human behavior

The despair of centrality

Posted in Australian Culture & Politics, The Expatriate Life by humanb on December 15, 2006

In a truly partisan climate it is sometimes so much easier and more comforting to be partisan yourself. Republican Representative from Texas, Tom Delay, speaking to the congressional newspaper The Hill:

The Hill: What would you advise the president to do in these last couple years with a Democratic Congress?

DeLay: Fight. Fight. Fight. There is no such thing as bipartisanship. The Democrats define bipartisanship as buying into their partisanship. In my experience in over 12 years of being in leadership, if you didn’t do it the Democrats way, they didn’t want to play. The perfect example of that is when we reached out in a bipartisan way to create the Department of Homeland Security. We gave them more stuff than we should have in negotiating with [Nancy] Pelosi and others. Then when we go out there to mark up the bill, they 100% vote against it. That’s bipartisanship.

Ah well.

One aspect of Australian politics that I have always found a bit disconcerting was the tradition of naming the major party not in power The Opposition. This necessarily connotes and encourages a position of constant dissent to the ideas and propositions of the party in power. The Leader of the Opposition is therefore evaluated by how well he criticises the ideas and positions of the ruling party. Obviously, if a party is to demonstrate its superior ability to govern, it must offer superior ideas for governing, but the title of Opposition and the expectations of the party in such a position, seem to negate the possibility and even desirability of compromise. Parliament becomes a place of deep division and resistance at best, and animosity at worst. There seems little collective desire to find common ground for the betterment of every Australian.

The word “shadow” minister I also find a bit disturbing – funny too. It conjures for me an image of Rudd and Gillard creeping menacingly behind Howard and Vaile like shapeless dark forces ready to supplant them at a moments notice and take form from the newfound strength of victory over their enemies.

Alas, the US Congress may be no different. While the Democrats are called just that, and we have no shadow figures, the US manages to produce the same culture of divisiveness without the complication of a joint executive and legislative branch, and without the terminology of opposition.

I think it interesting that many people see little difference between the Democratic and Republican parties in America, and the Labor and Liberal parties in Australia. Our respective legislators clearly see great ideological chasms, and too few of them voice a sincere desire to build bridges to cross them.


2 Responses

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  1. Club Troppo » said, on December 18, 2006 at 12:24 pm

    […] The despair of centrality – “Human Behaviour” wonders whether labelling the main non-government party as “The Opposition” and its portfolio spokespeople as “shadow Ministers” has any effect on the political process … […]

  2. Jacques Chester said, on December 18, 2006 at 2:16 pm

    Great post.

    The terms “Opposition” and the idea of shadow ministers is borrowed from our Westminster heritage.

    The idea is that at all times there is an alternative government ready to take over. Traditionally both parties are seen as loyal to the nation and the queen, but that it is useful and healthy to have a second government ready to step in.

    That terminology has weakened over the years. Often the media refer to shadow ministers as “spokesmen” or “spokespersons”. A shame really, because it distracts from the point that these really are the cabinet members of an alternative government.

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