Was back in Boston last week for the Democratic National Convention – if you think it looks like a spectacle on TV you should see it in person! It is common in Aussie political circles to disparage the conduct of politics in the US, and it’s true — much of it is hard to stomach. Nevertheless, while I’d hate to see the kind of razzmatazz that you see over here in our politics, there are some things that we could learn from — or at least consider about — US politics. Here’s a few of them:
1. Primary preselections. We talk about this in Chap 2 of IA, but on any given election day, only one-third of Australians who live in ‘marginal’ electorates are likely to have any real say in determining their parliamentary representative. For the remaining two-thirds of voters who live in â€˜safeâ€™ seats, the real choice is not between the Labor Party and the Coalition, but which individual will represent the dominant party at the poll. We’d do well to adapt the US system and open up the process of preselecting political party candidates to all party supporters, not merely to the 1 per cent who belong to a political party. This would boost citizen involvement and the quality of our politicians.
2. The importance accorded to election campaigns. Sure elections over here go for a long time, but is it really a good thing that who sets the agenda for our country over the next 3 + years is decided in not much more than 3 weeks? Sure these conventions are massively stage-managed, but isn’t it a good thing that over at least 4 nights of primetime TV the parties have to explain what they are about and what they intend to do for the country?
3. The importance of speeches. Speeches matter over here. Sure they ham it up and carry on, but words (as Don Watson has been on a mission to tell us) are important. There were huge expectations around Kerry’s speech and not without reason. Speeches tell us a lot about our leaders (how many John Howard speeches can you remember?) and they have the capacity to inspire us. In IA we write about the importance of having leaders who take communication seriously — reformers must be persuaders too (Chap 4).
4. The emphasis on values. One thing you notice about political speeches in the US is how they are always grounded in values. While this can be a bit tiresome and overwrought at times, it can also be incredibly powerful. We think that itâ€™d be good if as a country we talked more about values (see Chap 1) and our leaders tried to explain how particular proposals advance or give meaning to our values.
While there is obviously lots about the US political system that we wouldn’t touch with a Diebold voting machine or a brown paper bag of greenbacks, we shouldn’t write it all off. And on that note above is my photographic salute to balloon drops (alas it is without the accompanying Van Halen track ;)
[Posted by David Madden]