Recently some have asked me the reason for my fascination with US Politics. There are many possible answers to such a question. Firstly, US politics and economics obviously have a profound impact on the rest of the world. Secondly, American society is the loudest, as its media and culture pervades every facet of our own. Thirdly, US politics, especially recent US politics, offers the rest of us many lessons (mostly in the field of what not to do). However, the real reason US politics piqued and maintained my interest is that no other political system can match its drama.
Australian politics, while of course somewhat discordant, is quite sedate. With the exception of twitter, talk radio and the opinion pages; political vitriol and name-calling in Australia is largely left to the politicians themselves. In Australia religious and social issues are largely absent from mainstream politics despite attempts by the Australian to link hatred of Tony Abbot with Catholicism. Quacks like the Reverend Fred Nile are in the minority, as Australian politicians generally keep their noses out of ethical disputes. Australian religious leaders generally do not speak out on issues outside of their forte (e.g. Tax Policy); and the religious media (e.g. 104.3) largely limit themselves to playing classical music and discussing scripture. Even ideologically charged disputes such as the Carbon and Mining Taxes encourage relatively civil and open debates; the mining industry (one of the richest industries in the world) spent barely more than 20 million lobbying and even came to the table to negotiate with the government, and the most heated rhetoric was little more than claiming Julia Gillard had lied (Juliar). Furthermore Australia has relatively little history of racial intolerance (other than with Aboriginals), has an excellent educational system, an over sensationalist scandal loving domestic media (which keeps the government and opposition in check), and no history of widespread McCarthy-esque witch hunts over ideology. Australia’s unions and social security systems, while still hated by the right, are not as vitriolically attacked as in the US but rather justifiably criticised for their faults. Finally, Australia boasts a Westminster system, which (as outlined in a previous post) allows for less posturing and deadlocks over mandates. Pretty boring eh?
On the other hand we have the US, where almost none of the same can be said. US politics is divisive and vitriolic bordering on the ridiculous. Religion, ethics and social issues have come to dominate political discussion, exemplified by the current field of Republican presidential candidates. Religious leaders and media are highly involved in shaping political discourse, for example the Family Research Council often speak out on foreign and tax policy. Ideologically divisive issues such as energy and labour policies are debated in the media rather than in legislatures, and include vitriolic name-calling and accusations. Racial and Immigration policies are largely based upon the political spectrum. America’s educational system is rapidly sliding down the charts, and is partly at fault for many of the issues with their democracy today. Furthermore it has become all too easy for comedians to produce the “how ignorant are Americans?” bits, due to the population’s very US centric approach to the world. The US has become the home of media partisanship, even despite the fairness doctrine. The US clings to its Republican system of governance (I have pointed out its failings in a previous post), despite the deadlock and incessant posturing created by a separation of powers and mandate. Finally, Unions and the social security system are hotly contested topics, and are among the most vitriolic topics of conversation despite their overwhelming popularity in unbiased polls. If only “Days of our Lives” had so much potential for conflict.
Therefore the reason I enjoy US politics so very much, is precisely because of how dysfunctional it is. I have never understood why people watch soap operas and other dramas (which are fictitious) and overlook the overwhelmingly splendid reality that is America’s political environment. The outrageous impact that social issues play in the US is truly stunning. The way that US politics has evolved into a winner take all team sport has ratcheted up the vitriol beyond wildest imaginations. A highly partisan media pours oil on the fire. Ignorance of the world fostered by a horrible (and declining) educational system and an America centric society compromise their perceived role as the world’s leader. Racial issues add further spanners in an otherwise thoroughly messed up works. And it is all capped off by a hypocritical hatred of Unions and the social safety net. Bliss. Where’s the popcorn?