February 04, 2004

Something Stirring in "The Two Americas"

Lord Rees Mogg has become quite engaged in the Democratic primaries. It's a good thing, too. I treat it with equal parts amusement and horror. But he's always a keen observer of politics, having spent his whole life in the business of calling elections and trends. It's hard to convey to you the extent to which Bush is disliked in official European circles and the press. The foreign press is dying to get behind the campaign of a dynamic Democrat. For now, they're settling with John Kerry's looks. LRM makes an astute observation the missive below. He points out that long after Howard Dean and Al Sharpton are gone, and John Kerry has the nomination, the rhetoric of John Edwards is going to be with us. And frankly, I'm not encouraged. Edwards has the only coherent campaign theme: two Americas...one America for the rich and the powerful with low taxes, great healthcare, quality education, and secure jobs. Another America where people scrape to make ends meet, can't eat right, stay healthy, or give their kids a better future. It's pretty awful class-centric Marxist pandering by a trial lawyer who knows how to cry crocodile tears. But that doesn't mean it won't work...and we won't be hearing a lot more of it in the coming years....(note, all the emphasis added is mine) Strategic Insider -- William Rees-Mogg -- 4 February 2004 The British follow American elections very closely. There are a number of reasons for this. American policy has a great impact on British life, so that the decisions made by an American President can often be more important than those made by a Prime Minister. The United States also influences British political attitudes, much of our political weather, and most of the economic weather comes from across the Atlantic. American politics come in the English language, which makes them more intelligible than the local politics of Europe, let alone those of Russia or China. Now we have the U.S. networks by cable or satellite. I followed the early primaries on Fox News, and saw Howard Dean's extraordinary speech live from Iowa. I am writing after the round of primaries which included the victory of Senator Edwards in South Carolina and of General Clark in Oklahoma. All the other states went to Senator Kerry. What has struck me more than anything else is the high level of interest in the Democratic primaries. Of course, there have been occasions of high interest before. I suppose the highest level of interest was in the Democrat primaries of 1968, which started with the revolt of Gene McCarthy against the Vietnam War, saw Lyndon Johnson's decision not to seek a second term, went on to the tragic murder of Robert Kennedy and ended in the nomination of Hubert Humphrey, who was eventually to be defeated by Richard Nixon. At the time, I thought that Robert Kennedy would have beaten Nixon if he had lived. There is nothing like 1968 about the primaries of 2004, though for a few weeks Howard Dean did seem to have started another students' crusade. Yet the turnout levels are quite exceptional. Something is stirring in the American political consciousness, and these movements usually come across the Atlantic to us before they have blown themselves out. I like the look of Senator Kerry, but then, as an Englishman, I would. He not only looks like a President, he looks like a Prime Minister, and of a classical type. Think of Gladstone, think of Asquith, serious and determined older men, with much of the statesman about them. There has always been a cultural link between New England and Old England, and Senator Kerry would carry England, not only in the primaries, but in a Presidential election. Nevertheless, it is Senator Edward's campaign that rings alarm bells. I think he has struck a theme which may be destined to play a large part in our economy as well as in the U.S. economy. I expect Senator Kerry to win the nomination, and people in England will welcome that if it happens. But I expect the social theme which Edwards has been expound skillfully to be at the forefront of the Presidential election and of our next General Election in May or June of 2005. We shall be hearing some Edwards' speeches from our political platforms. The theme is concern for the people who have not benefited from the prosperity of the late 1990s and the present recovery, those who have missed out. This is not primarily a question of jobs. By historic standards both the United States and Britain have a high level of employment. It is much more a matter of the quality of jobs, the quality of opportunity. The contraction of manufacturing has destroyed great numbers of well paid production line jobs, but it has also destroyed whole tiers of middle management. Middle management has been rapidly downscaled in financial and service industries. Yet the costs of establishing a professional life have escalated -- university fees, home purchases, health insurance, pension provision, have gone through the roof. That is the pattern of modern life, and, as always, the U.S. sees it first. Undoubtedly, there is a whole sector of society who feels that they will never reach their expectations, because the expectations have become more expensive and the opportunities have become fewer. When I first visited the United States, in the early 1950s, there was a book of popular sociology about "The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit". I am not sure that Brooks Brothers still sell grey flannel suits, though they do still sell the managerial button-down collar. But the debate in the primaries tells me that the man in the grey flannel suit is not happy. And he is a powerful voter. William Rees-Mogg 4 February 2004


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