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Long live the queens

Published: December 7, 2012
Section: Opinions


Without a trace of doubt, you have heard that the Duchess of Cambridge is pregnant. The news that the wife of Queen Elizabeth II’s grandson is carrying within her the future head of state of the Commonwealth nonetheless dazzled many. Here in America, where we once fought a bloody war to avoid a role as the shiniest jewel in the British crown, Prince William and Kate’s impending parenthood topped the nightly news Monday and the list of articles sent via email on The New York Times this week.

If Kate gives birth to a healthy baby girl late next summer, she will be the first British royal female ever declared an heir apparent. Last year, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and the other 13 realms of which Elizabeth is monarch, finally agreed to abandon primogeniture, which says that sons have precedence over daughters.

In addition to congratulations from Americans such as Honey Boo Boo to President Barack Obama, William and Kate also elicited ancient, anti-monarchical commentary.

Last September the Commonwealth realms announced their decision on female heirs and the uninformed mocked this large gesture to the changing world and the power of women’s place in it with words against the institution itself. Who cares if a girl can be queen in her own right, when being a king or queen is evil? Haters constantly declare, with various bouts of indignant fury, that the royal family subverts the will of the people, wastes too much money or is generally bygone, a cocktail party and journalese word for bad. Or just not cool enough for our esteemed modern sensibilities.

As a student of comparative politics and even more so as an American living in the age of the most powerful man in the nation, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, I can’t help but scoff at put-downs on governmental terms of the very popular Elizabeth or William and Kate. The parliamentary-supreme monarchy of Britain performs exactly what one could hope: it’s democratic with universal suffrage and constantly turning out decisions, whether legislative or judicial, that are at the cutting edge of human rights law. The House of Commons, the only real power in London no matter what some say about the House of Lords, may have redistricting problems as much as the next lower house, if much, much worse than the one we have across the pond. But the Commons produces parties with mandates to govern and leaders who are more democratically removable if they overreach.

Compare the monarchy, and the Lords, to our upper house. Yes, some Lords are hereditary, though very few now: most are actually former has-been politicians now serving symbolically for life, much like Senators John McCain and John Kerry. The Archbishop of Canterbury is guaranteed a seat in the Lords. But unlike Britain, we Americans make the mistake of giving our more undemocratic house great power! The Senate is the most elite institution in the United States, yet nothing can change in this nation without it. And the Senate does not even operate on democratic principles among its undemocratic makeup: a party controlling and representing about 30 percent of the population can veto any action. The president’s veto isn’t even that good.

It’s a relevant fact that every few years, nations change their system of government. About the only nations with presidents like ours, with long, safe terms, vetoes and freedom from the politics of the day in the democratic legislature, are U.S. satellites like the Philippines (who recently announced a change to a premier system!) and some of Latin America. An uttering of “Mr. President” is in fact globally more likely to refer to a dictator than to the head of state of a democracy.

Queen Elizabeth never violates the democratic will. Legislative minorities, and even presidents, do. A prime minister cannot do so for long, because they can be removed by their party in between elections as they are appointed by Parliament. If a leader is popular with the public, he beats his party allies in the House into line because their ticket is the same; and best of all, that leader is given full legislative and executive powers to enact his (or her, Britain, this backward dystopia, has put up a female leader!) agenda. A prime minister, and thus his flock, never has to settle for half-a-loaf of reform because of a minority of unrepresentative others. The idea that Labour, trounced in the last elections, could halt David Cameron’s Conservative agenda before voters even got to see if they liked it would gall voters anywhere else but in America. Here we would rather get half each of two ideas, two jobs both compromised, half-finished, than try one idea first and then the other, deciding which one we like best after both parties get a chance to show us what they can do.

Looking just at results, what proposed liberal or progressive arguing for the monarchy’s abolition can say the governments of Britain, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands, all constitutional monarchies with strong and representative parliaments, aren’t getting the job done better than, well, everyone else?

The monarchy, in addition to being a guarantor of this wise way to run a country, is not a waste of money: it’s more a brilliant ad ploy. It makes, for the U.K. alone, about $70 billion in profit each year! There’s a good reason it’s still called Her Majesty’s Treasury.

Thankfully for small-d democrats and British fiscal hawks alike, the monarchy is more popular than it has been in years. Queen Elizabeth’s 60th year on the throne was celebrated this year with public demonstrations including hundreds of millions of her citizens and well-wishing tourists. William and his wife Kate, who will someday be queen herself, are adored. And yes, we can legitimately take progressive cheer in the fact that the next ruler after them will rule someday, whether male or female, potentially a queen unlike her mother and earlier than Elizabeth.

Kate is about 12 weeks pregnant. Too bad Kate and William couldn’t hold out until after Halloween, perhaps Thanksgiving, to have conceived, because this American studies major nonetheless appreciates the monarchy and wishes the future king or queen could have been born on his own August birthday.