31 January, 2009

How George W Bush Really Brought Democracy

Throughout the eight years of the Bush Administration, their standard line to deflect criticism was that it would be "up to history," to judge them. It's a tactic that never worked for me at school.
"I know things look bad now, Miss Q, but it will be up to history to judge whether I passed this maths test."
Twenty years later, my grade on that test has not improved. But I always thought it was telling that the Bush administration never even bothered to try and defend some of its actions, instead choosing to just hand-ball it all to "history," and hope that they will be remembered more like Truman and less like Nixon (who history has only become moderately kinder to recently, having been able to compare him to Bush).

But now that it's been over a week since the end of Bush's presidency, now that his time in office has officially been consigned to history, are we allowed to say he sucked yet?

One thing the Bushies insist they are responsible for, is bringing democracy to certain parts of the world. That's an assertion I happen to agree with, and with that in mind, I present the first re-post of something previously posted elsewhere. And I promise that this is just about the nicest thing I have to say about him.

How George W Bush Really Brought Democracy.

Let me say from the outset, that there is no sarcasm in the title of this comment whatsoever. It occurred to me while reading Al Gore's speech to the Democratic convention that George Bush is correct to think that he will be remembered as a bringer of democracy. Just not for the reason he thinks.

Here's some of what Gore said:

Eight years ago, some said there was not much difference between the nominees of the two major parties and it didn’t really matter who became President.
Our nation was enjoying peace and prosperity. Some assumed we would continue both no matter the outcome. But here we all are in 2008, and I doubt anyone would argue now that election didn't matter.
Take it from me, if it had ended differently, we would not be bogged down in Iraq, we would have pursued Bin Laden until we captured him.

A few things have to be said first. Al Gore has made it clear he has a taste for sour grapes, never missing a chance to say, “I told you so!” And his assertion that he would have captured bin Laden has no more credibility than Bush's vow to “smoke him out,” or McCain's assurance that he knows how to find him. [Update: McCain insisted that he would not reveal his plan until after the election, nor would he broadcast it to the enemy. With the election over, I hope that he has now told Barack Obama what he knows] Gore would have been better to say that he wouldn't have ignored the terrorist threats that the Clinton administration warned of, the way the Bush administration did. But he couldn't state that categorically either.

But Gore's main point is well taken. With such obvious differences between the two men now, it's easy to forget that people on all sides of politics regarded the 2000 election as a Tweedledum/Tweedledee choice. Some people referred to them as Gush and Bore. We were wrong.

It reminded me of the video clip for Testify by Rage Against the Machine, which shows Bush and Gore morphing into one another, and highlights the similarities between what the two then candidates were saying. The video was directed by Michael Moore, who supported Ralph Nader in 2000 and seems to have spent the following eight years overcompensating for his misjudgement and having realised too late that there is such a thing as the lesser of two evils when it comes to the major parties.

Moore shouldn't be so hard on himself. He grossly overestimates his relevance to any election. What he should really feel ashamed of is his part in fostering the notion that there's no difference between voting Republican or Democrat. Voter turnout in 2000 was just 51.3%

By 2004, voter turnout had increased to 56.7%, the highest since 1968 but still a pretty shameful effort. Bush supporters make much of the fact that Bush received more votes in that election than any other candidate in US history. What they neglect to point out is who got the second greatest number of votes ever; John Kerry. Two things explain these numbers, population growth and the relatively high voter turnout. Don't be fooled into thinking there was any ringing endorsement of George W Bush. Notwithstanding allegations of electoral fraud and irregularities (which have never been satisfactorily explained), Bush won both 2000 and 2004 by the skin of his teeth.

Things have changed since 2004 and the “political capital” Bush boasted of in early 2005 was squandered within six months. Since then, we have seen the war in Iraq become a quagmire, al Qaeda regrouping in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the dimwitted non-response to Hurricane Katrina and corruption scandal after corruption scandal. Bush's current approval rating sits at less than 30%. If the leader of a middle eastern or South American country had similar numbers, it would prompt the west to begin talking about regime change.

