Friday, 23 January 2009

Amateur Political Analysis Corner

The other day somebody was whinging about why the Presidential inauguration was such a big deal. I don't know it ever has been to us before - obviously the novelty factor has raised interest considerably - but it's been a massive deal for the Americans stretching back years to the good old days of JFK's "ask not what you can do" speech.

At first I agreed that it was all a bit over the top, that it was a sign of the longing of the Americans for a royal family of their own and all that other bollocks that you hear from people handing out lefty newspapers and trying to get you to sign their fucking petition in Bourke Street.

Then it came to me that the reason they make such a big deal of it is because their president elect, no matter who he (she? See you in 8 years at the earliest) is, has had to work their arse off for it. Even Bush, set to go down in history as the biggest clown ever or an underrated genius - and I know which one I'm betting on - must have spent so much time and energy shaking hands, kissing babies and generally sucking up to the populace just to get in that it's no wonder he had little left to give mentally by the time he got in.

Look at the road Obama took to get to Washington DC that day. He announced his candidacy in February 2007, didn't become the nominee for his party for another 18 months and president elect another four months later. In that time alone the Liberal Party of Australia had three different leaders.

On April 16th, 2008 Obama and Hillary Clinton faced off in the last of 26 debates. The cast had shrunk from eight candidates at the first debate a year earlier to two. Eventually, after a process like the pulling of teeth, Obama took a near unassailable lead but even then he couldn't get rid of Hillary who forced him to continue the often awkward "meet the people" charades across the country (look! He's eating a hamburger!) until it was absolutely impossible for her to overtake his delegate count. And even then her camp made some noises about legal challenges and 'taking it to the convention'. Imagine how many speeches both candidates gave in that time, imagine how many times they had to make sure that they didn't make the one major gaffe which would derail their whole campaign.

Compare and contrast to the Australian system. Nobody knew who the hell Kevin Rudd was, and he only ended up as leader after riding a wave of destruction which saw Crean, Latham and Beazley (twice) completely fuck it up, leaving nobody else with an credibility left by the time Costello had lost the grapefruits to challenge Howard. The man himself had committed suicide with the IR changes and the rest of the country had lost interest in him after more than a decade in power. Forget the drover's dog, Humphrey B Bear could have won that election for Labor. Even Beazley must have been wondering if he'd have been a chance - especially if he'd put on the bear suit.

And that's why our PM not only doesn't get a fancy welcome to the job, he doesn't deserve one either. A faceless bureaucrat who you'd probably never heard of six months ago, taking an oath to a Queen you never see from a Governor General who must even be wondering what their function is inspires no confidence whatsoever. The Liberals have already started the same process that their opponents did by dumping the completely shithouse Brendan Nelson for the moderately ordinary Malcolm Turnbull. If they've taken any notes from the Labor Party he'll probably be brought back in for another failed run at the job before they get back into power. Even if Turnbull makes it to the next election the real campaigning won't begin until 6 weeks before polling day. Remember when people were going spare about Howard running a 'phony' election campaign where he was delivering policies and patting kiddies on the head without ever having called an election? Well good on him, there should be more of it.

Consider the fact that Obama and McCain spent almost two years non-stop on the campaign trail before being sworn in, and then look at the six weeks of glory that Rudd, Howard and the other assorted slops turned out last year. There's a lot to be critical of in the US system, but you can't fault the commitment of the people involved at the sharp end. Of course raising money and sucking up to your own party helps, but imagine having put that much mental and physical effort into something only to have your fate decided by a bunch of yokels in Iowa or New Hampshire. Had Obama botched the Iowa race the chances are right now we'd be talking about the first female president and most people would never have heard of him.

Another place where they've got it right is the way they choose a cabinet. Pick anyone you like, pick somebody from somewhere who you think will do a good job. Ok, they might not get it right all the time but do you really have any faith in the way we do it? I refuse to believe that the practice of shoehorning members of the governing party into portfolios that they might be good at - often for political reasons more than anything - and hoping for the best is really doing us any good.

Time will tell whether the ridiculous amount of faith in Obama is justified or not, but the fact remains that no matter who ends up running against him in four years time will have put in the hard yards to get there. In the off chance that it's Palin she will also have had to conquer a serious mental deficiency to get there - clap, clap for the handicap etc - so give some credit, but for christ sake if you're American don't even think of voting for her.

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