Gordon Brown's "Panting Desperation"

(AP Photo/Luis M. Alvarez)
I asked a British journalist to characterize the atmosphere of Prime Minister Gordon Brown's visit to Washington, to set the tone of what's being billed here as the first business meeting between a European leader and the new U.S. President.

"Panting desperation," he said.

Officially, Brown is laying the groundwork for next month's summit here of the G-20 nations; he wants to return with an action plan for what he's calling a, "global new deal, whose impact can stretch from the villages of Africa to reforming the financial institutions of London and New York... Giving security to the hardworking families in every country."

In other words, his official business in Washington involves meeting with President Obama to come up with a British-American plan to save the world from economic collapse.

Unofficially, though, it's generally believed that what Brown's out to rescue in America — as much as the world economy — is his own political future.

Polls here show the beleaguered Brown would lead his Labor party to defeat were elections held today. He's going to Washington, as The Guardian newspaper put it, "hoping for (an) Obama bounce."

Winston Churchill coined the phrase "special relationship" to describe the unbroken – and perhaps unbreakable – ties that bind the U.S. and the U.K.

In practice, The Guardian points out, "American presidents embrace it whenever they need international cover for foreign escapades, while U.K. prime ministers invoke it in the hope that some of the sparkle of the presidency will stick to them."

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