Geoffrey Wheatcroft: US Politics Today is as Absurd as Britain's Under George III

Roundup: Media's Take

Geoffrey Wheatcroft is a British journalist and writer.

It could have been much worse. Most Europeans, even conservatives, were dreading the prospect of President Mitt Romney, an obvious fraud whose voters are angry ageing white men and whose sponsors are half nasty and half crazy. And there was an almost worse prospect, of a rerun of 2000 and the grotesque farce in Florida – or alternatively of Barack Obama winning a majority in the preposterous electoral college but not a majority of the popular vote, and having his legitimacy challenged by the Republican for the next four years.

Even as it is, the situation in Washington is bad enough, as the re-elected Obama faces a bitterly hostile House of Representatives, yet again a dismal reflection of the American political system. No doubt anti-Americanism can take odious forms, but pro-Americanism is almost more curious. Not only the Anglo-neocons infesting the Tory party but some Labour politicians – Gordon Brown as well as Tony Blair – and liberal pundits are infatuated by all things American, including their written constitution, and a political culture which we are told we should emulate. To the contrary, without being complacent or excessively patriotic, I suggest we have nothing at all to learn about politics from across the Atlantic.

In their way, the founding documents of the American republic are very remarkable. The Declaration of Independence, the constitution and the Bill of Rights are written in limpid Augustan prose which can be read for literary pleasure, a contrast indeed to the equivalent documents of the European Union, from the Treaty of Rome to the abortive constitution, with their rebarbative bureaucratese. And never mind the fact that the declaration demands a free hand to deal with "merciless Indian savages" or that the constitution implicitly recognises the institution of slavery.

The trouble was that the constitution was set in stone, or at least on parchment...

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