 4, 2010

US politics are not UK politics, don’t believe the hype!

and please PLEASE stop worrying about the stupid Tea Party.

I have spoken to several folks in the UK about the US election results. Varying between fear and bewilderment, its a general perception that US voters are crazy and that, on the whole, America is eroding via backlash against Obama into some neo-conservative nation. Given the recent stain of GW Bush this is somewhat understandable, but in reality the US has never been even close to becoming unilaterally neo-conservative, not even under W.

News about America in Britain is sensational, and appears to be designed to look for the crazies, who you will certainly find; but disregards the other half of the story. In this last election, there was extensive UK coverage of the ‘Tea Party movement’ – a quick Google search on ‘US Tea Party in UK news’ gives 5,000,000 hits, while there was relatively little coverage of the ‘Coffee party – return to rational politics – movement’ – a similar Google search gives only 300,000 hits.

The news organizations in Britain don’t give a fair assessment of the politics in America, largely because they seem to superimpose a UK political model on top of the US political system, which is in reality quite different. And this is really misleading, but probably news worthy as crazy Americans are more exciting than the moderate ones and to be fair the US is good at breeding crazy.

So here, in my opinion, are some of the reasons the mid-term elections in the US are not the end of rational politics in the US or as The Daily Mash put it on Twitter @thedailymash: ‘AMERICA EXERCISES RIGHT TO PUNCH ITSELF IN THE NUTS’ (happily retweeted by thousands)

1. The tea party scares the crap out of me too, but some won and some lost-

And important thing to remember here is that Republican does not equal Tory, and Republican does not often equal,
tea party or neo-conservative. There are many more moderate Republicans than ultra conservative ones – they are just not as exciting and don’t make the news in the UK.

2. A few ‘tea partiers’ won seats in the House of Representatives, seats which are 2 year terms. They may soon vanish. Most of the Republican seats won in the House were not ‘tea party’ candidates. Gaining a seat in the House does not necessarily gain you immediate power as such, the new GOP electees are junior. (N.B. the Republican ‘nickname’ GOP stands for the Grand Ole’ Party)

3. Being junior makes a difference in the US system. Lots of policy is done on the fly, through deals, being junior doesn’t help- especially if your party itself doesn’t like you. Many standard GOP party members are none too happy about the tea party.

4. There is not the same whipping system in the US legislative branch as there is in the UK parliament, much legislation occurs cross party lines, most of the committees in both House and the Senate are bi-partisan. Unlike the UK, the minority party has votes, they still make legislation, they aren’t a ‘shadow’ government. They participate actively in governing.

5. The US system is much, much more fluid than the UK system. In the UK a government is in charge because it won the most seats. In the US there are different branches of government (judicial, executive (presidency), legislative) they work in concert, not independently. Never forget the great balancing power of the courts in the US who actively turned over much of Bush legislation.

This doesn’t happen in Britain, in the UK the active government makes ALL of the decisions, they don’t work much across party lines. Because the US system does work this way many Americans believe different parties in executive and legislative branch is a GOOD thing, a balance leading to a more fair government. It’s not that uncommon in the US for someone to vote for a Democratic president and a Republican Senator. Americans tend to vote for the candidate not for the party. In America you vote for minimally a State Senator, a State Representative, a State Governor, 2 National Senators to, a National Representative and the President. In Britain you vote for one MP from one party who goes to Parliament – one.

Don’t get me wrong, I do love the UK – it’s my adopted country. There are so many things I like from the very simple -Bovril, clotted cream and the abundance of book stores (which actually contain good books); to the more complex and difficult to define – a cup of tea in a crisis, the gentleness when you are in real need – like of NHS nurses and the police, the tolerance of differences in cultures and people. Even if some one doesn’t like you in the UK they generally leave you alone.

I also love my native country, and I am more than a little miffed that even to say that near as dammit labels me as a neo-conservative, nutso Palinesque Republican, am I not allowed to love a place even though it pisses me off?

What I particularly love is the idea of America, which is ultimately a nation built almost solely on an idea, in that respect it is unlike any other place (no offense to the French). And it was, arguably, built upon a BRITISH idea, you could even consider it the ultimate product of British Enlightenment.

But the folks in the US and the UK are not really the same, not only in the way we speak but in the way we think and importantly VOTE! And you cannot transpose a model of one onto the other. So when reading about US politics in the UK in the words of Public Enemy: Don’t believe the hype!

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