Washington DC: Mark Latham has to win the election for the good of Australia. That's a no-brainer. But he also has to win for the good of America. That's right, in its own small way; the outcome of the Australian election could have an impact on the US presidential poll.
It's like this. The American public is still almost evenly divided - at least in the swing states that will decide the November 2 election, despite a recent opinion poll giving George Bush a double-digit lead nationwide. A couple of hundred thousand votes in the right places could still swing this election to Democrat contender John Kerry. (While we're at it, even though most progressives want to see a thumping victory for Kerry, wouldn't it be delicious irony if Bush were to win the popular vote but lose to Kerry in the Electoral College.)
If enough - just enough - of the American public sees their reliable old friends the Aussies ditching their own war mongering government, they might start to spot a pattern. First the Spanish turn on their conservative government, which was a key Bush ally; then the Indians reject the right-wing Hindu nationalist regime, which had also signed on to the Bush doctrine. A couple of months ago, the ever-wise Canadians decided that however creaking and corrupt their centrist Liberal government was, they were not going to trade it for the Bush clones who make up the opposition Conservative Party. In the end, 70 per cent of Canadians voted, in some way, anti-Conservative.
So it is possible - I'm not saying likely - that the trend towards centre left governments could roll through Australia on October 9 and right into Washington on November 2.There's a quid pro quo in this for Latham and Labor, too. I wrote last week that I didn't think Kerry was a shining saviour - but nor is he the least worst choice. He voted to authorise the war in Iraq, but it was a rare blemish on an otherwise strong progressive record over 20 years in public life.
A Kerry victory would embolden social democrats all over the world - including Australia - to pursue their own reformist agendas. For example, Kerry has been a rock solid supporter of labour and union rights. The US equivalent of the ACTU, the AFL-CIO, gave him a lifetime rating of 91 percent. His running mate, John Edwards, scored even higher - 96 per cent - and in his home state of North Carolina, that's a brave stand on principle. Every time Kerry, a wealthy man, has voted on a tax bill, it was in a way that would have made him poorer. He supports progressive taxation and has made repealing the Bush administration's tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires a centrepiece of his campaign. He and Edwards are committed to the phased introduction of a national health insurance plan, and the development of alternative, environmentally friendly energy sources has become a campaign mantra.
If a US president can enact a program that is even faintly progressive, it would give western social democrats no excuse not to follow. It would be a case of "even in America". For the first time since World War II, the Australian and American electoral - and political - cycles coincide. Both governments are in ideological lockstep. But we may be about to witness the onset of a new reformist era on both sides of the Pacific.
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