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British relations with Washington: the old ways are best

A feature of British reporting on American affairs is that even newspapers that sell themselves as right wing or too grand to take a side in US politics take their tone straight from the Democratic party. For instance, this Times report of the State of the Union address appears in the news section, not the opinion pages, yet in this paragraph

Offering a shopping list of practical plans to speed up growth and give people new ladders of opportunity into the middle class, he told members of Congress: “I’m eager to work with all of you”.

the writer, David Taylor, takes it for granted that President Obama’s plans are “practical” and indubitably will “give people new ladders of opportunity”. Was there not room for a little “intended to” anywhere in that line, Mr Taylor?

Again, this report from Peter Foster in the supposedly right wing Telegraph takes one look at Obama performing the standard politician’s trick of admitting to the fault of excessive reasonableness, and falls in love:

However, that optimism was tempered with a frank admission that America’s politics had become paralysed by the “rancorous argument over the proper size of the federal government”. The president wearily admitted that reversing the tides of decline “won’t happen right away, and we won’t agree on everything.”

We all understand where the problem lies: with the rancorous ones who argue about the proper size of government. If only they would stop doing that our weary hero could rest.

I am ready to be told in the comments that the Dems and the Repubs really are not that different. Allow me to agree in advance. It is just that the way that the Times and Telegraph maintain faithful station like Greyfriars Bobby long after their better paid friends in the Boston Globe and New York Times have noticed that the object of their devotion is politically dead is making a vein throb. Which reminds me, we were not always thus. As the great Malcom Tucker put put it during his visit to Washington (2 minutes 10 seconds into the clip):

“We burnt this tight-arsed city to the ground in 1814 and I’m all for doing it again.”

(Warning: occasional words in the compilation of scenes from In the Loop linked to above are not viciously obscene.)

I note with pride that two hundred years ago arguments about the proper size of the federal government were settled in a decisive yet still gentlemanly fashion. Wikipedia’s account of the burning of Washington says that “The British commander’s orders to burn only public buildings and strict discipline among the British troops are credited with preserving the city’s private buildings.” We even spared one of the more useful government buildings:

It is written that a loaded cannon was aimed at the Patent Office to destroy it. Thornton “put himself before the gun, and in a frenzy of excitement exclaimed: ‘Are you Englishmen or only Goths and Vandals? This is the Patent Office, a depository of the ingenuity of the American nation, in which the whole civilized world is interested. Would you destroy it? If so, fire away, and let the charge pass through my body.’ The effect is said to have been magical upon the soldiers, and to have saved the Patent Office from destruction.

Despite this lapse, Major General Robert Ross did burn to the ground the White House, both houses of Congress, the War Office, the State Department and the Treasury, although I gather someone has rebuilt them since.

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21 comments to British relations with Washington: the old ways are best

  • llamas

    It’s just another example of the ‘received’ narrative about the US that’s accepted and propagated in the UK media. They all do it.

    Pete Seeger died yesterday, good riddance to the unreconstructed Communist and long-time apologist for Stalin. The Guardian described him as being ‘anti-war’ in 1940 – neglecting to note that his anti-war position was highly – selective. He described himself as anti-fascist, but opposed war with with fascist Nazi Germany because it was, at that time, an ally of Stalin’s Russia – and his allegiance to Stalin took precedence over his supposed anti-fascist views. But as soon as the Nazis turned on the Russians, there was no greater cheerleader for war against the fascists than Seeger. They also described him as being ‘blacklisted by McCarthy’, in complete ignorance of the fact that McCarthy never ‘blacklisted’ any entertainer.

    They can write whatever they like about the US, secure in the knowledge that a) nobody will fact check it and b) all of their readers will believe it without question. A lot of their fantasy narrative about the US has been repeated so often that it is now impossible to contradict in the UK – everyone simply ‘knows’ these things are true.



  • Mr Ed

    Maj.-Gen. Ross was perhaps the last person to enter the District of Columbia and achieve something worthwhile, if not enduring.

    The Telegraph is a lost cause, the sooner it sinks the better, and Greyfriars Bobby was at least loyal to his decent master.

    My favourite post on here yet. Thank you.

  • Laird

    Frankly, if the cost of burning DC to the ground is only the Patent Office building, I’ll take it!

