Boy scouts swell the clapping crowds

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The Independent US

It was bad luck for Gordon Brown that his big chance to speak before a joint session of Congress came a mere week after Barack Obama's dramatic first appearance in the same chamber. The President had raised the roof with a combination of home truths and soaring oratory that the Prime Minister would be hard pressed to match. And there were a few anxious moments before yesterday's session that enough people would show up to give the Premier a proper welcome.

It was all hands on deck with congressional aides ensuring the chamber was packed. Minutes before the session began, Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota led a knot of young aides and interns down the corridors of the Capitol. They were joined by a scout troop and other staffers brought in to fill empty spaces.

Finally Gordon Brown entered the chamber to resounding applause, reaching to greet members on both sides of the aisle like old friends. Many were. Mr Brown has spent decades cultivating the top political leadership of the Democratic party. It was the political version of This Is Your Life and he basked in the glory of it.

His speech was well received and he had the members on their feet applauding 19 times, exactly the number of standing ovations Tony Blair received when he addressed Congress back in 2003. It didn't hurt that Mr Brown's speech was a paean to the American way of life, full of praise for sacrifices made by servicemen in war. "Early in my life I came to understand America is not just the indispensable nation, it is the irrepressible nation," Mr Brown said, going on to describe the bonds between the two countries.

The members did not applaud when Mr Brown warned against the protectionist sentiment sweeping the country and the dangers of a "race to the bottom" that would deepen the crisis. If those words fell on deaf ears, others resonated, particularly when Mr Brown talked about Europe and repudiated the Bush administration's policy of trying to divide the continent. "You now have the most pro- American European leadership in living memory," Mr Brown said. "There is no old Europe, no new Europe, there is only your friend Europe."

It was a remark that echoed President Obama's famous line that there is not a red America or a blue America but a United States of America and it elicited thunderous applause from Republicans and Democrats alike. The Prime Minister had made his mark.

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