Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Speaking of America

This clarifies a lot of the thoughts that have been swirling round for a while.

I started out pretty sceptical about Obama. He seemed more trustworthy than Clinton but even more moderate, and not in a good way. After a while I came to support him, but mostly on the basis that there was a chance he'd seek genuine change. I didn't think it was all that likely, but there was no way in hell Hilary would.

Slowly however he's got to me. First in Iowa, then Philadelphia and then with the graduation speech filling in for Teddy Kennedy. Was it possible that this man was actually the Real Thing? Could such a thing exist in American politics?

Now I know why. As the article says "
His na├»ve-sounding calls for change are persuasive largely because he’s already managed to improve one of our most intractable political problems: the decades-old, increasingly virulent plague of terrible speechifying."

It's important not to be swept away. We've seen some pretty terrible politicians who could give great speeches. But as the article argues, speechifying style isn't "merely a sauce on the nutritious bread of substance", it can tell us much. The fact that Obama's style is to speak to us as though we are intelligent, at the same time as raising our spirits with soaring rhetoric, tells us that he actually wants to address at least one of the World's most challenging problems.

He may fail, but by God it's nice to have someone who's trying.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

A Word for Jimmy

Over at the Possum Box someone provides their thoughts on why they think McCain will win the US election. Obviously there are millions of such pieces circulating on the web, along with a similar number giving the opposite view.

In the course of this, the author has a few swipes at Jimmy Carter, including claiming that "the fact that the experience of the Carter administration is still fresh in people’s minds" is one of the reasons Obama will lose. Pointing out that 28 years ago is hardly fresh, and about 20% of the electorate were not even born when Carter was president, is easy.

What irks me more however, is that an Australia blog is posting yet another attack on Carter. It's not surprising that most of the English speaking world has a dim view of Jimmy. One-term presidents rarely get a good write up from history, and in a lot of fields he was a particularly ineffective president; although I'd imagine he's better remembered in the countries where his tentative support for human rights got political prisoners released and laid the groundwork for the spread of democracy through Latin America.

But you'd think that Australians could keep in mind Carter's other great legacy. In the 1970s the National Academy of Sciences, feeding off the work of James Lovelock, became concerned that CFCs could damage the ozone layer. At the time there was no proof and Dupont and other CFC manufacturers fought a strong campaign against legislation "until evidence could be produced".

Carter recognised that any evidence might well be in the form of global Armageddon and acted. He got CFCs banned for some uses in the US, and legislated for this to gradually be extended. Reagan stopped the extension, but didn't reverse the existing bans.

We now know just how important that decision of Carter's was. If it hadn't been for Carter, being a fair skinned Australian of my generation would have been not dissimilar to being a gay male American in the late 80s - you would have spent a lot of time at funerals wondering which of you was going to be next.

It's not just that the whole of the ozone layer would have extended over most of southern Australia through spring and early summer, sending cancer rates soaring and making some crops unviable. Ozone depletion has changed wind patterns over the Southern Ocean and the Bureau of Meteorology considers it a major factor in the never-ending drought gripping Victoria (and possibly South-West WA). You think the Murray's in a bad state now - imagine it if Carter hadn't shown the courage to act.

Americans are unlikely to ever really appreciate Carter's contribution to the planet. But Australians, tens of thousands of whom owe him our lives, really should do better.

PS: In searching for links to add to this post one thing that is really obvious is how few progressive or centrist commentators mention Carter's role in this. There is a hint of it on the Wikipedia page about ozone depletion, but nothing on the page about Carter, and when you Google terms like Jimmy Carter + Ozone almost everything you get is rightwing attacks mocking him and Al Gore.