10 Nov 2008

At Least We Don't Live in America!

By Bob Dumpling
For the past eight years, that has been the default reaction to most of our national inadequacies, writes Bob Dumpling. We no longer have the United States to kick around
What a wonderful eight years and a sweet election this has been! For backwater Australia, the warts-and-all campaign in the US has allowed us to laugh at the absurd, snicker at the outrageous and roll our eyes at the expense that led to Obama's win.

In fact, Australia has been carrying on like this for much of the 21st century. We hadn't signed Kyoto but we thought the US was worse for not signing it either. We pollute more per capita, but at least we don't drive those big SUVs and drill for oil. We have a racist element but nothing like our American brethren, no sir — there it's an appalling wound cut right across society, endemic to their culture. And there are so many more black people over there.

Our smug self-righteousness has never been more obvious than during this presidential campaign. There were undeniably rich pickings for the pundits: the battered un-electable war hero; the "August pick" from nowhere (or was that Alaska?); the first Roman Catholic Vice Presidential candidate; and the One.

But despite the 4000 plus dead US troops in Iraq (and the 1000 returned troops attempting suicide per month), a reckless Bush Administration, impotence in the face of global warming, Katrina, the economic meltdown, job losses and seemingly endless foreclosures — it was the element of race that was completely overblown and fixated on by Australians.

For more than a year, Fairfax had plenty of bell-ringers, finally culminating in the election-day headline "A new race for the White House". Janet Albrechtsen belted out a blog post on 5 November asking innocently, "Obama won, is America a racist nation after all?". Clearly without much else to write about, she can afford to ask the big questions. If Hillary Clinton had won, would America be a sexist nation after all?

Even your ABC was entranced with the omnipotent racial divide. This is Lateline's Tony Jones speaking to Washington Post Associate Editor Bob Kaiser on election eve:

Tony Jones: ...It's extraordinary isn't it, the inexperienced black Senator, a couple of books under his belt, a pretty thin resume, was able to convince undecided voters even to overlook his race, and believe that without the experience he could actually run the country in a crisis.

Bob Kaiser: Well, when you say, "Overlook his race", you're implying something I don't think I agree with, and I don't think most Americans consider dark skin to be an impediment in these matters.

Tony Jones: No, no, no you've certainly misunderstood me, I'm actually referring to the strain of racial antagonism in the country, which people are prepared to evidently overlook in his case.

Bob Kaiser: Yeah, well, yes, but I'm saying many white Americans don't share that racial antagonism, it's a minority that does. We don't have to get into that.

Tony Jones: Sure.

But it's not just the big bad media. Witty political boffins were all sprouting their Bradley Effect Mark II theories. Or white guilt. Comments, even on the esteemed newmatilda.com flagged redneck states as racist states. Forget their two jobs, no healthcare, busted industries or political beliefs, they are just racists. Not like us.

This is not to say race wasn't a factor or is a non-issue. It is an issue — just not in the way many are implying.

Many people in the US — regardless of their race — feel a foot taller after Wednesday's result. Obama got there following the path created by the civil rights movement and critically, the leaders that shaped that movement. Indigenous Australians don't have such leaders (no, pontificating from Cape York is not enough). Look at our Anglo parliament and then look at our diverse society and you realise just how far behind we are.

The deja vu of America's brand new dawn sits uncomfortably with the reality of a Rudd Government. We are compensating our polluters for the Emissions Trading Scheme, bailing out already subsidised child care tsars and unsustainable car manufacturers while nation building and infrastructure like rail, ports and broadband are under review, probably ready for release as a five year plan.

Bright stars like Maxine McKew, Greg Combet, Bill Shorten or even Bob Debus are either stuck in another inquiry or possibly locked in a room playing mah-jong. Rudd himself opened Parliament with a bang, visionary and eloquent. He now talks like he's eaten a fist full of Rohypnol.

The union movement were activated with a clear target through to 2007. Now they are scattered, obsessing about Noel Washington but not much else. Have they anything to say about the impact of the leviathan GFC (no, not the Geelong Football Club)? Where is their agenda to future-proof employment? Who is the ACTU boss again?

After having a visionless PM for 11 years, Australia has forgotten how to stand on its own two feet and tell the world what we think and who we are. We give old Rupert a Boyer to tell us what we are doing wrong, proselytise to Pacific nations and brag about sixth place in the Olympics like it means something.

