American credentials, British bureaucracy

Photo by Vectorportal.
Photo by Vectorportal.

Elections make more sense in Britain. Like the British collegiate system, it is much more merit based than in the States. David Cameron holds a first-degree from a top-ranked school in a top-ranked department. He—like all other Prime Ministers—had to rise through the ranks of Parliament before being considered for the top position. And, best of all, he is just a politician—a technocrat left to the real duties of governing, while the Queen takes the lion’s share of representing a national image.

Their elections also cost less. Much less. Less time is spent draining the public’s attention; less money is wasted on redundant advertising; overall less pomp but much more efficient. The people elect MPs, the MPs represent a party, and the party chooses its leader. The Prime Minister is faced with the logistical reality of organizing the party and managing a government. Parliament on the BBC is a better show than C-SPAN sessions of congress. MPs literally have to stand up and defend themselves.

The US president is head of state as well as head of the government—a superhuman task, especially in an age of global media. The president is Commander-in-Chief, head of the executive branch. As First Lord of the Treasury and Minister for the Civil Service, the Prime Minister is set for a much more humble role, a position of technocratic management and civic duty. It is ironic that the US—founded against the tyranny of British despots—celebrates, elevates and almost yearns for an autocratic leader.

During the US primary conventions, when President Obama and Mr Romney accepted their respective nominations, both candidates had to prove they were authentic Americans. “My dad had been born in Mexico,” Mr Romney began, explaining his rise to governor of Michigan. President Obama described “the values [his] grandfather defended as a soldier in Patton’s Army.” These stories were laid out as their American credentials, proof that they understand and live by the glory of an American dream.

David Cameron’s history is unequivocally British—a fifth cousin once removed from the Queen—but it doesn’t really matter. He was raised in the establishment, educated at the top schools, and has spent a successful career in politics. His family tree is ripe with British achievement. As Prime Minister, David Cameron doesn’t represent any greater notions of quasi-mythical statehood or nationalism—and neither does his position require him to. He is head of government; the Queen is head of state.

Some American Dream. It’s “the basic bargain at the heart of America’s story,” for President Obama, or “the essence of the American experience,” with Mr Romney. Really it is just distracting. Mr Romney emphasizes freedom, Mr Obama asserts shared responsibility—but it is all vague. The British Empire was built on good management, not ideals. This election will be tight, the campaigns already sparing over voter fraud. Both parties and their leaders should be held directly accountable for the outcome.


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