Admittedly, things were better in the old days. Back when Her Majesty’s Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake could just saddle up with American Gen. Jack D. Ripper, their canteens filled with pure rain water, and head out to fight the worldwide communist conspiracy to destroy America’s precious bodily fluids.

It’s been hard to find such clear purpose since the demise of the Evil Empire.

But England’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown thinks he has found the answer. And a far better one than the neocon Project for a New American Century, although it is pretty much a British version of that same idea. But this vision is vast; even vaster than the current Roosevelt nostalgico plan that the neo-Keynesians have afflicted us with. This goes back well beyond the 1930s to even greater glory: Think British Gen. Charles George Gordon at Khartoum, think T. E. Lawrence, think Lord Nelson. Brown proposes a “global New Deal.” That is, he proposes to restore the entire Victorian Empire with a little help from Obama and the American Congress.

Unfortunately, they are saying that he received a chilly reception from President Obama. After some nervous chatter about basketball and tennis, Brown gave Obama a pen holder carved from the timbers of the HMS Gannet, sister ship of the HMS Resolute, the wood of which was used to make the Oval Office desk. But as with the Brown plan to save the world and restore Her Majesty in her rightful place on top of it, it appeared to have made about as much of an impression on Obama as the dead parrot in the famous “Monty Python” skit.

Some even said that Obama’s curt treatment of Brown was coarse. There is no easy way to say goodbye to Mother and let go her hand, yet it is work that needs to be done if we are to go on to the next thing.

And every time we try to pass through the invisible barrier into the 21st century and the new millennium, something always draws us back to Kennedy, to Roosevelt, to Lincoln, to the Crusades, to Victoria. Like in Tony Soprano’s crew: Every time we try to get out, they keep pulling us back in.

Obama has done two things that will change the course of our history. He has entered us positively into the new century by sending Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to China to establish our economic relationship with that nation as first in the world. Second, he has made it clear to our closest relative in Europe that our first relationship is across the Pacific.

This, for the first time, opens the gate for us. It is like the clearing of a neurosis, as race became a neurosis in the South when the South had actually gotten beyond it. Likewise we feel — many of us — we can’t go forward without bringing England along with us.

Obama may not be remembered well for this. England was actually freed from its own neurosis when Clement Attlee, the British Labour politician, became prime minister in 1945. Attlee freed England from its historical hangover by letting go of India, the Jewel in the Crown. Burma, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Jordan and Israel also obtained independence on his watch. He is generally forgotten for this, and when he is remembered at all, except by historians, he is commonly despised. But by freeing India in particular from the grip of empire, he freed England. It was the work that needed to be done.

Obama has a mind for subtlety and a mind for history and its key turnings and passages. He would understand the importance of this. A Churchill bust given as a gift from Tony Blair has been sitting on George W. Bush’s desk in the Oval Office. Obama sent it to the warehouse. If Brown wanted to impress him, he might have brought Obama a bust of Lord Attlee.

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