America, the land of real equality?

With the field of potential Democrat presidential hopefuls now narrowed down to just two; a woman and an African-American man, the United States is arguably in a better position than ever before in its history to finally install someone who isn’t an “old white man” into the White House. On considering this, my first thought is that it is something of an indictment of the US political system that today’s scenario has taken so long to materialise. Contrastingly, about a week ago, John Roskam from the IPA took a concertedly different tack in an SMH opinion column, attacking both critics of the Bush Administration and also the results Australia’s political system have produced in this area:

If the strength of a political system can be measured by the diversity of candidates seeking national leadership, there’s no comparison between Australia and America. In addition to Obama and Clinton for the Democrats, for the Republicans there is Mitt Romney, who is a Mormon; John McCain, a war hero; Rudy Giuliani, a Catholic of Italian heritage; and Mike Huckabee, an evangelical Christian.

Australia has had 26 prime ministers. Every one of them has been a male of Anglo-Celtic background.

There are a few points worth making about the line of argument that Roskam seems to be pushing. He is obviously correct in one sense; Australia’s short national political history is indeed almost unanimously littered with the success stories of Anglo-Celtic males. This is not something to be very proud of as a nation. However, it would seem to be drawing a bit of a long bow to use the admittedly varied field for this year’s US presidential primaries as the only point of comparison with Australia. For starters, it might also be worth highlighting the fact that of the Republican field, all but McCain has effectively been eliminated from contention for the presidency. McCain has already unsuccessfully contested the Republican nomination back in 2000, and of the two remaining Democratic candidates, one is the high-profile wife of a man who controlled the presidency for eight of the last twenty years. Throw in the fact that Bushes father and son have controlled the presidency for the remaining twelve of the last twenty years, and one could be forgiven for starting to wonder just how small the presidential gene pool really is in the United States.

The next issue we might consider is the issue of personal wealth. Throughout history, Australia’s Prime Ministers have certainly not all been financially well off like practically all of their US counterparts; the story of former engine driver Ben Chifley is perhaps the most obvious example. Tellingly, Roskam does not canvass a review of the backgrounds of a single one of Australia’s 26 Prime Ministers. As a contrast, we only need to consider some of the presidential campaign related news coming out of the United States. Recently, millionaires Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney have been forced by the US political system to pour their own personal wealth into their campaigns, in desperate attempts to remain competitive. The campaign of Mitt Romney, ostensibly the number two candidate for the Republicans through the primary campaigns, was arguably only made feasible by the fact that he had substantial financial resources under his control. While it is indeed technically possible for a poor person in the United States to become President, it is statistically extremely unlikely.

Finally, we might want to take a quick look at the current levels of gender representation in the United States and Australian governments. As of last year, 83.7% of US Congress is male, compared to 73% of the Australian House of Representatives and 65.8% of the Senate. None of these figures are particularly worthy of acclaim to be honest, but one would think that the “greatest democracy in the world”, with over double the history of Australian federal democracy, should be in a much better position by now.