A postcard from Washington, where 24/7 media rules
A whirlwind trip to Washington DC highlights the differences, and increasing similarities, between our systems.
My congressional friends spoke of the “toxicity” of Congress. The chasm between Republican and Democrat views and values after a nasty election campaign.
However, they are still more likely to cross party lines (and vote with their counterparts) than MPs in our rigid party system. Now the election is over, they are in “Lame Congress” territory, and talk revolves around the “fiscal cliff” - the potential economic impact of a series of tax increases, spending cuts to reduce the US budget deficit due at the start of next year.
It is variously described as a fiscal hill and fiscal slope and one suggested response is the fiscal bungee.
The malice of the 2012 primaries and election campaigns has left US politicos reeling. Most of all the conservative Republican Party which is re-assessing its appeal to women, the Latino community, the black electorate and minority groups.
The impact of the women’s vote in this campaign cannot be understated. The Democrat vote was assisted by offensive comments about rape and abortion by several Republican candidates.
Many people asked me about our Prime Minister’s misogyny speech. It went viral internationally but had special resonance during this period in US politics apparently.
Progressive Democrat congressman Dennis Kucinich described to me the Republican outbursts as “sinking like a dart in the heart of female voters”.
The media is considered largely responsible for the temperature of the current US political environment. The 24 hour news cycle means there is always a soundbite ripe for dissecting as well as too many opportunities for congressmen and women and candidates alike to have a platform. Sound familiar?
Social networking – Facebook and Twitter – are relentless, a phenomenon with which Australian MPs are accustomed.
In recent days, few have restrained themselves in offering their views on the tragic suicide of the London nurse (the most hardened views emanating from Greens’ MPs).
If that incident did not highlight the power and stretch of the media, I do not know what does. While pranks are a way of life for lighthearted commercial media surely there is one area off limits and that is hospitals?
I still remember coming around from surgery after an ectopic pregnancy to see a television report featuring an illustration of my cervix. I laugh now, but when you are dealing with health issues of public or other figures, just don’t go there.
The Chairman at beyondblue, Jeff Kennett, is right to counsel that it does little good to hound the people involved in this tragedy.
Instead we should all consider our behaviour and our parameters - for pranks or anything else for that matter.
It is sage advice for our MPs as much as anyone. Taunts about people’s family life, children (or lack of), or MPs describing each other as “bimbos” or “fools”, does little to enhance debate.
In the US Congress, there is at least a veneer of civility.
Colleagues “yield’ to their “honourable friends” and the tone of the debate – in the Capitol Building at least—is one to which we could aspire.
We could learn from their forebears. Just like President Bartlett in The West Wing episode “The Stormy Present”, when he seeks solace from Abraham Lincoln’s words: “The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present.”
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