I just returned from a speaking trip to the United Kingdom and had the opportunity to chat at length with dozens of British citizens. It turns out that many of them still consider the United States the world's indispensable nation. And they are hoping our government can get its act together so America can figure out a way not only to strengthen our own economy but to help Europe weather its current economic crisis.
"We all rely on you," said a wealthy London businessman. "We follow your lead but we don't see much in the way of leadership right now."
Another thing that perplexes our British cousins is the gridlock in Washington. Time and again, people with whom I talked simply couldn't understand why President Obama and Congress can't find compromise. The preferred comparison was to squabbling children who need a parent to intervene and settle them down.
Few blamed anyone in particular. It was more like everyone was at fault, and the gamesmanship in Washington struck most as pervasive, systemic and bizarre. Of particular concern were the recent furor over raising the federal debt ceiling and the ongoing conflict between Obama and the Republicans over how to cut the national debt.
An affluent investor from the outskirts of London said it was strange to him that all sides couldn't find a compromise that involved some tax increases and some cuts in spending. I explained that it's an article of faith among many congressional Republicans that tax increases are off the table, while many Democrats won't agree to big cuts in popular social programs such as Medicare and Social Security. This results in stalemate. The investor could only shake his head in dismay.
One final point: Our British cousins seem to be following American politics quite closely. This goes back to the widespread belief that what happens in the United States deeply affects the U.K, Europe and the rest of the world. And we aren't making a very good impression.