A column about the US primaries

What a difference an election makes. After 11 long years in the wilderness, at least federally, Labor rules the roost. Sure, the Iemma Government is at best hilariously incompetent and at worst hideously corrupt, but Kevin Rudd is clearly going to be our Prime Minister for a very long time. I don’t think his current levels of popularity would take much of a hit even if it was revealed we was having a torrid affair with Brian Burke, given his current opponent. In fact, the only surprising thing about Brendan Nelson’s 7% approval rating is that it isn’t lower.

Domestic politics is boring again. Which is probably why there’s more interest in the US primaries than ever before. And in this era of cable and the internet when we can access America’s saturation coverage almost as easily as the locals can it’s all too easy to get hooked. It’s kind of like the Ultimate Fighting Championship, only if the brutal cage fights in the Octagon lasted for two years.

So it’s no wonder our dinner party conversations are increasingly dominated by fervent discussions of the merits of Barack Obama versus Hillary Clinton. It’s a fascinating contest that still shows no sign of being resolved, as Clinton has somehow climbed off the mat in Ohio and Texas. The Democrat primary is in some respects an embarrassment of riches, given two such different and meritorious candidates, who will each make history if elected. Would you rather the first black candidate or the first woman? Will the patriarchy win, or will white power carry the day? Like the choice between smashing a Celine Dion CD with a sledgehammer or running it over with a steamroller, there are qualitative differences, but it’s ultimately a win-win.

I know that statement will attract howls of indignance from the Barack fans, because Obamamania been set in here as well. Inner-city trendies are announcing the death of “politics as usual” and chanting “yes we can” over their lattes in Glebe, Newtown and Balmain, just as they are in Greenwich Village or Berkeley. And sure, Obama is a remarkable speaker. Whereas hearing Bush struggle with the English language is even more depressing than an episode of So You Think We Can Dance, listening to Obama speak is like being hugged. And I instinctively agree with much of what he has to say about issues like Iraq, and health care, and the malaise within the American political system. But there is one huge problem with his campaign as far as I’m concerned, and that is that I’m a cynic. Obama may be the first genuinely inspirational politician ever, and capable of performing hitherto unseen magic tricks to transform Washington if elected, but I’m still far from convinced. The guy’s only been involved in national politics for six years, and he’s spent three of them campaigning for President.

And then there’s Hillary, whom everyone just seems to hate. I can’t entirely fathom this. I don’t exactly like the prospect of the leadership of the free world continuing within the purview of the Bush and Clinton families – but for goodness sake, she seems hugely competent. I know she’s a cynical politician, not a weaver of dreams like Obama, and I know that every time she cries, a committee has approved it beforehand. But I really like the idea of someone who knows what they’re doing. And despite his obvious intelligence and policy nous, there’s just something that leaves me a little unconvinced that Obama necessarily does. In the end of the day, I’d be fairly happy with either. I’d go Obama, on the basis of the Iraq vote alone, but can anyone really deny that Hillary would do a decent job?

The general election will be fascinating as well, because the Republicans have somehow nominated an interesting and worthy candidate in spite of themselves. I thought they’d be attracted to the insincere corporate charms of Mitt Romney, who is the Mormon Malcolm Turnbull, or the folksy preacher, Mike Huckabee. Then again, I’m not sure the world is ready for a candidate whose major celebrity endorsement is from Chuck Norris.

The Democrat race is far from resolved, and the match-up with the generally impressive McCain should be a treat as well. So for once, we politics junkie should be grateful to America. Because when we’re watching yet another lineball debate between Clinton and Obama, we’re not watching Brendan Nelson. And for that we should all be truly grateful.