At Least We Don't Live in America!


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 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.


Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.