Elephants Down Under

– Great piece on the difference between politics in the U.S. and those in Australia and New Zealand.

– Dennis

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By Thomas Friedman, New York Times

I’ve learned three things visiting New Zealand and Australia: There is a place in the world where rugby is front-page news. There is a place in the world — the Auckland airport — where the restrooms have digital clocks in the entryway telling you hourly when they were last cleaned and when they will be cleaned again. And there is a place in the world where moderate Republicans still exist — unfortunately, you have to take a 13-hour flight from Los Angeles to get there.

Indeed, to go from America — amid the G.O.P. primaries — to Down Under is to experience both jet lag and a political shock. In New Zealand and Australia, you could almost fit their entire political spectrum — from conservatives to liberals — inside the U.S. Democratic Party.

Or as Paul Quinn, a parliamentarian from New Zealand’s conservative National Party, once told a group of visiting American Fulbright scholars: “I will explain to you how our system works compared to yours: You have Democrats and Republicans. My Labor opponents would be Democrats. I am a member of the National Party, and we would be … Democrats” as well.

For instance, there is much debate here over climate policy — Australia has a carbon tax, New Zealand has cap and trade — but there is no serious debate about climate science. Whereas in today’s G.O.P. it is political suicide to take climate change seriously, in Australia and New Zealand it is political suicide for conservatives not to.

In Australia and New Zealand, “there are plenty of climate skeptics in politics, but they know it’s a political loser to say so,” explained the Australian environmentalist Paul Gilding. “This became the case after Australia suffered its worst-ever drought, lasting more than a decade.” Now, “there is strong public acceptance of the basic scientific conclusion that the climate is changing and humans are a significant contributor.”

– More…

– Research thanks to Amy G. and Cara H.



2 Responses to “Elephants Down Under”

  1. Joel says:

    Very insightful. Here’s a question that is highly germane: at what point did U.S. politcal forces start moving away from negotiation and toward idealogical poles? What was the issue, event, or trend that started or accelerated this? If we know that, then maybe we can begin to look for ways to change it. Any simplistic answer, such as “it’s all the Tea Party’s fault”, loses credibility. Look inward as well as outward..

  2. Dennis says:

    Joel, I think I’ve read that a lot of this ‘hard ball’ stuff began back with Newt Gingrich’s rise to power.

    But, I think such progressions from civility to voting in blocks, from discussions to ultimatums are a simple real-politic recognition that the true goal (at least for some of the players) is, above all else, to win. So, it it takes ballot box stuffing to get the position won, if it takes bribes to get the deal done, it will eventually happen.

    It’s the slippery slope phenomenon. If they do dirty hit ads while we’re still trying to engage a lazy public into really thinking about the issues in our ads, then we may be standing on the high ground but the other folks, through dirty politics, have won the election.

    All of us will have to unite and forswear the slippery slope. But, if even one significant faction won’t join, then they will likely win. I don’t think there are any easy answers.

    But, I do think there’s hope. After all, the societies we live in today were all mired in graft and corruption, brutality, despots just a century or two ago. And somehow, we’ve managed to come out of that darkness into what we have today.