Sunday, June 12, 2005

Sunday's person to meet (plus a political tangent) 

He has tangled with Peter Jennings and the Dixie Chicks over his music, criticized the media for its coverage of the Iraq war, tweaked the Country Music Association over awards snubs and threatened to flee his record label.

At 6-foot-4, the former oil field worker, rodeo hand and semipro football player doesn't so much enter an office as take it over. He's candid and talkative and doesn't seem to mind stepping on toes -- anyone's.
Yep, it's Toby Keith. I'm not into country music, but having listened to the live recording of his "Taliban Song", I give the guy two thumbs up (mind you, don't try to learn geography or international politics from that song - and speaking of songs, here's an interesting story behind his patriotic hit anthem "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)").

While reading Keith's profile, something else caught my attention:
Keith thinks he has been unfairly portrayed by the media and his critics as a hard-core right winger. While he has backed the American troops in his songs and supported President Bush's re-election, he describes himself as a conservative Democrat who doesn't always agree with the administration.

In Oklahoma where he and his wife of 21 years, Tricia, live with their three children, he has campaigned for Democratic candidates including Gov. Brad Henry. "I get brushed with this big, gigantic red, white and blue brush, but I don't mind," he says. "I look good in red, white and blue."
Over the years, I was quite surprised to discover quite a few people who are considered right-wingers who are actually Democrats (albeit, of course, conservative ones) - people like Victor Davis Hanson, Michael Novak or Samuel Huntington. And this, in turn, send my mind off on another tangent.

My American readers, so very used to the idea that a Democrat can often vote with the Republicans, or a Republican elected official (usually below the federal level) can endorse a Democrat politician, would be very surprised to discover just how rigid the party system is in Australia. All votes, both in the House of Representatives and the Senate, are strictly on party lines. Iron discipline is maintained, and once the Cabinet (with the informal support of the majority of government Members and Senators) makes a decision, everyone is expected to support it in Parliament. This is generally not a burning issue, since in most cases if you are an elected member of a given party, you will have no problem on ideological grounds with most of your party's programs and policies. But even if you don't, you have an incentive to nevertheless be a team player, since the party rank and file don't like mavericks who rock the boat and would be very likely to withdraw their support the next time your preselection comes up (preselection is our form of primary, which is only open to party members).

In the past, there have been not uncommon instances of Members and Senators "crossing the floor" - that is voting with the other side, if they felt particularly strongly about some issue. I can't, however, recall this happening in my time in politics. The only exceptions are the so-called conscience votes, where matters of life and death (abortion, euthanasia, death penalty) are at stake and representatives are thus allowed to vote not on party lines but according to their personal beliefs.

Which system is better - the American one, with its fluidity, or the Australian one, with its rigidity? Each has its own advantages and disadvantages - the unpredictability of the American one perhaps makes it more exciting (at least as a spectator sport), while in Australia you always know what you are going to get (at least in the House of Representatives, as the government of the day usually doesn't have majority in the Senate, although the current one will - as of July 1 - for the first time in a generation).

Not that any of you need a special invitation, but feel free to share your thoughts and opinion in the comments section.


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