Brian Birdnow
Last week David Brooks, the faux-conservative columnist at the New York Times penned a column extolling the British national political system. The piece, written to coincide with President Obama’s visit to Europe, praised Britain for moving to social democracy in the early Twentieth Century. He concedes that overt socialism nearly wrecked the British system during the 1960s and 70s, but maintains, quite sensibly, that the estimable Margaret Thatcher tackled Britain’s problems (although the New York Times roundly chastised her) and that subsequent governments, both Conservative and Labor, consolidated those gains. Brooks waxes rhapsodic about the end result: A Britain that has moved "from a centralized, industrial era state to a networked, postindustrial one" whatever that means.

In praising the British system and the politicos who work the levers Brooks inadvertently reveals a number of biases of his own and reveals weaknesses as a theorist of reputedly conservative leanings. Brooks lavishes praise on the British system as "a picture of how politics should work." He doesn’t bother with the fact that many Britons do not work; he only claims that British politics function. In this broad claim he misses the point that political life is not synonymous with a national culture. Britain today suffers from most of the same ills plaguing America, often to a greater extent. British illegitimacy rates have soared to 70%, their welfare dependency rate exceeds ours, and Britons seem to accept 15% unemployment rates as the new normal. Certainly, Britain suffers from unchecked third-world immigration, and the Islamic terror threat is a daily reality, as anyone who has passed through Heathrow Airport in the last six years can attest (your humble TH columnist was instructed to arrive at Heathrow at 3:15 AM for an 8:00 AM flight during the summer of 2006). Still David Brooks tells his readers that Britain works, and Mr. Brooks is an honorable man.

After singing the praises of the British system, David Brooks cannot help himself but to take potshots at the American scene. He mentions, "…Britain is also blessed with a functioning political culture. It is dominated by people who live in London and who have often known each other since prep school." Are we so different? American national politics are dominated by people who live in Washington and have known each other since they were elected. Never mind that they are the same people who got us into this mess in the first place.


Brian Birdnow

Brian E. Birdnow is a historian and teaches at a university in the St. Louis area.