Diary Australia

Californian diary

7 February 2015

9:00 AM

7 February 2015

9:00 AM

The American Republic has always been characterized by great political families. From earliest days, from the Adams and the Harrisons through to the Roosevelts and the Rockefellers, elite families have exercised a powerful influence upon US political culture. Now the Republic appears to be emerging as an hereditary democracy, a term often applied to India during the long dominance of the Gandhi family. Clinton v Bush is on the horizon again. No one should be under any illusions: 2016 arrived in the US in December 2014. Once it was the announcement of the Exploratory Committee. Now the candidates are already in the field. On the Democratic side, people wait for the formal announcement of Hilary Clinton’s candidacy. If an endorsement was meant to seem inevitable against Barack Obama in 2008, it has an even greater certainty now. The Republicans, on the other hand, have now seen Mitt Romney off prior to the ballot and welcomed Jeb Bush, the former Florida Governor, to the race. The Governor announced his candidacy in a diversity of media, speaking in both English and Spanish. Like his father and his brother, Jeb Bush has devoted much of his life to public service. He is now clearly the Republican front runner having eclipsed Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. The smart money in the Republican Party actually holds that none of the putative Senate candidates for President will prevail. This seems to rule out everyone from Ted Cruz (Texas) to Marco Rubio (Florida). The seasoned professional campaigners within the Grand Old Party hold that if not Jeb Bush then the best candidate on offer is Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin. Walker broke the public sector unions in Wisconsin. He will energise the Republic base. No question about that. But he will also energise the Democratic faithful, especially the AFL-CIO. It promises to be an interesting round of Republican primaries again. The Tea Party remains powerful. Jeb Bush understands that he cannot concede too much ideologically in the primaries and thereby lose the general election. Richard Nixon was fond of saying the Republican candidate for President must go as far Right as he was able during the primaries and then come back as far Left as possible during the general election in order to win. It was not easy in Nixon’s day; it’s harder now. By the way, the militant anti-communist Nixon is now regarded as a liberal within some Republican circles. Go figure.

On the West Coast, one of the best places to tap into the American political climate is at the Club Fugazi in North Beach, San Francisco. It is a famous cabaret where everyone from Sarah Palin to Bill Clinton receives a good natured hammering. Built around the fable of Snow White searching for her prince, who turns out to be the Man from Memphis, the evening is a rollicking good time where even the favoured within the American glitterati are brought low. From Madonna through Prince (whether former or current), a hearty laugh is had at their expense.The West Coast Dialogue of the Australian American Leadership Dialogue is a joy every January because you can see the future: from driverless cars or Bitcoin to Google Glass. This year, we are at Palo Alto at Stanford, later at UCSD at La Jolla, to talk issues from geostrategic shifts, through energy to new technologies. 2016 is very much on the agenda. As we saw from the President’s fighting State of the Union Address (worthy of Harry Truman), most issues are seen through the prism of 2016.

As usual, Australia rates only the occasional mention in the American media. I’ve always believed that if something is not in the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal, then it doesn’t really matter. But on American Network Television there are kangaroos and koalas, badly burned in South Australia’s bushfires who cause American minds to think briefly of Down Under. And of course the Australian Open makes a contribution. It’s a good thing that Say G’day USA is so successful. We register briefly. The Trans-Pacific partnership is beginning to get a little traction in DC. So much so that a nameless Republican Congressman declared his opposition, as the passage of the TPP would supposedly enable President Obama to introduce sharia law into the United States. I wish I were making this up.

The great joke about LA is that it is unlike yoghurt because it lacks a live culture. It’s overwhelmingly true but I saw a splendid performance of David Auburn’s play Proof (which won a Pulitzer) off Melrose Avenue. One of the performers is an outstanding Australian actress, Felicity Price. Her husband Kieran is an accomplished writer/director. Both are doing well in LA; part of the very talented Australian professional colony there.

The Sinatra tour in Palm Springs is a magnificent indulgence. The tour takes visitors to the homes where the ‘Rat Pack’ lived during the 60s and where some of the Sinatra clan still reside. On the way, it’s possible to look at the earliest residences of Hollywood stars, from Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks right through to the astonishing Annenberg Estate. Palm Springs is two hours from LA and studio contracts in the earliest Hollywood days insisted that actors be available to reshoot scenes if necessary. Hence Palm Springs was settled as a winter retreat. Sonny Bono, a very creative mayor whose congressional life was cut short by a skiing accident, is still spoken of with real affection.

Returning to Australia, I am confronted by the bizarre appointment of Prince Phillip as an Australian Knight. The outrage is widespread but it seems that the despair on the Right of the spectrum is actually far worse than anger on the Left. Gore Vidal once said of the Unites Sates: ‘I live in a country beyond Satire.’ Are we there yet?

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