In California, 52 per cent of people voted for Proposition 8. Well at least the California Legislature had the cajones to put gay marriage up for a public vote. Our soft, progressive, cuddly-feely Labor Party wouldn't go anywhere near such a vote (except the ACT and look what happened). Our PM is unequivocal: "Let's be absolutely clear about this, I have nothing to say about gay marriage... it's just a personal thing".

Greg Sheridan has mourned the loss of our bestest friend ever George W Bush. The crazy thing about friends is, you can always name attributes you like about them. I've objectively tried to think of three achievements of the Bush Administration and — just like Sheridan — failed.

Yes, this has been an unprecedented eight-year nightmare and America has not become progressive and perfect overnight. I'm not entirely overjoyed with Obama's success — and he is clearly holding Mrs Obama back — but for the past eight years, our default reaction to any of our national inadequacies has been, "At least things aren't as bad as they are in America". That time has now passed.

I have a dream: Australia wakes up.


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Dr Dog
Posted Monday, November 10, 2008 - 17:18

Its a superpower thing Bob. As the USA wanes in influence we have to adapt to the changing political landscape.

Try it out. The internet is largely vapid and trivial, but at least its better than what they get in China.

The pollution in our cities is terrible but at least we don't live in Beijing.

Its hard to be able to afford more than one kid these days, but at least the government wants us to try, not like in China.

Or, yes, we could wake up.

Posted Tuesday, November 11, 2008 - 09:54

Wow. This country really is rotten isn't it? I never realised just how backward, "moranic" and vapid we really were. As much as it hurts to sit here on the grubby kitchen floor of the world, with other countries looking down at us from on high, like something to avoid tripping over, or mop up when they can't stand the sight of our cultural stains any longer, What would you suggest be done to salvage the salvagable (assuming there is anything you want to keep from the write off) from our car-wreck of a nation? Is there anything in the entire history of our nation that has ever been done correctly, anywhere, ever? Can we learn anything from Australia's past other than misery, suffering, obstinance, arrogance, intolerance, hatred and bitterness?

Posted Tuesday, November 11, 2008 - 13:22

Too true, Dr Dog. Life is cheap in China. They drown villages building their big dams, don't look after their workers (all those mining disasters) and poison their bottle fed babies. Plus they hate the Koreans, Japs and those pesky Tibetans. Goodness knows what they are up to in the Pacific.

All with a controlled media which filters the internet!!!

Dr Dog
Posted Tuesday, November 11, 2008 - 14:14

Scandalous Bob!

96ghia all sarcasm aside I think the point I got from Mr Dumpling's article is that we are in no way positioned to take a morally superior position to the USA or indeed any other country.

Australia is great to live and has done much to be proud of, but the adoption of moral authority is not one of them.

Posted Tuesday, November 11, 2008 - 19:47

I only wish there was sarcasm.
Unfortunately if anything the article went lightly on Australia.
All that I learned in high school Australian history, is that we have nothing at all, ever, to be proud of. And I don't know what we could ever do to change that.

Posted Wednesday, November 12, 2008 - 10:41


Ok we are not relevant as a world power, I for one don't wish it to be one.
We have. old age pensions that don't rely on the success in the "market" in the same way as USA {employer funded} our sick leave entitlements provided by law and govt. generous leave entitlements
Workers comp. and the best health care system in the world?
We don't feel obliged to interfere in the politics in other societies, but are prepared to help when asked.
We are leaders in skepticism and some sciences. Our elections are not costing more than that to be afforded and our parliamentary structures work most of the time.
I have traveled a little and am convinced to live nowhere else.
Having power is to be destructive, when one looks at " leading nations" and who needs our currency to be a world standard?
It's a good life led in Australia!

Dr Dog
Posted Wednesday, November 12, 2008 - 11:41

Some of those things are less true than they used to be fluff4.

In fact as we become more like the world powers the more we lose our strengths.

We have moved away from innovation toward consumption.

We are losing our scepticism of authority and social controls.

We have swapped robust diversity for technology driven homogeneity.

Don't get me wrong. I love this country and think we are in an excellent position for the future, as long as we don't trade away all that makes us good, or allow hubris to let us ignore what we need to to change.

Power sucks and players get played. I vote we stay on the periphery, where the fun happens.