Over the past week, I've been slightly bemused by the euphoria from many of my friends in the US over the predictable and expected victory of Barack Obama in the American presidential election. Perhaps I've been impatient because a lot of them seem to have had nothing else on their minds lately. Yet, life goes on, and yes there are other things we need to talk about.
Or perhaps I've become too old and cynical.
It also hasn't escaped me that, at the same time as Obama was elected president, the electorates of a number of US states voted to reject gay marriage. The reasons appear to involve a mixture of stupidity, ignorance, and outright hatred of gays. Don't think that the US is doing a U-turn yet into acting like a genuinely liberal, secular society. These outcomes are ominous, and they could put a big damper on any celebrations.
Meanwhile, I well remember the amount of euphoria (a much lesser amount, but still ...) that surrounded the election of Kevin Rudd as prime minister, here in Australia last year. I was going around at the time warning that Rudd is a deeply conservative man and that he may not be all that much better than Howard was. Many people I encountered in work corridors, at parties, or whatever, poo-poo'ed this.
In the event, I've proved to be correct - we've seen Rudd joining in the attack on artistic freedom in his comments about Bill Henson, and we have the spectre of a Labor government going much further than the conservatives parties ever suggested in trying to build a Great Wall of Australia around us to keep out nasties from the internet. Rudd is, of course, a devout religionist, just like Howard before him. His support for gay rights is, at best, half-hearted. His voting record on such topics as therapeutic cloning is dismal. For Poseidon's sake, he was never someone to trust in such a position of power as prime minister of Australia. At this stage, my estimate is that Rudd is almost as much a threat to our liberties as Howard was; indeed, perhaps more so. It's not even obvious that we can expect much more compassionate policy from the Rudd government on such issues as refugees. Welcome to Howard-lite.
That's not to claim that Rudd has been a complete failure. He's taken at least one action that applaud, in signing the Kyoto Protocol. But the euphoria that surrounded his election was never justified. The most that could be justified was relief that a truly backward government had finally been swept from power ... and there was the faint hope of something a bit better. I guess that hope still lingers, but the more I see of Rudd the more I distrust him.
But maybe I'm unfair in seeing the US situation in similar terms. Reactionary and hard-hearted as the Howard government was, it was never a puppet of the religious right to an extent even remotely like the Bush administration in the US. What's more, it at least had the virtue (like the Hawke and Keating governments before it) of basic economic competence. That can't be said of the spendthrift Bush administration with its misguided, open-ended, and hideously expensive "wars" on drugs and terrorism. All in all, the Howard government may have been pretty bad in numerous ways, but the Bush government was a dystopian nightmare.
America has now elected a moderate, intelligent, seemingly reasonable and good-hearted man as its next president. He will have strong support from Congress, and will be free to act. There's every prospect that Barack Obama will finally lead the US in a positive direction, after it's been dragged down by the lead-weight Bush administration for the past eight years. With any luck, the US will soon no longer seem to the rest of the world like a rogue superpower.
Perhaps that really is something to be euphoric about. Celebrate for all you're worth, my American friends. Don't let me rain on your parade.