The interesting thing about all of that politically, is that rather than make people disillusioned in the political process, it has instead caused more and more people to embrace it. Barack Obama has one of the most cashed-up campaigns that anyone remembers and it's largely due to small donations by private individuals. Thousands and thousands of them. This is not a trend you would expect to see from a nation of people apathetic to the process.

After Michelle Obama was jumped on by the right wing for saying this was the first time she was proud of her country, John McCain graciously offered her a lifeline by saying he never really loved his country until he was deprived of her company. It would seem that a lot of Americans now feel that way about the democratic process. They had forgotten how to love democracy until the Bush administration began to deprive them of it, in the form of signing statements, recess appointments, creative readings of the constitution, removal of habeas corpus and illegal politicisation of the justice department. Along the way, they received little, if any hindrance from a cowed and ineffectual opposition party. Some more conspiratorial thinkers might suggest that the Democrats deliberately let the administration do as it pleased to show the public how bad things could be when Republicans are allowed to do whatever they want, but this theory should be dismissed. To quote Sir Humphrey Appleby from Yes Minister, that would be to mistake lethargy for strategy.

For this reason, it's easy to see why the majority of support went to the candidate who was least tarnished by bending over for the administration at a time when it was politically expedient to do so. Whether Obama would have really voted against the war, had he been in Congress at the time, is not something we can know any more than we can know that Al Gore would have found bin Laden by now. But the point is that Obama didn't vote for the war and therefore has the moral authority to speak out against it in a way that his fellow candidates do not. And he does so in a way that attracts tens of thousands of people. To a political speech! Go figure!

This then, will be George Bush's real legacy and the best thing he has ever done for his country. His talk of bringing freedom and democracy to Afghanistan and Iraq is highly dubious, but he has given his own country a newfound hunger for it by giving people a whiff of what it might be like to live without it. Of course, like just about everything Bush has done, it's all to do with the law of unintended consequences and not by any kind of design. Previously, many Americans regarded elections as a necessary but unwelcome distraction from their daily lives. Today, they are seizing the opportunity to take part. On polling day, Americans should thank George Bush for reminding them that elections are important and that it does matter who you vote for.

Originally posted at Strawberry Fields, 29/8/2008

28 January, 2009

Spot the difference

Near Tantanoola,

Which of these (if any) is a blot on the landscape?

Final trip soundtrack:

Hard Rain - Bob Dylan
Extreme Honey, the Best of the Warner Brothers Years - Elvis Costello
Seven - Machine Translations
The Careless Ones - Oblivia
Hashish - Dave Graney

Liquor - Clare Moore
King Hokum - CW Stoneking
Join the Parade - Marc Cohn
One Long Year - Todd Rundgren
Closer - Andy Salvanos

26 January, 2009

I love South Australian power poles

I first noticed these dalek-like arrangements on our tour of the Barossa Valley last year and I realise now that it's a state-wide thing. Imagine two train tracks on a taper with concrete in between. It's just one of those little things that remind you you're somewhere different.

Soundtrack for the trip so far:

Don't Ask Don't Tell (continued) - Michelle Shocked
The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan
Another Side of Bob Dylan

The Seeds of Love - Tears for Fears
Awake is the New Sleep - Ben Lee

Nothing But a Dream - Paul Kelly
Aerial - Kate Bush
When the Flood Comes - The Audreys
Some Mad Hope - Matt Nathanson

23 January, 2009

The lake, the lake, the lake is on fire

Connoisseurs of the Simpsons might remember the scene where Lisa explained that town pride had been at an all-time low since the lake caught fire.

Spare a thought then, for Ballarat where the lake did actually catch fire today.

There are many dry lakes in the world but Lake Wendouree is not usually one of them. It was the rowing venue for the 1956 Olympics but it dried up a couple of years ago, thanks to the draught. This has necessitated periodic mowing of the lake and today, a grass-fire started right in the middle of it.

It's looking like the fire was deliberately lit.

