Monday, 16 August 2010

Steer clear of the American style.

There seems to be a fascination in the UK about just how close our country is to the US. There is plenty of talk of 'Special Relationships' and how the two country's share some kind of unique bond. Our leader's, whoever they may be at any time, are always eager to look like they're great friends and I get the feeling that people tend to feel closer to Americans (possibly simply because of the shared language) than they do to our much closer neighbours in France and Germany. Indeed, to say you like the French or Germans is very unusual indeed, however tongue-in-cheek the animosity is. But exactly how close are we, and should we really be looking across the pond for a friend and inspiration? (Edit: I've just noticed I've been getting quite a lot of visitors from the US, I'd love to know what you guys think?)

I'd suggest that whilst we might want an ally, we certainly don't want to be looking for inspiration.

A lot of commentators seemed to get very excited by the American presidential election back in 2008. Look how exciting it is, they would say, look how much people care. They wondered why it wasn't like that in the UK.  There are probably many reasons why, but I think one that really screams out to me is how completely divided their politics is. None of our main political parties are as right-wing as the Republicans and despite the fact that you could hardly call the Democrat's left-wing by any reasonable measure there remains a huge void. In the UK our party's have been pulled toward the centre, not least by the fear of losing votes to the Lib Dem's. Not so in the US.

To see what I'm talking about you need only look back as far as the health care bill which caused such a stir in America. It was a country mile short of being anything close to Universal Health Care, if someone had suggested replacing the NHS with what they now have after the bill they'd have been labelled a right-wing nut job. Yet to Americans, this clearly sensible first step was outrageous. Thousands took to Capitol Hill protesting against 'Socialised Medicine' and all the evils it would bring. Completely ignoring of course the fact that America languishes far behind the rest of the developed world in every published ranking of national health systems despite spending three times as much per citizen as the UK. It's inefficient, two-tier, completely indefensible, yet even the American Medical association, who should have patients interests at heart, refuse to accept it needs changing.

Much of this comes from another frailty in American politics, its complete openness to corruption from big business and pressure groups. With their seeming devotion to free markets it is a natural extension that if you have enough money, you can pay for a politician to do what you want. So if money talks, who's doing the paying out? Well, in 200, the year George Bush Jr. was elected, oil and gas companies splashed out $34 million, with 78% of that going to their right-wing chums in the Republican party. And in a three-year period from 2003-2006, they contributed an extra $58 million to state campaigns. How much say did companies providing alternative, clean energy get? About as much as you could buy for $500,000. Not very much at all in comparison. Maybe enough for a passing reference in the senate with a free lollipop thrown in for good measure.

But I mustn't pretend it's only big business that's influencing how the American system is set up. Oh no, they have other all powerful forces. The two that spring fastest to mind are the gun lobby, and the religious right. Fail to appease them, and your political career will come to a sudden and abrupt end.

God gives you morals. Just like the ones he gave these guys.
It's a mystery in itself that the US has such a massive religious presence. In the UK where we have a state church, 63% of us say we 'Are not religious', including half of those people who said they were Christian. It seems that in Britain, we can be a cultural christian, without actually believing in a God. A massive 82% of us also said that 'religion was a cause of division and tension'. This paints a picture of an increasingly secular society which is very wary indeed of the ill effects of religion. Now to cast our eye across the pond and the picture is striking. Despite the American separation of church and state and it clearly being stated by American founders that 'the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion', only 16% of people are not affiliated to a religion. (Though that still marks a massive increase on previous figures.)

These religious groups wield massive power and have in the past stopped stem cell research going ahead and made liberalising abortion laws near impossible, and generally halting the advance of science at every possible junction. The greatest act of suicide a politician could make would be coming out as an atheist, with some speculating that Obama himself only follows religion so as to prevent him being kicked out of politics.

He has a similar name, ergo he's the same person.
We in Europe have a rather different way of doing things. We strive for equality and aren't afraid to go left in our politics. Whilst the Americans scream socialism we simply debate. It may not be a perfect system we have, but I certainly think we have the balance much better than our friends over the atlantic. If we're going to look for inspiration, lets look to Europe, not the USA.

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