A photo of the “Queen”* parachuting to earth atop Mark Steyn’s latest column symbolizes the long descent of England:
The overhead camera settled on robotic formations of grateful apple-cheeked urchins in a giant children’s ward spelling out the letters N-H-S like a Busby Berkeley chorus in Gold Diggers of 1935— and, horrifyingly, they seemed to mean it. Had the pageant been truer to life, the patients would have left their hospital beds riddled with C. difficile, MRSA, septicemia, and the other parting gifts that attend a stay in an NHS hospital. But no; when the state religion of government medicine comes up, the dark irony of Danny Boyle, the epitome of Blair-era Cool Britannia, withers and dies like a geriatric waiting for her hip replacement. And all this in the week that the nation’s doctors are going on strike.
The lack of basic awareness is remarkable. To that ever-dwindling band of Americans who believe in truly private health care, the NHS is a byword for disease and degradation. On the other hand, to Continentals who believe in clean, efficient universal health care, the NHS is a byword for disease and degradation. Yet the British delusion that the NHS is “the envy of the world” is indestructible. Years ago, in London’s Daily Telegraph, I carelessly remarked that, while one might be able to find a Bhutanese yak farmer somewhere upcountry who envied Britons the NHS, nobody else on the planet did. A couple of days later, the paper printed a letter from Mr. Sonam Chhoki, a Bhutanese gentleman who, while not a yak farmer himself, came from generations of sturdy yak-farming stock. He reported that his British in-laws were still waiting for their operations after two years, and that based on his experience Bhutan’s health service was superior. Whether or not Danny Boyle’s NHS musical will run longer than Cats, the waiting list already does. Yet there they were, dozens of Mary Poppins figures descending into the Olympic Stadium on unfurled umbrellas, like British paratroopers behind German lines on D-day. When everywhere’s a nanny state, inventing the great iconic nanny is a source of national pride.
Britain may not be able to match the Continentals at music and art, but it gave us the language of global business, of global culture, of law and democracy, the language of liberty, of the modern world. And yet, aside from a perfunctory bit of the Bard, words were oddly avoided, save from the finale when the audience joined Sir Paul McCartney in a mass singalong of the universal message:
“Na na na, na-na, na na, na-na na na . . . ”
Hmm. What can Americans learn from the Olympics spectacle? According to the IMF, China will succeed America as the dominant economic power in the course of the next presidential term, so Howard Fineman, editorial director of the Huffington Post and MSNBC mainstay, was anxious to pick up tips. “Brits long ago lost their empire,” he tweeted, “but overall show us how to lose global power gracefully.”
So there’s that.
Na-na na na.
Related: “Could we build Mt. Rushmore today?”
* Only in England can a young stunt man grow up to play the queen.