    As to the Times article, it’s behind a paywall so I can’t read it. But I did watch* the State of the Union address**, and in my opinion it was the worst speech I have ever seen Obama give. He went through the motions, but basically he just mailed it in. No new programs were proposed, just the rehashing of tired old Democratic nostrums (and not even one mention of his signature “achievement”, Obamacare); no soaring rhetoric (perhaps he wrote the speech himself; there certainly was no evidence of professional craftsmanship); he didn’t even deliver it very well. About all that he accomplished was to repeat that he is going to use more Executive Orders to circumvent Congress (which he’s said before). At least it had the virtue of (relative) brevity, as these things go.

    * Yes, I know it’s pure masochism, but I can’t help myself.

    ** The SOTUA is another legacy of that miserable excuse for a president, Woodrow Wilson. Prior to him, the constitutional requirement that the President “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union” was discharged in a written report. Would that we could return to that tradition, and spare us all this dismal annual spectacle!

  • William T Reeves

    Say it Malcolm, say it! If you need gas money for the conflagration this Missouri boy stands ready and willing.

    We’ll even give backsies and torch Whitehall if you want. Although the Germans have all the real experience in London burning.

  • CaptDMO

    Oddly…., well, to me.
    There was a point in time when I’d tune in to BBC America for a more balanced view, from “outsiders” I suppose, about American national events. Wasn’t perfect, but it was better than MOST of our syndicated
    broadcast/cable stuff.
    I cut the channel (amongst others) when I downgraded my package. (ahem, that’s the American term for cable channels subscribed to you louts)
    “Suddenly”, major news outlets, broadcast and cable, have begun using folks with GB accents on their “panels”, for no apparent reason than to lend some imaginary “authority to their “slant”.

    As it turns out. The only (IMHO) reasoned brit “voice” has been here for YEARS. NONE of the “sudden” pop ups seem to be any insightful or intellectual, than “the script” readers we Americans have been subjected to. Even for amusement sake they’ve become tiresome.

    Does this phenomena exist with American accented dullards in “Brit” news/opinion broadcasting?
    Apparently the Obama worship-cover meme does. What does our IRS “have” on the Times contributors?

  • PersonFromPorlock

    Burning the Patent Office as it now is might not be that bad a thing. Last I heard, more money is now paid per annum to patent attorneys than to inventors.

  • renminbi

    We helped you out twice during the last century’s unpleasantness. Could you please burn that place down for us. That would make us even Steven.

  • max

    So how much will you British charge us to burn down DC this time? And while you’re at it if you could toss in a strike from Canada to Chicago it would be much appreciated. I’m sure Detroit would be better off as part of Canada, and while Oregon would be a bit much to give up the US really doesn’t need both a North AND a South Dakota.

  • Pardone

    The Patent Office is an unnecessary state body.

    Get rid.

    If someone is upset about someone else “stealing” their “idea” they should go to the courts, not some silly and trivial state bureaucracy.

  • Mr Ed

    I initially misread part of the post

    Thornton “put himself before the gun, and in a frenzy of excitement exclaimed:

    Reading ‘frenzy of excitement‘ as ‘frenzy of excrement‘, which might be more accurate for today’s office, and for what might have happened at the time.

  • Snorri Godhi

    It’s not just British media, or else how do you explain the popularity of Obama in every (?) country except the US? and this, at a time when much of Europe is trying to cut spending. (Admittedly, out of necessity.)

    The fact is that there is a myth that politics in the US is somehow “to the right” of other Western countries. I claim that this is neither true nor false: it is simply nonsense, because the concepts of “right” and “left” cannot be applied across national boundaries.
    And yet, it is a useful myth: useful for the Euro. “left”, because they can say: don’t vote for the other lot, or else we’ll end up like the US; and useful for the Euro. “right”, because they can say: don’t worry, we are not as far “right” as the Republicans.
    The myth is also useful on the other side, for similar reasons, except that apparently the US “left” has no inhibitions about wanting to be “more like Europe”.

  • Lee Moore

    I think part of the reason for the ubiquitous pro Democrat pro Obama slant in British (and European) newspapers, including mildly right wing ones, is that they don’t have a budget for foreign newsgathering. They have to scoop up their news about the US by stealing from the available sources. Which are CBS, ABC, NBC, CNN, PBS, the NYT and Washington Post. Plus Reuters, Bloomberg, the Associated Press and AFP. You aren’t going to find anything but the authorised version in any of those. The only place you could possibly go to get US news that isn’t relentlessly pro Democrat, is Fox. And to snooty outfits like the Times and the Telegraph, Fox is horribly brash and bouncy. Not the thing at all.

