The American Presidential elections are not a private internal American matter, they affect the whole world, simply because the President of the United States has so much power. America has so much power. Their internal decisions affect the world’s economy (as we have seen so graphically in the last couple of weeks), their external decisions affect international politics, including whether our country (as a close ally) goes to war or not. How could we, on the other side of the world, in a country of 20 million, an outpost of western Anglo culture on the edge of Asia, not care massively what America does and what direction she moves in? And of course, if America’s political and economic influence is enormous, her cultural influence is even more pervasive. Yet for all this, as the continuous saga of the presidential election campaign dominates our television, newspapers and internet, it becomes clearer and clearer to me, that, for all our genuine friendship and interconnectedness, there are many respects in which we think differently, or at least the Australia of my personal experience thinks very differently to the America I see through the media and the many personal blogs I read. I’m not a sociologist, I haven’t attempted to integrate these factors, I just present them as a few random points to help explain why I don’t see things the same way. Some of these points are general/cultural, some are more personal.
1. I live in a country where voting is compulsory, not optional. I have spent my life not seeing my vote as an option I may or may not choose to exercise, but as a responsibility I have to my country. I am confused by the whole American concept of voter registration, here we must all register to vote when we turn 18, and if we don’t vote we receive a letter from the electoral office with a fine to be paid. Elections are always held on Saturdays, to make it as easy as possible for people to get to the polling booth, and there are arrangements for people who are sick, busy travelling or whatever.
2. abortion is not really an election issue here, simply because neither major party is anti-abortion, not surprising in a country where less than 5% of the population are regular church goers. So we choose who to vote for on a very different set of criteria. There are minority parties that are anti- abortion, they have about the same support as people like the fishing party or the marihuana party, i.e. less than the greens.
3. There is no alignment, at least not in my suburban world, between conservative Christians and any particular political party. In my own church, just a few years ago, two members were standing as candidates in an election, both for minority parties, one very right wing, one very left wing. As far as I’m aware, no one in the church had a problem with that and more than once I saw the 2 candidates at morning tea after the service having a pleasant chat together about some of the practicalities of campaigning.
4. Very few Australians have any notion that we are trying to create some sort of perfect godly society here on earth, and when we pick up strains of that in American politics, we find the notion quite strange. I’m sure that there are historical reasons for this. Your nation was founded by the Pilgrim Fathers and their ilk, who came to a new land with the express purpose of setting up a society where they could live and worship according to their understanding of scripture. My nation was founded by a bunch of convicts, (and the soldiers who guarded them and were often as corrupt and desperate as the convicts). They didn’t have any choice about coming here, and their goal was simple survival. In this harsh, strange land you didn’t survive unless you helped one another.
5. Australia has always been less authoritarian and more egalitarian than America. The differences between rich and poor are less extreme (though still far greater than they would be in a truly just society), and we have had a universal health care system (to name one example) since the mid 70s. We still have a huge problem with working out how to best help Aboriginals, and it is to our shame that it’s taken us so long to start wrestling with that. Like every nation on earth we have an underclass of people that need constant welfare intervention, but there’s still a perception that you can make a go of it if you have a job, and that the minimum wage is enough for people to live on.
6. Australians distrust authority. We’re cynical about politicians to the point of being disrespectful. Obviously disrespect is inappropriate from the viewpoint of Christian courtesy, but we certainly don’t give them a pass on anything just because they’re our leaders. We don’t expect perfection, which is just as well, because we don’t get it.
7. if an Aussie politician says he’s a Christian, he’s probably pretty serious about it, because there are no votes in it. Serious Christians are such a small proportion of the population. Bob Hawke, our prime Minister in the 80s was an avowed atheist, and that was hardly commented on by the press.
Of course, the minute I post these, I’ll think of other things ..