Where is the American Tony Blair?

June 28, 2007

Could a McCain-Lieberman ticket recapture the American political centre?


One of the paradoxes of modern American politics is while the political discourse has become ever more polarised and both the major parties have drifted ever further from the centre, the one foreign political figure universally respected in the United States is Tony Blair. Indeed, the last time his popularity among the American public was polled by Gallup, at the start of March, nearly two thirds had a favourable impression of him while only one in five Americans had an unfavourable opinion of him. This contrasts with the abysmal popularity of Bush (favourable rating 33; unfavourable 62) and even the ratings of the major candidates for 2008 such as Rudolph Giuliani (61/24), John McCain (50/30) and Hillary Clinton (50/47). Indeed, it has become almost a cliché that if Blair was not constitutionally barred from running there would be a clamour to draft him for the White House. Therefore, it seems logical to ask which candidate on the American political scene can best attempt to follow in his footsteps, or at least which politician can catch the political centre.

The most obvious place to begin such a search would be with the candidates for the Democratic nomination. However, there is no American equivalent of the government’s respect agenda, a general hostility among the Democrat candidates to free trade and surprisingly little talk about social exclusion and even less about the future of public services or pension reform. It also goes without saying that on the one issue that has defined political debate on both sides of the Atlantic, namely Iraq and the struggle against Islamist terror, there seems to be no support for standing up for democracy. The only areas of agreement with their counterparts across the Atlantic are minor issues such as civil partnerships, hardly the fundamental issues facing America. Similarly, the Republicans have moved even further out into right field than usual, with no ideas (or even awareness) for solving either the social problems gripping America or the budgetary consequences of Bush’s fiscal recklessness. Even on the issue of there are signs that they may be reverting to their isolationist roots with Sam Brownback, and now Mitt Romney, qualifying their support for a continued presence in

However, there is one serious candidate who breaks away from this mould, the maverick senator John McCain. His support for action on global warming, pension reform and an interventionist foreign policy overlaps with that of Tony Blair. In addition, his attempts to work with Democrat Senators on attempts to reform immigration, healthcare and campaign finance show his dedication to the important issues that affect everyday Americans. Indeed, the respected magazine National Journal puts him smack the centre of the Senate based on last year’s voting record. However, McCain is still no Tony Blair. After all, he may have opposed Bush’s tax cuts and proposed a commission on healthcare, but he doesn’t intend to reverse them and he hasn’t put forward specific proposals of his own (though he hinted at support for universal healthcare in his 2000 campaign). However close McCain came to leaving the Republicans in 2001 or joining Kerry’s ticket in 2004, he has remained a Republican. Despite the fact that he has been a senator since 1984, McCain began his bipartisan cooperation only in the mid nineties. At the same time a lacklustre and confused campaign means that he has both lost his frontrunner status and much of his previous support.

However, despite his shortcomings he still remains the candidate closest to the political centre (barring a re-entry by Mark Warner) and by far the candidate with the strongest character and integrity. McCain first needs to accept that he is never going to capture a large proportion of the most ideologically driven Republican primary voters and that trying to appeal to them will be counterproductive. If he wins the nomination selecting Joe Lieberman as his running mate (the American politician whose views coincide most closely with Tony Blair) would also demonstrate his centrist credentials. Although they disagree on as many small issues, as one would expect of a moderate Republican and a moderate (Independent) Democrat, they have a remarkable record on the big issues. They have sponsored legislation together on the environment, gun control and Iraq while Lieberman has worked with other Republicans to increase immigration of skilled workers. If they stick to foreign policy and the domestic problems, which both President Bush and Nancy Pelosi have left unaddressed, such a ticket could be unbeatable. In any case the evident respect that the American public have for international political figures like Tony Blair should demonstrate to both sides the importance of confronting pressing concerns while speaking to the centre and adopting a foreign policy which is not afraid to stand up for freedom.


One comment

  1. […] Mike Deakin wrote an interesting post today.Have a look for your self, Here’s an excerpt, read the full story at the blogThis contrasts with the abysmal popularity of Bush (favourable rating 33; unfavourable 62) and even the ratings of the major candidates for 2008 such as Rudolph Giuliani (61/24), John McCain (50/30) and Hillary Clinton (50/47). … […]

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