Brits Say The Funniest Things (Pt. 1 of a Series)

Outgoing British Ambassador to the U.S. Sir David Manning hints that rumors of the death of American power have been greatly exaggerated. While not Churchillian in his buck up, suck up utterances, Manning managed not to blame us for stealing all the good BBC shows and often ruining them. Or for exporting the worst of our culture and media excrement to London and Manchester.

It’s very easy to underestimate the power of this country to reinvent itself. There is still an extraordinary energy here. If you want something done, America is still the place to come and look for the pioneering new technology, the capital formation, the people who will take the risks.

Manning was replying to Gordon Brown’s new Foreign Secretary David Miliband who essentially said the age of American preponderance was over. New powers such as China and Russia had already emerged — i.e., Kissinger’s Pentapolar World had finally arrived, albeit 30 some years overlate.  [The Stiftung's reply to Miliband another day].


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We compare Manning’s observations with those offered by another British ambassador of a sorts, Mr. Peter Townshend, shown here in December 1979 at the old ice hockey/concrete arena horror known as the Capitol Centre in DC. It’s located just across the Beltway from the toilet bowl where the Redskins strive for mediocrity.

To set the stage, as it were, it was the end of an era — the 1960s and 1970s lazy follow-on were clearly dying. All sorts of apocalyptic futures were in the air (the Sovs just went into Afghanistan and who could imagine them losing?). We had just gotten kicked out of ‘Me Love You Long Time-Ville’.

Tweety’s Peanut Farmer. Hostages in Iran. Almost 20% inflation. Another gas rationing crisis. The new ghastly Oldsmobile Cutlass a foretaste of GM’s collapse in the 1980s. The White House blaming everything on Americans themselves with Jimmy’s mayonnaise malaise speach, etc. The Bee Gees everywhere. Desperate times. Desperate times.

And to top it off, the Who were touring the first time without Moonie. This band, its memory by now in 2007 diluted by re-unions and what not, in the late 1960s and 1970s still was indeed “the Greatest Live Rock n Roll Band”. And now they added keyboards and a kick horn section? To purists, all blasphemy. Yet, the 1979 shows may well have been the best pop music concerts the Stiftung has ever witnessed in any decade. YMMV.  (To that certain someone at the Daily Show, did we not deliver those front row photos or WHAT?)

Another UK Ambassador of a sorts
 

So Pete gets up to the mike in the middle of the set and starts talking about what America meant to him and the band. And how he has seen it from almost a teenager’s eyes and later through endless touring (and hotel destroying with Moonie) in every state. 20,000 people silently were paused on edge now teetering in “enhanced states of celebration” (Animal House was a documentary then. ‘Just Say No’ not even a nightmare on the horizon).

He told us 20,000 then, “Never, ever forget that you are the greatest country in the world, we know you and love you and you will get through all this. I promise.” It moved the crowd in a quiet, gentle way (followed by another hour of high volume, melodic flair and chaos) (they really were a great rock band then).

Pete, a quasi-confused soft socialist nonetheless also supported in public the GLCMs going in to the U.K. 1983, telling Rolling Stone and the British press that ‘How can we turn our backs on America now, and forget that the Americans came over here and saved Western civilization [the Big One]?’ Of course, the Pershing II and GLCMs were requested in 1977 by German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt but if we go down that line we may inadvertently summon up shades of Colin S. Gray, a larval form of today’s Krauthammer. So mum’s the word.

We can’t be too hard on Manning. While at Oriel (Oxford) we are quite sure he did his share of punting and eating cucumber sandwiches. Our connections (such as they are) with Oxford far more tenuous and were via another college. But we did the same — and were even pushed overboard into the river by a face you see leering at you fro time to time on cable talk shows. Manning did manage to party/breeze through S.A.I.S. so he is not wholly unconnected with the American Street, hence perhaps his more sympathetic views.

Nonetheless, Pete’s address meant more to the Stiftung. Then and now. Even with all that followed.