Now I’m the first to admit that I’m a bit of an Obamaphile. I love him. I understand and appreciate that what some see as “rhetoric”, is also perceived by others as visionary waffle that set expectations too high. I understand that the very right, very white Americans can be concerned about what they see as a “socialist” attitude (although last time I looked socialism was an economic system characterised by social ownership and co-operative management of the economy, but let’s not get caught up in the detail. I watched some of the debates, I watched the election results and resulting speeches of victory and concession (didn’t Romney pitch his speech just one step above ungracious loser..) and two things struck me:
Firstly, no matter what economic situation the world has found itself in (and American more than anyone), people are still excited and inspired by vision. And secondly, not only are they inspired by his vision, they have taken ownership and laid claim to him in such a strong personal way. Admittedly Obama’s pitch this time around was slightly less ‘visionary’ than it was forward-looking, we saw this in the one word definition of his campaign as it changed from HOPE to FORWARD but this win was even more important than the first because it showed that Obama wasn’t voted in as a novel figure because he spoke well about how the future could be, because he’s black and fighting for all people, because he’s different or because he’s not the Other. He was voted in again because people still believe in the change he purports to bring to the country. They still believe in the Obama vision. Which brings me to my next most obvious point…
Let your USA cynicism depart you for a moment and let us consider why we don’t see any of that vision in Australia? I understand that the American election campaign is political showbiz at its best, I appreciate the people who say that American campaigning has been reduced to emotional speeches about vision and future, sound bytes about hope and change but you know what? I’d take a bit of that in Australia any day. Let ‘s be Frank (or any other good Scottish name for that matter), it’s not like Australian politicians are busting with awesome policy in place of vision. Maybe they just need a better marketing agency? I like Julia. I think she’s clever, she seems to be a good negotiator, she has a sound approach on many issues and she has a strong pool of resources in people like Penny Wong, Tania Plibersek, Greg Combet and Bill Shorten. She’s just a really really bad communicator. And I’m not talking about a superficial criticism of her nasal tones or her oral skills, I’m talking about her innability to “sell” the bigger picture to the Australian public. Australian politics has been reduced to a point scoring policy slanging match and there is no clear voice ringing out amongst the drivel with any clear vision or hopeful idea for the future. When Julia pitched the carbon tax she didn’t talk about the future or about our responsibility or about the changing environmental landscape, she didn’t urge us to sit up and get a grip with what is happening from an environmental standpoint, she made excuses, she talked about compensation and how she’d shift money around to prevent hardship. She stopped short of apologising but nevertheless it was sad. Give me an Obama vision any day. So what if he psychs people up and has an almost popstar like quality about him, our Labour party (or any party for that matter) could do with a bit of that sexiness here. People want to be inspired. They want to feel part of something and they want something to believe in. If we can sell bottled water in a country where our tap water is of the highest quality, if we can sell anti-ageing creams and life coaches, surely we can help the right politician sell a visionary story for the future.
In his acceptance speech Obama told euphoric supporters in Chicago that “you voted for action, not politics as usual” which effectively preserves the political status quo, – Obama gets a second term, Republicans hold their majority in the U.S. House and the Democrats keep control of the Senate but you know what? He’s got a tough job ahead of him in a difficult economic and political climate but still, I feel excited.