As is traditional in Australia, the first day of the new year saw the release of cabinet records from thirty years ago at state and federal level. Incidentally, the underwhelming nature of what was revealed should put a big question mark over whether this level of concealment is really necessary given a greater preference for open government. But, nevertheless, the theme of the day was something like “the more things change…” and intriguingly the press pack appear to have been put onto that scent by one John Winston Howard, who I’d have thought wouldn’t want anyone to remember he was Treasurer three decades ago. But to claim that the conjuncture of circumstances we now enter is anything but weakly analogous to those which pertained in 1978 is wrong.
Prediction at the minute level is a fool’s game, though it’s one a lot of people like to indulge in. Nevertheless, I think it’s safe to say that 2009 will be an interesting year. Many patterns which were becoming evident in 2008 – a year of transition politically and economically – will crystallise into a more definable shape this year.
Perhaps most important is the election of Barack Obama.
The wilder expectations attached to his persona won’t be fulfilled, but I think it’s not too audacious to hope that two things which would bring America into line with the minimum norms of a social democratic state may eventuate on his watch – (near) universal healthcare and the Employee Free Choice Act.
Now that the election is over, we in Australia have the luxury of being able to ignore the minutiae of the political game in the States. Who really cares about Rod Blagojevich or whether Caroline Kennedy will or should be a Senator? We should be looking at the bigger game – and here what I think is usually ignored is the fact that Obama’s able to do some triangulation of his own – bringing pressure to bear on Congress and the interest groups through mobilising the activists and supporters on his email list. And he’ll do that. It should provide a measure of protection against the power of the wingnut media (at a time when many of their mouthpieces are being hit hard by both changes in media consumption patterns and the recession), and potentially also smash some roadblocks to progressive change.
What’s less easy to predict is the degree to which Obama’s economic policy will impact internationally. So far the concentration has been on domestic stimulus and fairness. But there can be little doubt that 2008 saw the crash of the Washington Consensus with the Global Financial Crisis.
Discussion about whether Obama’s election will revive the climate change negotiations takes us to the Rudd government. Here, I think in one way Rudd’s election was a precursor to Obama’s in terms of popular mobilisation and here in another way I think the government is in danger of throwing away the momentum that younger voters in particular provided it over the global warming issue. As 2009 begins, I think it’s becoming quite clear that the right wing opinionista Emperors are wearing no clothes (perhaps a scary thought if taken too literally), and I hope that some of the backwash from a shifting world climate of opinion seeps into the Rudd government. Not holding my breath though.