    It’s a bit like trying to cover the Soviet Union, by reading Pravda and Izvestia. You may find out about the latest 5 year plan and a comet strike in Kazakhstan, but you’re not going to find out about Ukrainian famines unless you send a correspondent there. Which you don’t have a budget for.

    So the only place you can get non Dem-soaked news and comment in a British newspaper is the good old Daily Mail, which is happy to scoop up gossip, innuendo, and the occasional story, from the blogosphere.

  • Lee Moore

    Sorry, I forgot to mention the main source of US stories UK newspapers copy from – the BBC.

  • Mr Ed

    I read somewhere the other day that someone said that he started buying the Daily Telegraph in 1986 to follow Gadaffi’s antics in Chad, when it provided news from its own staff on the ground and in great depth. The current paper is simply unrecognisable. Let us not forget that the Independent’s circulation is to just over 0.1% of the population, c. 67,000 copies a day, which is scarcely more than an East Anglian paper the Eastern Daily Press, which is probably around the 50,000 mark covering East Anglia.

    The doom of the press is near. The urgent need now is to remove the BBC’s State funding through the TV licence and the Consolidated Fund. There is no prospect of Cameron contemplating that, even if the BBC accused him of eating babies on every news show for a week.

  • Paul Marks

    To the Progressive (whether a Marxist Progressive or a Fascist Progressive) talks about “working together” it is always to make the government bigger – not smaller.

    And, yes, there is the automatic assumption that if the collective (or rather the leaders of the collective) really WANT to do something – their policy to achieve it will achieve it (by definition).

    Among Fascist Progressives this is known as the “Triumph of the Will”.

    Mussolini (formally a leading Marxist – and a socialist till the day he died) held that WILL trumped reason – and the National Socialists held the same point of view.

    Marxist Progressives dismiss reason as a “capitalist” thing, simply an “ideological” justification for the “workers” not getting what they deserve.

    So when one tells the President “your polices will not work – the natural laws of reason dictate that your polices will do harm, not good”. What the President (and his supporters) actually hear is…….

    “I am against the noble objectives of your policies – because I am servant of the selfish capitalists”.

    This is what a life time of “Critical Theory” university education has led the Progressives to.

  • Gasoline is relatively cheap here and I’ll chip in to the burn fund to the tune of 10 gallons or so. Even better, the stuff produced here in Colorado is made from oil retrieved by fracking.

    Mr Ed: Comment of the day for sure.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Lee Moore is probably correct about the cause of the problem; and of course the BBC is influential also in continental Europe. I first look at their web site every morning, for instance.
    My previous remark was only about why politicians find it convenient not to question the stereotype.

  • llamas

    @ Pardone, who wrote:

    ‘The Patent Office is an unnecessary state body.

    Get rid.

    If someone is upset about someone else “stealing” their “idea” they should go to the courts, not some silly and trivial state bureaucracy.’

    You misunderstand the role of the US Patent Office. All that the Patent Office does is document and provide referrable results. If you want to protect your US Patent rights, you must go to the court yourself (as an individual or a corporate entity) and persuade the court that your rights have been infringed. The US Patent Office does not become involved in questions of patent property rights or infringements, anymore than the DMV would become involved in issues involving whether or not you should be allowed to keep your driver’s license.

    The US Patent Office (for all its flaws, and they are legion) is one of the few arms of the Federal government that actually performs a useful and legitimate purpose in defining individuals’ rights in intellectual property and (tangentially) in promoting healthy commerce and human advancement. If you are looking for a suitable Federal agency to reduce to ashes, there are at least a dozen, the immolation of which would do far more good for the citizenry than the USPTO. I’d start with Agriculture, myself, and use any leftover gasoline at Education, but that’s just me.



  • Mr Ed

    Does Obama’s SOTU speech count as a drone strike?

  • dfwmtx

    If y’all do come back over here to collect the back taxes we owe, please also refrain from burning down the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian. Those are some of the only important and justifiable institutions in the D.C. area. Just don’t pack them up and take them back to Britain; the British Museum is already too big for just a day visit.

  • Libertarian

    As Gary North said in his article, “Tricked on the Fourth of July”:

    I do not celebrate the fourth of July. This goes back to a term paper I wrote in graduate school. It was on colonial taxation in the British North American colonies in 1775. Not counting local taxation, I discovered that the total burden of British imperial taxation was about 1% of national income. It may have been as high as 2.5% in the southern colonies.

    Whole article here: