As I sit here Americans are casting their vote for the next president of the United States. A close run race is predicted, with Obama likely to fall over the line.
I know I share the same sentiments as most people living outside of the States when I say that seems a very odd state of affairs. Obama is the overwhelming favourite with most living anywhere but America.
It’s easy to see why. Obama is charismatic, decent, liberal, has a sense of humour, and is not so precious that he won’t occasionally have a dig at himself. There is familiarity with many of the initiatives he has been trying to sell, being normal in most civilised western countries. There is some bewilderment at the controversy and absolute alarm these policies generate in the States (particularly when it comes to health care), and perhaps some contemptuous disparagement that so many can be so fearful of things that should be standard. It’s not socialism, it’s civilised government. And so occasionally American politics seems like a poorly run circus, with sideshows getting more than their just attention, and the main players either struggling to be heard, or apparent lightweights. I’m sure it appears awfully serious living there, but it’s a different view from outside.
From the outside looking in I think it’s fair to say that American politics has lost a lot of its shine over the last dozen years. Dubya, a decent man seemingly, dumbed down the office and subjected it to ridicule the likes it had never experienced before. The emergence of the likes of Sarah Palin and the crazies of the Tea Party further emphasised the loony extremes of American political life. Clearly they have their adherents within America, as well as their opponents. There are few outside of America who view such sideshows with anything other than an amused, and slightly worried contempt. How can this be? And what if…?
Obama at least has returned some dignity to the top job, but it’s hard when the extremists on the other side polarise opinion so much. The Tea Party and suchlike have squeezed the Republicans further to the right, just so they may appeal to the groundswell of conservative opinion. I think they’re almost meaningless now as a result, and I wouldn’t vote for them in a fit – but then, that’s my view from outside. From inside the country there are many seduced by the blatant populist sloganeering of the right, and have been led to a deep distrust of Obama and the Democrats he leads.
As it has happened here, and elsewhere, the great unthinking mob have been prodded until they respond. Dog whistling, fear mongering, has long been a part of political life, but never more so than now. Now it has descended to an inane, occasionally evil level. You listen to some of the proponents of these many theories and wonder whether they are plain dumb, or have just sold their soul? Do they believe this rubbish? Half the stuff they say, and which is then reported, is plain wrong, yet that seems hardly ever corrected. The catchy slogan sticks, and to the majority of people who never stop to think for themselves, it becomes their catchcry.
It’s a similar situation here in Oz. I complain at local politics, but I think – unbelievably – it’s in a healthier state than it is in America. We have the same dog whistlers, but fortunately, the likes of the Tea Party have no leverage here, and I wonder if they ever would. Australians are naturally more sceptical, and generally unimpressed by the smooth rhetoric that seduces so many Americans. And we’re not nearly as respectful, which has it’s good, as well as bad aspects. If anyone starts talking extremist bullshit he’s likely to be bluntly told where to go. Or I hope so at least.
Still, Australian politics is subject to many of the same corrupting forces as America. Just like the Republican party in America, the Liberals here have taken a couple of steps to the right. Partly it’s political opportunism, and partly it’s reflective of a deeply conservative – and innately un-Australian – strain of thought starting with Abbott, and sprinkled through the party. It has similarities to the American conservatism, being founded on conservative religious thought, and ticks off the standard conservative mainstays: pro-life/anti-abortion, anti gay marriage, small taxes, and the usual pot-boiling about refugees. It’s something that can thrive in a religious country like America, but I think has a definite use-by date in an obstinately secular country like Australia. That use-by date has not yet arrived, but is coming.
If we had an Obama here then there would be no contest. Abbott’s supremacy is tenuous even given a dysfunctional government. He is tolerated only because most are suspicious of what they have. Replace Gillard with Obama and there would be no contest – and the Libs, as I hope they must do soon, would be forced to act. There’s every chance they would go more moderate. I’m not sure that’s an option the Americanpolitical right are even close to being ready for.
We are different nations, even putting aside the religious angle. I was surprised how ingrained, and often how bitter, some of the political differences in the States can be. I can sit across the table from someone voting differently to me and there’s unlikely to be any issue – it’s just like barracking for a different football team. In America it often seems so much more personal, and my brief experiences of it made me think it really was a divided country, not just by red and blue states, but from house to house. Is it too much to say there are two America’s?
If there are then one half today are voting for Obama, and the other half for Romney. As I said, seems inconceivable from outside, for all the reasons I said, and because Romney appears an unimpressive character of little real conviction. If he is too win then you have to believe he’ll be captive to the right, and to their dangerous agenda. It’s America’s election, but the whole world holds it’s breath.