With the United States on the threshold of a fresh new political era, it’s probably fair to say that interest in American politics is at an all-time high amongst the hoi polloi. Even Kochie and Mel, those partially unwitting boosters of Australia’s Prime Minister, are kickstarting their day at 3AM this Wednesday morning to celebrate the inauguration of Barack Obama. Obama, unfortunately for the Democratic Party, is on a fifth day wicket. The economic situation is dire, and expectations are positively evangelical. Expectations can do terrible things to a politician, and it goes without saying that the coming Obama Administration is probably going to turn out a little more like the second coming of the Clinton Administration than the Second Coming. With a bit of luck though, and a little bit of visionary razzle dazzle, President Obama will keep the majority of his supporters with him during his first term in office, four years that will no doubt present a few challenges beyond even this charismatic Senator from Chicago.
As the Obama Administration begins and the Bush Administration draws to a merciful close, we might well reflect upon one more little footnote to this very American story. Muntazer al-Zaidi, the Iraqi journalist who hurled his shoes at a surprisingly agile President Bush last month in Baghdad, is seeking asylum in Switzerland after being charged with “aggression against a foreign head of state during an official visit”, a charge that apparently can result in up to 15 years imprisonment under Iraqi law. One would have to think that any prospective penalty for al-Zaidi would be significantly less than the maximum penalty, given the rather bemusing nature of the attack, but the track record of the Bush Administration and its allies on justice issues leaves lingering doubts in one’s mind.
When the natural moral order of things has been dismantled, and humankind’s most self-evident rules of right and wrong have been obscenely violated by a cabal of individuals at the centre of power, one can feel all of a sudden that the normal carriage of justice could run riotously off the rails anywhere, at any time. There may be Islamic terrorist groups out there acting like unconscionable barbarians – and they are to be unequivocally condemned – but I’m not sure the Western political tradition has done itself very proud in recent years by shifting its methods and motives by inches in a sometimes similar direction. Probably the top priority of President Barack Obama in a foreign policy sense is going to be returning his nation to the moral high ground that the world so desperately needs the United States to be standing on.