Brits Borrowing from American Political Playbook
The British have borrowed one of the most popular American political institutions by holding a series of televised debates among their three candidates for prime minister. It appears to have been a success, at least in heightening public interest in the race.
In 1992, the three-way debates among Bill Clinton, the senior George Bush and
Conventional political wisdom about such debates is that an incumbent is unwise to give a challenger an equal platform. But in the latest British contest, Brown was trailing Cameron in the polls and presumably agreed to debate for that reason, basically disregarding Clegg at the time.
In that earlier American election, Perot won 19 percent of the vote but Clinton was an easy winner, in both the debates and the final outcome. Some thought Bush sealed his defeat with a gaffe -- appearing disengaged in one of the debates, the camera catching him glancing at his wristwatch as if impatient for it to be over.
At any rate, Clegg, like Perot, caught the public's attention, and Brown in the first two debates didn't fare very well among the press and other unofficial referees. So the third debate was the incumbent's chance to recover. Then came a gaffe of his own.
On the eve of the debate, he was caught by an open microphone calling an old Labor voter "a bigoted woman" after a contentious exchange with her over immigration policy. Brown was obliged to go see her and apologize at length for the conduct he said left him "mortified."
In the final three-way debate, he felt it imperative to make reference to the gaffe, observing at the outset that "there is a lot to this job and, as you saw yesterday, I don't get all of it right." But, he insisted, "I do know how to run the economy in good times and bad." To the latter, both Cameron and Clegg strongly dissented, leaving Brown again appearing to be the odd man out as he sought to take the fight to Cameron, the Conservative frontrunner.
Although the state of the economy is the central substantive issue in the campaign, Brown's off-the-cuff remark to an aide not intended for public ears dominated the coverage in the British press and on British television. American TV featured it as well. In the final debate, the immigration issue that had prompted Brown's unfortunate comment generated heated argument among the candidates.
If Brown loses the election on
Inevitably, the collapse of public support for his Labor predecessor, Tony Blair, over his conspicuous partnership with the junior President Bush in the invasion of
In the recent extensive review of that British commitment by a blue-ribbon investigatory commission, Brown testified that as chancellor of the exchequer he confined himself largely to assuring that British troops serving would have all their needs provided.
As for the prime minister's now-celebrated gaffe, he can take consolation in the history that such slips of the tongue are seldom politically fatal. Ronald Reagan easily survived his fictitious "nuclear bombing" of the
More recently, despite Joe Biden's careless whispered profanity to President Obama about the momentous significance of health care reform picked up by another open mike, he's still the vice president.
Available at Amazon.com:
Read the latest political news.
- How Government Can Make the American Public Happy
- The Elephant's Tin Ear
- Sarah Palin Headed to NRA Convention
- Charlie Crist, Dan Coats and the Republican Purge Movement
- On Inclusiveness GOP Just Cannot Win
- Energy - Climate Bill Stalled in the Senate
- Census Reports Less Backlash Than Expected
- Congress Had a Role in the Financial Crisis
- White House Expects Battle Over Supreme Court Nominee
- How to Prepare Obama's Supreme Court Nominee
- Jeb Bush Leads Fight for Immigration Reform
- Why Don't They Come Legally? They Can't
- Shame on Arizona
- States' Rights (and Wrongs)
- School Competition Restores Hope
- Blame Those Dogged Liberals
- BP Oil Spill Calamity: Having to Play Defense
- Drill, Baby, Drill? Make BP Pay
- Gulf Spill Can Kill Our Tourist Season
- Brits Borrowing from American Political Playbook
- Guns vs. Butter 2010
- Obama Edge on Financial Reform
- Resisting Wall Street Reform
- Time to Break up the Big Banks
- Obama Criticism of Arizona Immigration Law Ignores Federal Incompetence
- Arizona's Illegal Immigration Catch
- Open Season on Latinos in Arizona
- Arizona Takes Off Its 'Rainbow Shades'
- Arizona's Ugly but Necessary Immigration Law
- What Obama Can Learn From Bush
- Obama's Promise to Work With Foreign Governments
- Voter Anger Could Doom Democrats in Fall Elections
- Midterm Congressional Elections: Replicating Obama 2008
- Fran Hawthorne Discusses 'The Overloaded Liberal'
- Obama Should Not Appoint Another Appeals Judge to Supreme Court
- Presidents and Wars: Of Laureates and Cowboys
- Come November, 'The Fire Next Time'?
