Britain likes Obama, even without the illusions
August 29th, 2012
10:36 AM ET

Britain likes Obama, even without the illusions

By Lord Chris Smith, Special to CNN

Editor's note: Chris Smith is a member of Britain’s House of Lords and a former Secretary of State for Culture and Media in the Tony Blair government. This is the second in a new series looking at how the world sees the U.S. election, and what the Obama presidency has meant for ties with other countries. The views expressed are the author's own.

When Barack Obama was running for office four years ago, and then being triumphantly elected that November, the overwhelming view in Britain was that he was exciting, intelligent, inspirational, and offered the chance to move away decisively from the dark shadow that George W. Bush had cast over virtually the whole of the rest of the world. Polls taken here regularly showed between 70 percent and 80 percent favorability for Obama, a view shared right across the political spectrum.

The Bush effect should not be underestimated. We had all watched with fascinated horror as the Florida ballots were counted and re-counted back in 2000. We had been shocked and moved by 9/11, and had wanted to stand shoulder to shoulder with our American friends. But we had been appalled by the decision to go to war in Iraq, and the mishandling of everything that followed. We were already puzzled by the close affection apparently demonstrated by our own prime minister, Tony Blair, towards Bush; but when he plunged into Iraq alongside him Blair’s popularity and support in Britain took a nose-dive – and has never really recovered. Obama offered something very new and different, and we loved what we saw.

Four years on, things are different – inevitably – but not hugely so. There is less of the excitement and inspiration, yes, and there is considerable disappointment that he hasn’t lived wholly up to the promise of the earlier campaign. The disappointment, though, is tempered by an acknowledgment that it has been almost impossible for him to get anything through a deadlocked Congress, and most British politicians are heartily glad that we don’t have the same extreme balance of power here. A British government can, within reason, get on and do what it sets out to do: held to account by the court of public opinion, of course, but able to govern with a much greater degree of certainty.

Despite the deadlocks and the willful “oppositionalism” of the Republicans, however, there is general admiration for the fact that he has managed to achieve quite a lot: the stimulus package (in contrast to the austerity approach that is bedevilling European recovery), the health care reforms, and a more open-hearted approach to international relations, especially. A clear majority of the British people would endorse a second Obama term without hesitation.

In case you might be thinking that “he would say this, wouldn’t he” – being a politician of the center-left – I would hasten to point out that this is a view shared by most of my Conservative friends and colleagues too. You have only to look at the nature of the Republican Party to see the reason why. The Republican Party of Eisenhower and Rockefeller has vanished, and in its place has come a hard-right, anti-government, socially conservative, economically extreme-liberal party that somehow manages to convey a combination of callousness and nastiness almost as a matter of pride. The labeling of the British National Health Service as a creation of Soviet-style tyranny is a case in point. The NHS carries massive support across every single political party in Britain, and is deeply loved and cherished. The denial of the reality of climate change is another. The fact that our global climate is changing, already, as a result of man-made emissions is – again – accepted across the political spectrum here. The proposal to legislate for gay marriage has come, here in Britain, from a Conservative prime minister. The Republicans are simply way out of step with the British center-right.

There’s another worry with the Republicans, too. If a Romney-Ryan administration were to take over, especially with a Republican Congress behind them, dominated by voices from the Tea Party, the likelihood is that economic policy in America – pulling back sharply on public spending and programs whilst liberating the wealth of the wealthy – would plunge the U.S. economy back into recession. The world needs a growing U.S. economy in order to begin to recover, itself. Our British economy needs a progressive, growth-orientated American administration in order to be able to pick itself back off the floor.

So “Obama without illusions” is where the British are placed right now. We know the current president isn’t perfect – even if we permitted ourselves a brief hope, four years ago, that he might be. But he’s the very best we have, or are likely to have, and we’re all keeping our fingers firmly crossed for November 6.

soundoff (580 Responses)
  1. peggy Munro

    The Brits, as many of us do realize that with the other party it will be The Bishop and his flock of Americans.

    August 29, 2012 at 4:43 pm |
  2. Teluu

    The republican right are people who are born with rotten Umbilical cord with hate embedded in them with their brains full of fairy tales, suicidal and of course silly apolitical beliefs which has no bases in real life.

    August 29, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
  3. spencer

    British are loving the fact that the US is spending itself deeper and deeper into debt to help prop them and the rest of the EU up. I also love the commet about "liberating the wealth of the wealthy". The GOP wants to extend the tax breaks for EVERYONE, not just the rich. Who does he think funds the government, anyway? The top 10% of wage earner paid nearly 70% of all Federal income taxes, while the bottom 46% paid NOTHING in Federal income tax. In fact, may of these also recieved checks from the government in one form or another.

