Always fascinating is the manner in which British and American political trends seem to flow in tandem, a dynamic that seems resolute to continue unabated. Despite President Obama’s attempt to form a “special relationship” with U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, manufacturing similarities between the two in order to provide a sense of validity to Obama’s own failed presidency, the reality is that President Obama is much more similar to ousted Labourite Gordon Brown than Cameron. Obama and Brown both emanated from the unreformed Old Left in their respective parties, and like Prime Minister Brown, I suspect that President Obama’s bid for re-election will not end well for the current White House occupant. Barring any major changes in the dynamics of the race for the Republican nomination over the next couple of months, an Obama loss will mean a Romney presidency, and that will give both the U.S. and the U.K. a very similar type of leader, one who, for better or for worse, breaks both from the revolutionary style of his party’s base and from the policy orientation of the opposition party.
The path that took the nations of the Anglosphere on both sides of the Pond to this moment has been similar for everyone involved. The Anglosphere’s rejection of Continental European models of social democracy three decades ago led to the rule of Reagan and Thatcher, who did their best to steer the Anglosphere onto a trajectory somewhat different from the rest of the Western world. Both were followed by tepid and somewhat embattled successors in George H.W. Bush and John Major, each haplessly reigning in the shadow of his predecessor. Then came the great NeoLiberal moment, with Bill Clinton and Tony Blair promising a Third Way for the Anglosphere that would marry economic freedom with domestic largesse, the latter financed via loose credit. George W. Bush then came onto the scene and continued the NeoLiberal domestic policies of buy-now, pay-later, adding to the credit card a series of adventures in the Middle East, efforts which were supported and endorsed by Blair.
By the late 2000s, though, the NeoLiberal-NeoConservative dream had been decimated from within, as easy credit turned into bad credit, resulting in a financial collapse, and as the denizens residing in the sands of Arabia stubbornly refused to trade Sharia for Snooki. This collapse in both economic confidence and geopolitical prowess took down both the Houses of Bush and Clinton and left the Anglosphere with two leftists who just happened to be in the right place at the right time: Gordon Brown and Barack Obama.
The notion that the Anglosphere longed to return to a pre-Reagan/Thatcher political model though was soon upended, as was demonstrated by Brown’s quick exit from 10 Downing and President Obama’s brief honeymoon prior to losing public confidence and giving Republicans their largest House majority in many decades. Were Congress able to call a vote of no-confidence in the Executive Branch, Obama would already be gone. And as things currently stand, the candidate who will depose Obama on behalf of the Republican Party bears many striking similarities to the current British Prime Minister who ended Brown’s reign and brought the Tories back to power.
Both Cameron and Romney emanate from upper-income backgrounds, a fact that was used against Cameron in his bid for Prime Minister and that has and will continue to be used against Romney as well. Both bring with them the sense of Noblesse Oblige that prevents them from taking on entitlements in the manner that more middle class conservative politicians such as Reagan and Thatcher were able to pull off. With the exception of Romney’s brief flirtation with the world of v-chips in personal computers during his 2008 campaign, neither Cameron nor Romney seem particularly angry at modern culture, and both are sufficiently urbane as to avoid the knuckle-dragger image that scares away urban and suburban educated swing voters.
Interestingly, both Cameron’s campaign last year and Romney’s campaign this year have involved reassuring voters that they will protect their nations’ most popular entitlements. Cameron specifically ran an ad campaign promising to “cut the deficit, not the NHS,” referring to the British National Health Service, something of a third rail over in the U.K. Meanwhile, Romney, when contrasting himself with Gov. Perry in recent weeks, has deemed himself the candidate who wants to “save Social Security.” In a way, both Cameron and Romney are running campaigns that give validation to core elements of the 20th Century welfare state of their respective nations, breaking from the more revolutionary elements of their parties that are seeking a more transformational endeavor.
Whatever one thinks of this approach, the reality is that David Cameron is now the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and the leader of the Conservative Party, and that Mitt Romney will probably be the next President of the United States and the leader of the Republican Party. What lies ahead is anyone’s guess though. The fact that Labour now leads Cameron’s Tories in polls of British voters shows the difficulty that any conservative leader will face amidst continued economic malaise and unpopular spending cuts. The moment President Romney takes office, his demise will become the primary goal of such diverse figures as Hillary Clinton and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, all of whom will be humming “Hail to the Chief” as they prepare for the race for 2016. It’s certainly possible that both Cameron and Romney will succeed in their efforts to chart a new, center-right approach to governance in their respective nations that is neither a diet version of their left-wing opposition nor a storm-the-palaces approach as desired by those on their right flank. It’s also possible that such a strategy will end up pleasing no one, angering everyone, and paving the way for the return of Labour and the Democrats to the helm of the Anglosphere later in the decade.