Wednesday, July 04, 2007

George III or George W? Full text

George III or George W?

As Americans celebrate independence on the Fourth of July, some of them must be wondering if it was all a mistake. The answer: join Canada.
Ian Williams
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July 4, 2007 9:30 AM

English-speaking countries share a common political ancestry in 18th century Britain. But the United States has stayed fossilised in that historical moment over two centuries ago, while most others have moved on.

The purpose of politics at that time was to seize control of a government's treasury and use it to distribute cash and jobs to the victor's friends. Think Halliburton and those hosts of Bob Jones University graduates swarming through the White House and the Iraq occupation administration. Think of the atavistic attachment to the death penalty, undiminished since the time of Tyburn Hill.

Even as the Founding Fathers complained about the overbearing demeanour of King George, they enshrined in the constitution a presidency with all, and perhaps even more, of the powers and perks of an 18th century British monarchy. George W has abused his own power and his own subjects far more consistently and effectively than Farmer George III ever did.

Just compare the rhetoric of the Declaration of Independence with the behaviour of George W. It refers to a "decent respect to the opinions of mankind", a respect that his biggest American supporters legitimately cheer because of its complete absence in his diplomacy.

"That all men are created equal" and have "certain unalienable Rights .. Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" - it is difficult to reconcile that with stripping non-citizens of their civil rights after 9/11. Indeed, one could hardly say that José Padilla was freely granted such rights even as a US citizen.

But then that is covered more freely in the list of gripes the Founding Fathers had against Farmer George, "For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury", or "For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences," both of which Rancher George has made a specialty. The colonists' whinge that "he has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power", gets a little too close to the bone as well.

George III also "made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries," which in spirit, if not in letter, Rancher George has certainly been emulating that with federal attorneys.

Although less true of George W, his followers are certainly "endeavouring to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither."

In a constitutional monarchy, the presence of the intellectually challenged on the throne matters not one jot, since it has been stripped of power by generations of reform and was the result of random royal rogerings rather than the purchase of elections that produced the national symbol. I mean, the British royals can ride horses, but as one correspondent suggested to me, did you ever see a picture of absentee ace pilot Rancher George on a horse?

But a US president is not only the national figurehead. He, or maybe even she, is the brains of the operation. The president is commander in chief - even if he went Awol back during Vietnam. He appoints ambassadors, even if what he knows about diplomacy could be gleaned from a reading of My Pet Goat. He appoints an unelected cabinet, and swings the supreme court appointments.

And as if these powers are not enough, George W is encroaching. His invocation of the "presidential prerogative," derived from the powers of the Hanoverian monarchy would have had the 18th century British parliament rising in rebellion. (Sadly I am not so sure about the 21st century version.) Even George III never thought of signing statements in which the head of state decides which parts of laws passed by the legislature, he would implement.

There is too much water under the bridge to rejoin the United Kingdom and, frankly, there would not be much popular enthusiasm there for the idea. Certainly no one would want the ugly glottal stops of Blair's expediently acquired Estuary English as the official language any more than the swallowed vowels of Buckingham Palace.

But there are alternatives. Early on the morning that that John Kerry conceded the 2004 election, I was punditting on CNN. Confronted with a map showing how the states had voted, it just came out: "Look at the map, it's time to secede from the Union. Join Canada! Get free healthcare, reduce the murder rate - and get out of Iraq - all in one move."

Liberal Canadian bilingualism could expand to allow the use of "-ize," and the skip the "u" from "honour," and allow you not to say "oot and aboot," if it offends your linguistic sensibilities.

Americans would also get a constitutional monarchy at one remove, that they do not have to pay for, and unlimited royal gossip that is slightly more upmarket than Paris Hilton's escapades but occasionally every bit as salacious. They would also get a charter of human rights that is taken seriously - as opposed to a constitution that the supreme court reinterprets in Rancher George's favour.

How can you go wrong? Think of the alternative - imagine Hillary as elected queen combining Victoria's lack of amusement with Thatcher's forbearance.

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