    August 29, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
  4. heraldofwhoa

    "In case you might be thinking that “he would say this, wouldn’t he”", you could have stopped right there and been done.
    Sorry my limey friend, we don't want to be you, which is what you are really saying. You can tow the line or get off the coat-tails thank you very much.

    August 29, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
  5. WillyWalnuts

    It should be no surprise that Socialist England likes the current President of the USA.

    August 29, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
  6. jeff

    The republicans are extreme for the human race.

    August 29, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
    • spencer

      If you mean extremely good, then you are correct.

      August 29, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
  7. southernwonder

    when you go around london you get this feeling that some guy is going to ambush you. it is hard to feel safe there without a gun.

    August 29, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
    • southernwonder

      the biritsh election is just 2 week affair. their election campaigns are state supported. it is a rush-hush thing and the voters are not given enough time to think through; they don't get a day off to vote. of course, they think they are a democracy. such delusion!

      August 29, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
  8. HenryMiller

    "Britain likes Obama, even without the illusions"

    Then Britain is welcome to him–maybe he can run for PM after he gets through ruining the American economy. Let him have a go at (further) ruining the British economy as well.

    August 29, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
    • spencer

      The Brits wouldn't like him as PM because then he would be spending THEIR money instead of the money of the evil American rich.

      August 29, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
  9. Lisa

    I thought Fareed was on "leave" due to a habit of stealing other peoples work. When will CNN dump this over-the-top lefty!

    August 29, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
  10. easyrhino

    So the "former Secretary of State for Culture and Media in the Tony Blair government" prefers Obama over the GOP.

    Well, I'm shocked! SHOCKED, I tell ya.

    To quote old Maggie: "The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people's money." .

    Eventually with your country's loony pc based laws it will be illegal to be an Englishman in England.

    Tootles and ta ta!

    Love ya!

    August 29, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
  11. Dave

    The disappointment, though, is tempered by an acknowledgment that it has been almost impossible for him to get anything through a deadlocked Congress,
    let's clarifymformour British friend
    1- Obama had dem congress 2 years..hence obamacare
    2- Obama lost the congress due to opposition to the policy he was pushing......kinda how a democracy is suppose to work
    3. He may win in nov...but probably will lose the senate

    August 29, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
  12. Candlewycke

    The UK has not been able to solve its own problems since WW1... Their own press is little more than the American equivalent of a tabloid... Despite their rhetoric of democracy they still need a monarch on a golden throne to look up to... Parliament on its best day is worse than watching congress on it worst day... Their own economy tanked long before America... So I am happy to take the GOP or even the DNC over anything coming out of the UK!

    August 29, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
    • spencer

      Careful Candlewycke.... That sounds like you believe in American exceptionalsim. That's heresy with the Dems on this site. =)

      August 29, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
  13. Chip

    "The problem with Socialism is that sooner or later you run out of other people's money" Margarate Thatcher. Essentially, he hopes that we will spend like drunken sailors to bail them out. Compared to Atlee, Wilson, Callahan, and Brown – the Republicans are extreme – Thank God.

    August 29, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
  14. Candlewycke

    Britain was also not overly fond of Washington or Lincoln. Though in fairness they loved FDR, though only after he decided to let big bad ol America save their buts. As soon as I as an American gets to vote for a member of Parliament then and onlythen will I care a single whit what the UK thinks of anything in the US.

    August 29, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
  15. JP

    A few years ago I read an article by some British lord on his prediction about the demise of the dollar. The dollar is still here. Not sure where he went hiding.

    August 29, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
  16. The King

    Its interesting how this Brit has been able to see so clearly the US political atmosphere of today. He, like the vast majority of intelligent people in other countries can clearly see the GOP as a very dangerous liability. Not only to us, but the rest of the world. Maybe we should allow them to vote in our elections, we austensibly allow their wealthy citizens and their corporations to invest money in US political candidates via Citizens United and "dark money". Lets get the benefit of some intelligent, well informed votes to counter the mentally stunted baggers.

    August 29, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
    • taskmaster

      This British can't even keep their own house in order. The royals order the muder of a prlncess so the prince doesn't have to get a divorce and can marry his concubine.Another of their major em bare ass ments let himself be photographed naked and bring more shame on this pitiful pile of rocks. And they think the shoul have a say in OUR election? B/S/

      August 29, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
  17. Travis

    How the British can stomach this murdering Obama is truly beyond me! Then again, the English people never had any strong sense of morality as their own history points out. England itself is a country which has been built on bloodshed from the 5th century on as the Angles and Saxons invaded that country and conducted their own "ethnic cleansing" agains the native Britains living there at that time!

