Friday, April 22, 2005

Could Blair Be a Role Model for US Pols?

New York Times foreign affairs columnist Tom Friedman says that while he can't endorse candidates for President in the US, there's nothing preventing him from touting British Prime Minister Tony Blair for re-election on May 5.

A primary reason is that he sees Blair, who has always been accused of having no core political values, as principled. Writes Friedman:
In deciding to throw in Britain's lot with President Bush on the Iraq war, Mr. Blair not only defied the overwhelming antiwar sentiment of his own party, but public opinion in Britain generally. "Blair risked complete self-immolation on a principle," noted Will Marshall, president of the Progressive Policy Institute, a pro-Democratic U.S. think tank.

Remember, in the darkest hours of the Iraq drama, when things were looking disastrous (and there have been many such hours), Mr. Bush could always count on the embrace of his own party and the U.S. conservative media machine and think tanks.

Tony Blair, by contrast, dined alone.
Agree with the Bush-Blair policy on Iraq, one must grant Friedman's point. In a country where it was unpopular to support the war, Blair has been Mr. Steadfast. Blair's reward has been that irrespective of their feelings about Iraq, Britons still seem to back Blair and his Labour Party. One reason for this may be that the Conservative Party seems incapable of offering viable policy alternatives to the British electorate. The recent propensity of democratic nations, with aging baby boomer populations, for sticking with incumbents may also be at play. All of this may be true. But Blair took what he saw as a principled stand on foreign policy and is apparently on the brink of reaping electoral rewards for it.

Next, Friedman points out, Blair has managed to lead Britain to not only accept, but to readily participate in "the free market and globalization," two fundamental pillars of the world economy for the forseeable future. He's done this while increasing governmental services--there is, of course, no history of federalism in Britain and the government there functions in some ways, as both federal and state governments do here--and few tax increases.

In the meantime, Friedman notes, Blair has managed to "eviscerate" the Conservative Party, forcing it to carp on marginal issues.

All in all, Friedman believes that Blair gives the Democrats here at home something to think about. I think he's right. Blair's future-friendly center-left approach probably could fly in the US. Instead, Democrats sound too much like a party of the past and like Britain's Tories, have often allowed themselves to be marginalized by Republicans. I'm not certain many of them realize this even yet.


RobS said...

The difference in perception between the US and UK is amazing. If Labour lose the election, it will be in no small part a legacy of the Iraq war, not so much because people have strong feelings about the war itself but because Blair is simply no longer trusted, for having taken Britain to war on a false prospectus (not the only issue that has contributed to the climate of distrust, but an important one). Fairly or unfairly, the idea that Blair is a paragon of principle would be laughed at by just about everyone I know. The Conservatives abandoned their jibe "vote Blair, get Brown" when it became clear that most Labour supporters thought this was a rather good plan.

Mark Daniels said...

I don't know if there is a monochromatic perception of Blair in this country or not.

Personally, I've always seen him as something of an opportunist who has made the most of a rather disorganized bunch of Tories. Blair has always been admired by centrist Democrats like Bill Clinton and now by that brand of conservative Republican who were gung-ho for the war in Iraq.

Friedman is a guy with more liberal sensibilities who has been enthusiastic for the war and therefore is undoubtedly predisposed to say good things about Blair.

I wasn't endorsing Blair, but extrapolating from Friedman's observations, which still seem valid to me.

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