Monday, October 18, 2004

Down Under and Up Over 

Two interesting perspectives on differences between American and Australian political styles. Mark Steyn writes in today's "Australian" about John Howard's victory:

"Rhetorically speaking, Howard is my favourite of the Anglosphere warriors. Tony Blair oscillates between being excessively messianic and vocally anguished in a rather camp way. George W. Bush staggers around like a groggy prizefighter stumbling through the same lines over and over ('Saddam Hussein is a dictator. He gassed his own people. He's a dangerous man. He gassed his own people. He's a dictator', repeat for 15 months, then invade).

"But Howard, for a man routinely described as having no charisma, manages to hit just the right tone. The French got all the attention in the days after September 11 with that Le Monde headline - 'Nous sommes tous Americains' - but even at the time I preferred Howard's take: 'There's no point in a situation like this being an 80 per cent ally'."
Steyn finishes his endorsement noting that

"even though he's hardly ever in the souvenir photo line-up, Howard's a more consequential figure in world affairs these days than Chirac. Indeed, he's a transformative figure. I know this, because my nation has been on the other end of the transformation. I'm Canadian and, for those who remember when the Royal Canadian Navy was once the third largest surface fleet in the world, it's sobering to hear Australia spoken of as the third pillar of the Anglosphere.

"Under Howard, Australia is a player while Canada is a global irrelevance. Given geography and the Islamists' ambitions in Indonesia and South Asia, that might be true whoever was in power. But, if this is simply a reflection of regional realities, Howard expresses them better than anyone else.

"That's inherent charisma: the short man who stands tall on the world stage, the bloke with failing eyesight who sees the most important question of the age very clearly, the baldie who has [Australian political columnist, Alan] Ramsey tearing his hair out."
I guest the point that Steyn makes in his usual Steynian flamboyant way, is that Australian politics tend to be much more understated and demure in a no-soaring rhetoric and no-floating confetti - but also no-nonsense, no-bull - sort of way. This basic observation is just asking for a long dissertation on the differences in national character between Down Under and Up Over of the Anglosphere, but that might have to wait for another day. In the meantime, Australia's Treasurer and Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party, Peter Costello, has this assessment of why Labor lost the election under Mark Latham's leadership. In one sentence: American-style campaigning just doesn't translate very well to Australia:

"This is the most derivative campaign I've seen. It was an attempt to run US-style politics in Australia. You know; I'm going to run the log-cabin-to-White-House story past the Australian people and substitute that story for serious policy. He imitated a lot of US campaigning techniques. You know, the bus; that comes from Kennedy. 'Ease the Squeeze', that was the John Kerry slogan. Even the 'ladder of opportunity' they filched from the US. The town hall meetings, which was the Clinton technique. And being introduced by his wife at the campaign launch: Theresa Heinz Kerry and the way they did it in the US.

"[Costello says Latham's 'cult of the leader' was fundamentally unsuited to the only territory that counts in Australian elections: the marginal (swing) seats:] In the US, of course, a few things are different. It is a presidential election in the US. You are electing a man, rather than the Westminster system where you are looking for seats. So the personal story doesn't carry into marginal seats. The key thing in Australia is good candidates winning marginal seats. The key thing in the US, because it is a presidential system, is the story of the candidate.

"I think it was a fundamental misunderstanding of the differences in politics. It also meant that rather than concentrate on issues, what Latham was trying to do was tell stories..."
Which arguably makes Australian elections lot less exciting than American one. And believe me, I know many people who would love to see more of American excitement and passion in our election. Oh well, we can still watch CNN on November 2.


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