Soundtrack for the trip so far:

Fortified - Rebecca Barnard
Modern Times - Bob Dylan
Going Home: A Tribute to Fats Domino - Various/Tipitinas
Happy - Machine Translations
Jokes and Trials - Ned Collette
Don't Ask Don't Tell - Michelle Shocked

20 January, 2009

Predicting Obama

On the eve of Barack Obama's inauguration, everyone wants to speculate about how his administration is going to go. The chants of "Our long national nightmare is over," come with almost every change of office now, to the point where it's become clichéd. Anyone who thinks everything is going to get better in a couple of months is kidding themselves and Obama himself has quietly moved to calm high expectations. While it's certainly nice to hear someone talk about hope after eight years of Republicans saying, "Be afraid. Be very afraid!" this can all too easily lead to false hope.

I think we can get an idea of how Obama will fare with the public from Tony Blair. He was another young, energetic leader who swept away a deeply unpopular conservative government. They both realised that their respective parties already had as many habitual voters as they were ever going to have and knew the had to appeal (though, crucially, not pander) to the other side. Both were described as lefties by their opponents but by any objective measure were moderate conservative pragmatists. Both won the endorsements of people and institutions that traditionally favoured the other side. Both were considered equal-parts politicians and rock stars. Both were seen as the great hope to usher in a new era. (Beyond the new era that naturally comes with any change of government.)

So I think we can probably tell a little about how the Obama administration will be perceived after a year or so from what happened to the Blair government. After the obligatory honeymoon period, feelings towards Blair soured as he began to collapse under the weight of expectations. As people realised that their day-to-day lives hadn't changed much, they began to turn on him. Not in huge numbers of course. Many who were disillusioned still felt he was better than the alternative but the massive wave of hope had dissipated. Then, Blair hitched his reputation to George W Bush's invasion or Iraq, and his legacy was sealed. However much he may defend the decision, Blair understood that he had made a grave miscalculation. This is evident in the way Blair talked of being "forgiven" by history at a time when his US counterparts were insisting that nothing had gone wrong, and to this day, are sure that history will vindicate them.

There are not many leaders who, after a few years, do not have to beg history's forgiveness for something. It's unlikely that Obama will be any exception. Although, it's clear that he has learnt from the mistakes not only of the Bush administration and previous Democratic challengers but also of the Blair government. Despite his slogan of Hope, he has been keen to dispell any false hope. It's not clear if his supporters are hearing it though. They will be all too keen to blame any early problems on the previous administration, just as Blair's supporters were. And any way you look at it, Obama inherits a far bigger steaming pile of dung than Blair ever did. He will be lucky if his honeymoon period lasts until Wednesday. But as Obama's term continues, it's rather likely that his popularity will wane as Blair's did when it becomes evident that he can't fix every problem in a couple of years.

19 January, 2009

What's it all about?

Here is an extended version (director's cut, 12" mix) of my ’Blogger profile to introduce myself and the ’blog and explain what it's all for.

Full name is Harold William but those who know me call me Bill.

Computer tutor, IT handyman, presenter of Strawberry Fields Radio, erstwhile member of the Strawberry Fields forum, occasional songwriter and musician, and writer of some notes.

I’ve always preferred to publish my thoughts and essays in forums for an ongoing conversation. In fact, some of my best writing comes as replies. But since my cyber-home of the last three years has had an attack of the vapours, and since I don’t have the time or inclination to develop a relationship with a new one, I’ve decided to move my work into the ’blogiverse. I will probably publish some old stuff here as well just so it can have a new, and hopefully permanent online home. Whenever that happens, I'll post the original date and location.

Here you will find my thoughts on music, politics, music DVDs and life in general plus occasional surrealism. Comments are welcome.

I have no intention to cross-reference this ’blog with any other online networks. The ’blog is here, the podcast is at Podomatic, live with it. Don’t ask me to post updates on Twitter or FaceBook or cross-post at MurdochSpace. My FaceBook profile is for people I actually know. My Twitter is for those closest to me who really need it. My MurdochSpace is for pretending I know rock stars. The rock stars I really do know, know who they are.

None of this means that we can’t get to know each other better through this ’blog, but until then, everything else is on a need-to-know basis.

By the way, if anyone is wondering, since it’s an abbreviation of web-log, ’blog should be spelt with an apostrophe, like ’phone.