Because they don’t have spirited, culturally awesome arguments like this one between British Prime Minister David Cameron and a member of parliament, where they pretty much just throw out old Smiths songs as a way of bickering about Cameron’s proposed budget cuts:
MP Kerry McCarthy: “As someone who claims to be an avid fan of The Smiths, the Prime Minister will no doubt be rather upset this week that both Morrissey and Johnny Marr have banned him from liking them. The Smiths are, of course, the archetypal students’ band. If he wins tomorrow night’s vote [on tuition fees], what songs does he think students will be listening to? ‘Miserable Lie,’ ‘I Don’t Owe You Anything’ or ‘Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now?’”
Cameron: “I accept that if I turned up I probably wouldn’t get ‘This Charming Man,’ and if I went with the Foreign Secretary [William Hague] it would probably be ‘William It Was Really Nothing.’”
David Cameron and an MP rapping about the Smiths in public? As part of a policy exchange? Sign me up!
Of course, the British parliament has always been noticeably more, um, lively and exciting than their American counterparts. In short, the House of Commons is basically the political equivalent of a rap battle.
We don’t do that in the United States. In fact, we pretty much do the opposite — we let our elected representatives pontificate ad nauseum to a near-empty chamber until they quite literally put people to sleep. But that doesn’t mean there’s not an appetite for this kind of robust debate in American politics.
Indeed, think back to last February, when the country was (briefly) atwitter over President Obama’s decision to take on his opponents head-to-head in a question-and-answer session at the House Republicans’ retreat. It was like the Woodstock of actual, real-life debate in Washington. It was legitimately thrilling to actually see (for once) the best and brightest of both parties really going at it in a more casual, open setting.
However, that unique moment becomes significantly less thrilling when you then realize that the British prime minister does the same thing every single week in Prime Minister’s Questions (or PMQ, as it’s apparently abbreviated), which is where the aforementioned Cameron-McCarthy Smiths exchange took place.
You may be thinking this isn’t really a substantive critique. You’re right — it isn’t. Barack Obama and John Boehner clearly aren’t going to develop a bipartisan plan to magically eliminate the national debt by swapping Run-DMC references on a weekly basis (although I hear Boehner is a huge fan.) But I can’t help but feel that our policy and our politics could only benefit from having more spirited public debates on the issues — particularly debates where policymakers and leaders from both parties (including the president) have to stand up and answer their critics directly in a healthy exchange of ideas and opinions.
I refuse to believe that such a heightened level of debate and transparency could somehow be bad for this country. But then again, I do love myself some political theater and a good Smiths reference — so maybe my motives are selfish in that regard. I guess I just live in the wrong country to be consistently entertained by my public officials’ weirdly encyclopedic knowledge of mopey 1980s British pop music…