    August 29, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
  18. BK

    The fact that this election is a hard decision for Americans is why the rest of the civilized world view us as psychos.

    August 29, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
    • taskmaster

      BK: are you one of those that have to keep up with the next door neighbor? PEE on the rest of the world !!!

      August 29, 2012 at 6:04 pm |
  19. Frank

    With such slanted pro-state journalism in CNN these days, you could call yourself the Communist News Network.The UK? Really? Is that becuase Europe is so, so moderate. Honestly though, how would any country in bankrupt and failing Europe be a standard bearer for anything but failure? I'll pass. There was a time when CNN was the most honest news agency around. Sad to say you've gone down the same path as NBC and Fox.

    August 29, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
  20. robert

    why is this partisan piece of garbage on CNN? OK Mr. Author, it's clear you don't like the GOP – Gotcha! New question: Who gives a d*mn? Keep your poorly worded opinions to yourself, in our partisan society, we don't need articles like this fear mongering tripe. People – do your homework on the candidates, decide which most closely aligns with your personal views, and vote for that candidate – who care's if they have a party label you dont like? vote the issues, not the party.

    August 29, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
  21. jayums

    Chris Smith was a member of Blair's government which went to war in Iraq. I don't recall him quitting his job over it at the time in protest. And last time I checked, he isn't an official spokesperson for the collective hive mind of the British people.

    August 29, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
  22. Randy

    Obama appears to poll better in the UK than the US. Maybe the Brits could take him for a few years; he might make a dandy Prime Minister. Afterwards, so that other Europeans are not left out, he could go on to be President of the European Union.

    August 29, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
  23. taskmaster

    Who cares what England likes or doesn't like If Dumbama wants to please the limeys let him immigrate. I'm tired of hearig Fartweed telling us what the rest of the world wants in the U,S, When it comes to who is elected President What the rest of the world thinks doesn't amount to jack crap. What legal citizens think is the only thing that matters.

    August 29, 2012 at 5:58 pm |
  24. AA

    regardless of who wins the election, Its immature to bash either the US or Britain. the world has a lot of problems and its extremely difficult for an administration of either party to get things done in a 4 year period. whether Obama or Romney are ready to put in 4 years can be debated all day, but if we continue to bash each other we put ourselves on the same level of both parties when they fight like children. I'm 80% English myself and have visited London and its a wonderful city. What happens over here in the US affects what happens over there and vice versa. Both Britain and The US share a lot of similarities in culture and politics so before we point fingers, lets remember that in a very global political theater we should abstain from bashing and vote for the candidate we think will be best even if they aren't perfect. I certainly wouldn't want the pressure of making so many decisions that impact so many across the world.

    Come Together-The Beatles

    August 29, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
    • Killer O'Bama

      Thank you, AA. I love your post!

      August 29, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
  25. Killer O'Bama

    This post does my heart good to see how popular I am in Great Britain! That coupled with the ignorance of most Americans means but one thing, I cannot possibly loseI Now I'm as happy as a cow with six tytts!!!!!!!

    August 29, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
  26. Zoglet

    Who cares what the Brits think – they will do as they are told- right?
    Its not like its a country that matters like Isreal is it?

    August 29, 2012 at 8:55 pm |
  27. izlumuk11

    Obama represents failure and misery. If the UK likes him, the UK can have him. We're done with him in Nov.

    August 29, 2012 at 11:44 pm |
    • Larry

      Mitt not only insulted our closest ally he was a disaster at the other 2 coumtries he visited Europe. Do we really want this man to represent us? The Republicans and Bush policies were responsiblie for us losing 800,000 jobs a month and whole industies collapsing. This was the legecy left for our president. Obama saved us from financial catstrophe and is tryng to dig out from the VERY deep hole the Republicans got us into.

      September 7, 2012 at 7:18 pm |
  28. deep blue

    " pulling back sharply on public spending and programs whilst liberating the wealth of the wealthy – would plunge the U.S. economy back into recession."

    No, British conservatives are fiscal conservatives, to a much greater degree than American conservatives. British conservatives talk the talk and walk the walk in that area. Britain has substantially cut back on domestic spending for the last few years under Prime Minister David Cameron.

    August 30, 2012 at 8:20 am |
  29. They dont "like" him, they feel they can USE his weakness

    nuff said

    August 30, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
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