World Watch: A prince in Washington
The heir to the British throne may not have a hand in actually governing the United Kingdom, but his position in the centuries-old monarchy has the potential to wield considerable clout with public opinion. That was the delicate balancing act on display this week as Prince Charles made his first official visit since 1994 to those former colonies known as the United States. He has hit New York and Washington and will go on to the San Francisco area.
Predictably, what's getting the most attention is the glitz and glamour of the royal visitand the presence of his new wife. On past official visits, his companion was Diana, the Princess of Wales, whom he divorced and who later died in an auto accident in Paris. This week was the first occasion for Charles to bring along Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall.
A tour planned for Charles in 2001 was canceled after the September 11 terrorist attacks, though he has made several private visits to America in the intervening years. This time, though, he came as a symbolic representative of the British nationon a grand marketing tour, if you will, to tout the "deep partnership between the U.S. and the U.K.," as he put it.
After a stop in New York, where the couple visited ground zero and dedicated a garden to the 67 Britons killed at the World Trade Center, they headed for Washington for both a lunch and a black-tie dinner at the White House, the latter featuring a soup of celery broth with rock shrimp and buffalo tenderloin. The prince and the president chatted amiably and exchanged the usual tasteful toasts to partnership and good relations.
And yet for all the bonhomie, Charles, 56, has over time offered hints of a political philosophy that runs in a different direction from Bush's. Charles has insistently warned about the dangers of greenhouse gases igniting global warming; the Bush administration has taken a decidedly casual approach to the issue. In a recent interview with CBS's 60 Minutes, Charles, an environmentalist, called the latest data on climate change "terrifying."
The Prince of Wales is also a practitioner of organic farming, and he has taken a stand that comes close to outright opposition to genetically modified crops. Meanwhile, the administration has been a full-throated supporter of not hindering the growing use of the technology. More broadly, Charles has for years criticized excessive consumerism and warned of the dangers of some technical breakthroughs, such as nanotechnology. In other words, he is hardly a backer of Bush-style, go-go capitalism. His is a message of caution about technology and consumerism unleashing "the forces of chaos."
Many of those themes were on display in a speech Charles gave Thursday at the National Building Museum in Washington, where he received its Vincent Scully Prize for his advocacy and foundation work in architecture and urban design. The prince lambasted the "deliberate destruction of man's intimate relationship with nature" through the 20th century and the "orgies of destruction" in the tearing down of traditional buildings in the 1950s, '60s, and '70s. Standing between the soaring columns of the museum, he returned several times to what he sees as the need for "traditional urbanism" built on "a human scale" and rendered environmentally "sustainable." Charles has tried to put those principles into practice in the new town of Poundbury, which rose on land held by the royal family.
Charles also complained about mass-scale farming, saying, "We have overindustrialized the whole business of food production." The net effect of this unrestrained modernism, he argued, is that "we've lost the balance of things." Sounds like a man whodespite his enormous wealthhas grown deeply wary of the quest for efficiency and progress that relentlessly destroys even as it creates.