From language, culture, music, and history, there are many similarities between Great Britain and the United States. The common origins which likely account for such similarities between these two “English-Speaking” peoples, as the half-English, half-American former Prime Minister described us as, were torn apart by the War of Independence. This division, the result of English ideas of liberty applied to free-born Englishmen, created at least one significant and enduring difference; how we organize ourselves politically.
Unlike Britain, America has a written constitution and a division of powers. America has a federal structure, Britain a unitary one. America is a Presidential Republic, Britain a Parliamentary Monarchy. Despite the fact that these important differences are becoming less stark, differences remain. They were born largely from a desire by the nascent republic to distance itself from the tyranny and liberty destroying impulses of a Monarchical Britain which had failed to live up to the standards many Colonialists, as Englishmen first and foremost, expected it to. And so it is supremely ironic that today, compared to Cameron’s Government, Obama responds to his own peoples’ wishes about as much as the Detroit City Police Department responds to a noisy neighbour.
Whilst the fact that both Americans and Britons share a similar set of concerns is further proof that there is much in common between these countries, their Government’s differing responses to them also reveal an interesting difference; the people are listened to by Cameron’s Government, they are lectured to by Obama. These common concerns are immigration, public spending and the national debt, and Syria and foreign policy more generally.
The latest Economist/Ipsos Mori poll finds immigration to be Britons’ second-largest concern, falling just below the economy. By contrast, three percent of Americans consider it the most pressing issue, or eighth out of eight different issues surveyed. Whilst far from reducing net migration to ‘the tens of thousands’, Cameron has at least reduced it from just over 250,000 in 2010 to 176,000 in December 2012. Cameron has implemented policies, and expended at least some political capital, in bringing about this change.
Obama, however, is expending even more political capital on this subject. However, whilst Cameron is steering government policy towards his peoples’ preferences, Obama is steering away. The fact that so few Americans consider immigration an important issue raises questions about why amnesty is absorbing so much of the President’s time and energy, especially when one considers that most Americans prefer enforcement before amnesty, rather than the President’s proposed amnesty before promises of enforcement later. Promises which are likely as hollow as the insides of the passenger seats of cars crossing the border at those last few remaining checkpoints lacking in thermal imaging equipment.
The federal budget deficit was the second most important issue facing America according to Americans in July, with 70% describing action as “essential”. A Pew Research Poll shows us that whilst 76% of Americans want a combination of spending cuts and tax increases, of these 54% want mostly cuts and only 16% want mostly tax rises. Further, 19% want only spending cuts whereas only 3% want only tax rises. Thus, the emphasis is clearly on spending cuts.
Not only does Obama not have a plan despite this issue’s importance, but his public musings, whilst speaking of a mixed approach, certainly emphasise the tax rises Americans generally reject. To date, Obama has demonstrated his predilection for tax rises with the fiscal cliff deal where, despite Obama’s strong support for lubricating the financial system through Quantitative Easing, refused even to lube himself up before so royally screwing Boehner. Across the pond a majority of Brits favour reducing the deficit, and a majority still through the spending cuts Cameron is implementing in acknowledgement.
And we see the same pattern with Syria. 58% of Britons and 65% of Americans oppose any intervention. Cameron, as a liberal internationalist just like Obama, supported the war in Syria. It would seem Cameron, however, is concerned with the exercise of democracy at home as well as its imposition abroad. And so he gave it to Parliament to decide, even though the British constitution does not require Parliamentary approval for a declaration of war. He lost.
Obama, by contrast, gave every indication he would not seek Congressional approval, similarly to Libya (despite himself arguing this is unconstitutional before he became President). He was embarrassed into doing so by Cameron’s decision. Nevertheless, Obama still maintains that he has not yet decided whether he will even listen to Congress should they vote against intervention, arguing the final decision remains his. In America, of course, The Constitution specifically states Congress shall have the power to declare war.
Cameron listens to Parliament because it is the right way to behave. Obama listens to Congress, but only if they behave in the right way.
Whether this is a long-term trend or an aberration, today Britain’s government is more responsive to its people than is America’s.