- Slick Willie Is Back and He's After the Tea Party
- Timing of Tea Party's Rise is Telling
- Tea Parties a Delayed Bush Backlash
- The Starving Armenians
- Capitalism vs. Capitalists
- Independent Charlie Crist Will Be Fun to Watch
- Prayer and State
- Obama Aims to Escape Washington Bubble
- Obama America's World Leader
- West Virginia Mining Disaster and Financial Crisis Have Same Root Cause
- Congressional Pig Book: Pigs at the Trough
- Five Reasons Harry Reid Can Win Reelection
- Clarence Thomas for President or Budget Boss
- Replacing Justice Stevens
- Empathy and the Supreme Court
- America Needs a Proud Liberal on the Supreme Court
- Fear Factor: Swine Flu, Nuclear Weapons, Reacting to Doom
- Women Leading and Stirring Tea Party Movement
- Watch What Obama Says Not What He Does on Cap and Trade Off-Shore Drilling
- Media Cheers Obama Ignores Tea Party Movement
- Tea Party and the Press: The Inconvenience of Truth
- Tea Parties Bust and Believe Stereotypes
- Tea Party Protesting the Protestors
- Republicans Doing Banks' Bidding
- To John McCain's Integrity: Rest in Peace
- How Much Taxation Is Enough
- Obama & Democrats Face Brighter Political Future
- Internet Was Buzzing About Healthcare But Obama Buzz Dropped
- United States - 5 Ways to Keep America Great
- Rise of Political Extremism and the Decline of Decency
- Why Democrats Should Try Bipartisanship
- Justice Gives up Bungled Abramoff-Related Lobbying Case
- Obama's Climate Czar Working Toward National Energy Policy
- Obama: Gold Standard of Manners
- Obama's Offshore Oil Decision Has Political Dimension
- Ongoing Melodrama of Victims and Oppressors
- Nuclear Roulette: The Obama Doctrine
- Pivot to Foreign Policy: American-Russian Cooperation
- Republicans Need a Plan B for Health Care
- Obamacare: The Eye of the Storm
- Health Care Bill - Aroused Vox Populi
- Michael Steele: GOP Leadership Dilemma
- Michael Steele fights GOP Culture Gap
- If We Europeanize Europe Is in Trouble
- The Next Injustice - Supreme Court Nominations
- Obama & Democrats Go On Attack
- Clash of the Titans: President Vs. Supreme Court
- Carville to Democrats: Pray Now to Avoid Disaster in November
- Simple measure could be top weapon against global warming
- Jim DeMint, Blanche Lincoln and Perils of Progressive Purity Politics
- Sean Hannity Names Obama's 15 Most Radical Aides
- Case for Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour in 2012 Presidential Race
- The Road to Bipartisan Financial Reform
- Tea Party Will Test GOP's Cat-Herding Skills
- Angry but Engaged Electorate
- Obama on the Rebound
- Obama's Self-Vindication
- GOP Tactical Contradiction
- Obama: The Same Old Drill
- The Hostility Follies
- Definition of Political 'Freakout'
- We Must Respect Families and Small Business
- In GOP a Black Comeback
- Right's Anger Could Backfire
- What Would Newt Gingrich Do
- Newt Gingrich Interview
- Drill, Baby, Drill! Obama Embraces Offshore Drilling
- Standing Up for Life or Something Else
- Al-Qaeda has Lost the Battle. But has it Won the War?
Brits Borrowing from American Political Playbook | Politics
(c) 2010 Jules Witcover