Blair, like Margaret Thatcher before Him, Is Popular in the US Precisely Because He Is So Often Reviled in His Own Country. He Has Shown His Commitment to the American Way. (America)

By Stephen, Andrew | New Statesman (1996), July 21, 2003 | Go to article overview
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Blair, like Margaret Thatcher before Him, Is Popular in the US Precisely Because He Is So Often Reviled in His Own Country. He Has Shown His Commitment to the American Way. (America)


Stephen, Andrew, New Statesman (1996)


I was talking to a senior member of the Bush administration the other day, and I asked him why he thought Tony Blair was so popular in the United States. "Because he puts principles above polls," he replied. "An unprincipled politician does what the polls tell him." It was an interesting perception of a man now practically reviled in his own country: that Blair is popular in the US despite his fellow countrymen, not because of them.

American views of the British, I've always found, are much more complicated than a superficial analysis might suggest. There is still residual mistrust dating from the revolution; but that is for the nation as a whole, rather than for individuals. Margaret Thatcher achieved similar heroic status to Blair, but--and this is the widespread American view--it was for knocking an ungrateful country into shape and clobbering the unions. Both Blair and Thatcher, in fact, have been the subject of idolatry in the US that is in inverse proportion to the regard with which they are held in their own country; each is seen as a leader who has followed the American Way rather than the British.

Blair, above all, is seen as articulate--which is not that hard when nearly all his public utterances in the US are made alongside Boy George. Personally, I find his performances with Bush to be fey and peculiarly embarrassing, especially when he is presenting new, highly dodgy "intelligence" culled from that morning's edition of the New York Times (see NS, 16 September 2002). But Americans are always prone to stereotype foreigners, and we should never be fooled into thinking that speaking the same language (or a similar one) makes the two countries less foreign to each other.

I find that when Americans hear my British accent, they tend to assume I'm clever and well educated--and that I have a broader vocabulary than them. (This last may be true; I find I often dumb down my conversations with Americans.)

This is the stereotype into which Blair conveniently fits: that he is cleverer and better educated than American leaders, and that he speaks from a wider vocabulary (again, probably true). Ever since Thatcher's days, there has been a cult following among the chattering classes here for the Sunday-night cable television screenings of Prime Minister's Questions. Dealing with roars of disapproval and heckling is an experience unknown to American politicians, and brings much admiration if the Prime Minister can make his or her words resonate above the hubbub, and even more admiration if he or she appears to be getting the better of the yelling and nasty hordes.

But Britons should not be fooled into believing that what they think matters to the Americans. The Bush administration was not in the least reluctant, for example, to land Blair and Britain in it by letting it be known that the forged "intelligence" about Saddam seeking uranium from Niger (which Bush used in his State of the Union address) came from Britain rather than from the CIA or other US intelligence sources.

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Blair, like Margaret Thatcher before Him, Is Popular in the US Precisely Because He Is So Often Reviled in His Own Country. He Has Shown His Commitment to the American Way. (America)
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