The 2008 US Presidential election is getting unprecedented coverage in Australia. The Presidential debates were covered live here on major stations, and our television news, online news, radio and newspaper news is giving the elections serious coverage.
But how do the two sides compare in an Australian sense? Not everyone in Australia is following the news, and the depth of understanding in probably weaker again.
Traditionally Australian political parties have affiliations to American parties (often formal), for example the Liberal Party of Australia (our conservative party) has ties to the Republicans, the Labor Party to the Democrats. This split is reflected amongst newspaper columnists as well, for example Andrew Bolt is fiercely pro-Republican, anti-Democrat, but the divide has never made sense to me, because the policy divide isn’t anywhere similar to the Australian picture.
My wife recently told my mother to think of the two sides this way: The Democrats are the Liberal Party, and the Republicans Family First, because both are to the right in an Australian sense, but one is clearly more religious. It’s a generalization to be sure, but lets test it.
How Obama compares to the last Howard Government (and where applicable the Rudd Government)
I’m a former Howard Government staffer, as was my wife, so I’ve got some grounding in what the Liberal Party did in office. These points may generalize a little bit, but they are accurate without always referencing every fine detail.
Howard: supported universal healthcare through the Australian Medicare system. Offered tax incentives to those who took private cover
Obama: doesn’t favor state sanctioned universal healthcare, but is looking at a fallback option outside of the private system, an affordable health care pool
Result: Obama to the right of Howard
Defence (or Defense in US English)
Howard: troops in Iraq (and generally supported Bush), but most Australian troops in Afghanistan. Pro ANZUS
Obama: favors pulling out Iraq, increasing troops in Afghanistan. Pro Anzus
Rudd: favors pulling out Iraq, has kept troops Afghanistan. Pro Anzus
Result: Obama is to the left of Howard only on Iraq. May be more interventionist then Rudd
Howard: spent billions on propping up car industry, subsidising other industries. Reduced tariffs but didn’t remove them all.
Obama: talks about investing in industry, retooling car industry.
Result: about the same
Howard: started signing free trade agreements later into his term, previously more a unilateralist. Generally free trade, although conceded may conditions in various FTA’s.
Obama: wants conditional FTA’s. Regarded as anti-free trade, but hasn’t ruled them out
Result: hard. Obama wants different conditions in FTAs, but Howard regularly had conditions as well, so Howard wasn’t a pure free trader either. Obama slightly to the left, but not by a lot.
Howard: unprecedented socialist on farm policy, billions in subsidies.
Obama: not clear. Farm subsidies aren’t talked about much because generally both sides in the US support them.
Result: about the same.
Howard: cracked down on unemployment benefits, but didn’t abolish them. Number of disability pensioners ballooned. Australia still has a generous social welfare system
Obama: wants the state to look after people more, but hasn’t proposed Australian style system.
Result: Obama to the right.
Howard: soft on global warming, but backed clean coal and some alternative industries.
Obama: strong on global warming, talks about investing billions in green energy.
Rudd: talks strong on global warming, but hasn’t done much yet.
Result: the environment isn’t necessarily a left/ right divide anymore, but Obama to the left
Howard: cut taxes at all levels while in power. Did offer tax cuts to middle class only at times. Didn’t offer relief in Fringe Benefits Tax but some Capital Gains Tax relief
Obama: will cut tax for middle class, increase for wealthy, but rates are still much lower then Australia
Result: actually about the same. Howard did target tax cuts for the middle class, and the wealthy still pay tax at higher rates.
Local/ State issue in both countries at some levels.
Howard: increased funding in education, talked about choice and standards. Tax help for early childhood education/ daycare.
Obama: wants to increase funding in education, supports “charter schools.” Wants to target early childhood education.
Result: about the same. Obama more to the right on some things, left on others.
Howard: supported HECS/ HELP, the system where University students don’t pay upfront, but pay back the Government when they earn, although increased fees significantly. Government still major backer of University system
Obama: wants to make College more affordable. Is not proposing a HECs style scheme from what I’ve read. College in the US primarily private or nonprofit run.
Result: Obama is a shift to the left from Bush, but is still way to the right compared to Howard.
Howard: free market superannuation where savings are invested with fund managers. However, increased the compulsory rate employers must contribute to super.
Obama: anti-free market 401ks, but isn’t proposing compulsory employer contributions from what I can read
Result: about the same. Howard increased taxes on employers and forced them to contribute more to retirement savings, yet was to the right on where the money should go.