Sunday, 30 August 2009

Sense, and nonsense, about US politics

On women in combat roles in Iraq and Afghanistan: a pleasingly realistic, as opposed to ideological, piece of reporting — perhaps because it's being prepared during wartime. However, it must be said that some other articles in this series have been much less reasonable.

Meanwhile Ross Douthat has some sane remarks on the health-care-reform debate in the US, and on agency in US politics.

Speaking of the legislature: in memoriam Ted Kennedy, Gail Collins and David Brooks discuss being boring, building human capital, and getting things done. And I have to agree: it is encouraging to see that someone could find their place so completely, relatively late in life, after such previous failure. How to be a good Senator was something he understood quite early, although it seems to have taken seniority, failure as a Presidential candidate, and his second marriage, to free him to become truly good at it.

The ABC in Sydney, of course, is still tone-deaf. A year ago I complained that it was speaking stupidly about Senator Kennedy's illness, and reactions to it, and tonight's reporting of the memorials was no better. There was no mention — not one — of something that has been unavoidable in American discussion of the late Senator's life: his excellence as a Senator, as a legislator, as someone whose business it was to write, to negotiate, to compromise, and to act in concert with others. And if even a quarter of what is said about him in this area is true, then Teddy was superb at it. No-one else in this era is even mentioned as a rival in effectiveness and influence in the Senate; he was the Democrat with whom Republicans — Republican legislators, so they say, without a single exception — most wished to work.

That so thoroughly liberal a figure (and someone routinely demonised as such) could be so respected by the other side of politics, is worth noting, and worth discussing. It's a reminder that the partisan gridlock of present discussion is not the whole story, and is in some ways a declension from an earlier, more civil state. But to even notice any of this is to accept that Americans are not only different from us, but different from our understanding of them, and different — sometimes, dare I say it, they can be better — than their understanding of themselves.

If you're my age, and especially if you're Australasian, you can't help but think of America's quasi-royal family via the Shona Laing song (Glad I'm) Not a Kennedy, although what the late Senator was good at was the workaday business of government, rather than the inspiration one associates with his brothers. Nonetheless, among the pieces of soaring JFK rhetoric that graced the 80's song, there's one that will serve for Jack's baby brother, redeemed sinner that he was:
When a man's ways please the Lord, the Scriptures tell us, He maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him.
Proverbs 16:7

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