Buyer's remorse has become a chronic disease of the democracies. Candidates who look good in winter turn out not to taste so good in summer. We can expect to see a new outbreak in Britain sometime after this weekend.
The oily goo of Barack Obama's hopey-changey slick has inevitably spread across the Atlantic, like the spill off Louisiana, only writ larger. David Cameron, who expects to become the prime minister despite falling just short of an indecisive parliamentary majority, had tried to tie himself to Mr. Obama's game of bait-and-switch, of extravagant promises made and never redeemed. The Sun, one of London's irreverent tabloids, even appropriated the famous Obama campaign poster for its election-day front page, emblazoned "Our Only Hope." This was presumably not meant as irony. Alas, we knew Britain was in sad shape, but nobody knew things were that bad.
Mr. Cameron hit it off with the president "bonded," in the ripe wet cliché of current fashion months ago when he braved the briny to take his own measure of Washington. He quickly adopted the president's campaign mantra of hopey-changey, and hired Anita Dunn, who was Mr. Obama's communications director before she left the White House to become a political consultant, to give him advice on how to copy the Obama presidential campaign. Some of his friends in London now worry that once he actually becomes the prime minister Mr. Cameron will try to emulate the messiah of South Side Chicago rather than channel the robust ghosts of Churchill, Thatcher and Reagan as he settles in as prime minister.
This is the source of the buyer's remorse that inevitably followed recent elections in various places. The lightweight emulate the lightweight, weakness and irresolution is relentlessly pursued, and trustful voters are left with only regrets, rue and remorse.
Despite the reassuring similarity in name, the Conservatives of Britain are only superficially similar to small-c American conservatives. Though more appealing to Americans than Gordon Brown and the Labor party, Mr. Cameron and the Conservatives aren't expected to cultivate an appetite to curtail the growth, or even correct the fundamental weakness, of the welfare state that Britain adopted decades ago. Britain's national health care, with its filthy hospitals, long waits for critical surgery and impersonal physicians, long ago became sacrosanct to the British public. Mr. Cameron, no passionate fan of Maggie Thatcher, isn't expected to pursue her agenda of limited government, low taxes, reduced spending and the job-making economy that Britain needs.
Mr. Obama's determined effort to remake America in the image of the European welfare state, on the other hand, naturally strikes Europeans and many Britons as nothing much out of the ordinary. Mr. Obama's runaway public spending, appeasement of Islamist enemies bent on destroying the West, weakening of the military, and a sagging economy that spiked his popularity at home, is a puzzle to many in Britain.
But Britons who haven't yet given up dream of Mr. Cameron learning from the president's mistakes, even if they understand that Mr. Obama doesn't regard the consequences of striking leftward as "mistakes." Nile Gardiner, a columnist for the London Telegraph, observes that Mr. Obama's America may be declining as a world power, but has lessons for Britain: "David Cameron must learn from [Mr.] Obama's mistakes, and take Britain down a completely different path based on clearly defined conservative principles, which advance rather than constrain British leadership."
This would be a tall order any time, but rarely more so than now. The new prime minister will inherit a dreary legacy of economic decline that threatens all of Europe. Greece is bankrupt and its European benefactors are determined to impose stark correctives to its spendthrift ways. Some economists warn that Britain may be next. Worst of all, nobody is looking to London and what used to be the British empire for a rescue. The disciplinarian in boots, armed with a whip of braided currency, is the German lady.
"Nothing less than the future of Europe is at stake," Angela Merkel said on Thursday. "The happy tale of German history since World War II and our emergence as a free, united and strong country cannot be separated from the European Union. Europe today is looking to Germany . . . Immediate help is needed to ensure the financial stability of the eurozone. This must be done to avoid a chain-reaction to the European and international financial system."
Reality not-so-warmly welcomes the new PM. In London. Happy days are not necessarily here again.