Published Articles by Doris Weatherford

Don’t you just love those Brits?

July 18, 2016

My goodness, they choose a chief executive and just 48 hours later, she moves into the equivalent of the White House. Prime Minister David Cameron loses the national referendum on Britain remaining in the European Union (a fact that seems to have eluded some of my leftist friends, who blindly blamed him for whatever), and even though the loss was only by a few percentage points, he dutifully resigns. His Conservative Party, which holds the majority in Parliament, caucuses and decides on a new leader, and Theresa May walks in as prime minister without most of us ever hearing of her. Over here, we’d still be re-counting ballots and calling for investigations.


The loudest voices would be Fox and CNN, and their viewers would be confused about what was going on, but they would understand that they are supposed to be angry about something. Bring back the calm-voiced Walter Cronkites and David Brinkleys and Eric Severides of my youth, please – people who really understood what they were talking about, as opposed to today’s beautiful-hair guys who read from a script. And if they can manage without a script, they pitch the line of their business bosses, not what they should have learned in journalism school about history and geography and political science.


I remember Dr. Walker, my old political science professor, and understand some things now that I didn’t quite grasp back then. Part of the problem is that political pundits maintain their exclusive priesthood by changing the terms they use. Dr. Walker, for example, did a lot of talking about tariffs, but we don’t hear that word much anymore. Instead, commentators come up with new terms that the public doesn’t understand. The average television watcher needs a glossary to grasp the jargon.


And that glossary needs to be updated frequently, as they begin using “words” like “Brexit” without explanation. Their attitude seems to be “if you don’t understand, you aren’t as cool as I am.” With Brexit, people were expected to figure out the new term in context, but I’ll bet that even now, several weeks after the debate, most people couldn’t say that it is an abbreviation for “British exit” from the European Union. The mass communication majors that our universities produce don’t appear to be interested in either the masses or clear communication. They seem to prefer being clever to being wise.



Keeping Public Discourse Foggy, Especially re Taxes


Pundits lend confusion to another current debate by labeling it merely “TPP.” Rather than say “tariffs” (or even better, straightforward “import taxes”), they assume the public understands this is shorthand for “Trans-Pacific Partnership.” This jargon comes down to denoting a change in the rules on taxing products from Asia. Most people think this is something new, but actually, it is the same old argument that Americans have had since the Boston Tea Party: Whether or not to raise the prices of goods from other nations by adding taxes (tariffs) to them.


Businesses, in general, want the higher prices that tariffs create: They want to protect themselves from overseas competition, and most labor unions agree. Farmers, in general, have opposed tariffs because they want to export their harvests and don’t want retaliatory taxes in nations that are potential customers. Consumers are disorganized, despite historical attempts to form consumer unions, and rarely does anyone point out that import taxes raise the cost of almost everything we buy.


They originally were imposed in the early days of American industry, to give our manufacturers an edge against British imports by making foreign goods more expensive. Dr. Walker said -- and now I understand and agree -- that it is time for “our infant industries to grow up.” We should stop artificially inflating costs for consumers so that businesses can be assured of profits, even if the businesses are inefficient. Instead, free trade and its resulting globalization is a good thing, not only for giving us a greater diversity of less costly goods, but also for promoting peace. And no, opposition to tariffs wasn’t the real reason that the Confederate States of America started the Civil War.



From 10 Downing Street to the White House


I guess you noticed that Britain now has its second female chief executive, while we have yet to have one. I’m confident we will correct that omission in November. Hillary Clinton, whose knowledge of foreign affairs is superior to that of any president in a very long time, can join a triumvirate that will include Germany’s Angela Merkel, as well as Britain’s Theresa May. I’ve no doubt that will be an excellent thing for peace and prosperity.


The new prime minister made her first smart move by appointing Boris Johnson as foreign minister. In Britain’s Conservative Party, he is the equivalent of Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, and other bullies in our Republican Party. He loudly campaigned to leave the European Union, arguing for British exceptionality and especially against the EU’s acceptance of war refugees. So now he’s in charge of dealing with all those nations, as well as those on other continents. He’s made his racism clear, and I’m eager to see the response when he meets with representatives from Africa, Asia, and more.


Prime Minister May had been Interior Secretary, and she quietly campaigned to stay in the EU. Thus, the Conservative Party was split between moderates such as her and David Cameron, and the referendum winners such as Boris Johnson. Moderates won the insider-election, though, as the members of the House of Commons chose a moderate to lead the party – and she very cleverly appointed an opponent to carry out foreign policy. We’ll all see how that works out. It should be interesting.


The salient point, though, is that it was Parliament that chose the prime minister (or, technically, the House of Commons, as the House of Lords does nothing beyond occasionally filling their chairs). This was another thing that Dr. Walker stressed and that I’ve only begun to appreciate. He believed the British system of choosing the chief executive was superior to ours, and as this wild and crazy primary season played out, I’ve begun to agree. It won’t happen, of course, and I’m far from ready to recommend the major constitutional revision that it would require.


To put all this in context, it is important to remember that when we wrote our Constitution, British monarchs still had real power. That ended as the Georges from Germany who then were on the throne increasingly went insane, but many people – perhaps most people – in the eighteenth century believed in the “divine right” of heads of state. (Japan did until we changed their minds by winning World War II.) Our founding fathers did something truly revolutionary in writing a constitution that limited personal power by creating an independent judiciary, an elected legislative body, and an elected executive.


Of course, they didn’t intend that people – especially women and racial minorities – vote directly on this executive. Indeed, even though most people don’t want to remember this technicality, our votes for president still don’t really count: The Electoral College, which is made up of state delegations, actually elects the president. And from 1789, when the Constitution was ratified, to 1912, when we added the 17th Amendment, it was state legislatures, not voters, who elected US senators. This made the Senate somewhat akin to the House of Lords, while our House of Representatives resembled Britain’s House of Commons – except for debate behavior, which was and is much more boisterous there than here.


So these guys get to know each in their frequent parliamentary exchanges, and the same is true of our Congress, who also can see each other’s assets and liabilities. Very few members of Congress, even the most conservative Republicans, wanted Donald Trump as their nominee – but unlike the system in Britain, they cannot dump the equivalent of Boris Johnson and turn to a Theresa May. It’s something to think about.



The Queen and Pam


To end with something lighter, you saw the prime minister kneel to Queen Elizabeth, who formally asked May to form a government. As was the case with Margaret Thatcher years ago, I smiled at seeing two women in these positions of power. And it reminded me of a story that Pam Iorio used to tell.


When our former mayor was young, she studied briefly in England. She was with other tourists gazing at 10 Downing Street from outside the fence when she noticed the guards quickly move to allow two elderly ladies inside. A little later, she was walking in a park and saw the two sitting on a bench. She greeted them, and they turned out to be old friends of Queen Elizabeth. After inquiring about Pam’s experience in London, they asked her if she would like to meet the queen. Sure enough, a few days later, an invitation arrived to visit Buckingham Palace. Pam uses this as a motivator: Nothing happens until you move forward and make it happen.



doris@dweatherford.com






Doris Weatherford writes a weekly column for La Gaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper. With pages in Spanish, Italian, and English, it has been published in Tampa since 1922.

SELECTED WORKS

With an introduction by Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Winner of a prize from the American Library Association.
With an introduction by Geraldine Ferraro, this book focuses on women’s fight for the vote.
This 4-volume work covers women in all 50 states, plus Puerto Rico and Washington, DC.

Quick Links

Find Authors