ON the day President Obama was due to arrive in Australia a very clever sub-editor wrote a headline on the Yahoo webpage that gave me a quiet chuckle. It said simply: “He’s coming. Look busy”.
It caught the mood beautifully. And, of course, we responded by being very busy indeed being nice to the figure who used to be known as the Leader of the Free World. I’m not sure that description quite fits anymore but if it did then I’d be very happy for Barack Obama to wear the mantle.
He’s an exceptionally nice man. His political instincts are finely honed. His manner is charming. But most of all he’s thoughtful, intelligent and well informed.
So when he and Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced the stationing of a contingent of US Marines in Darwin as a symbolic commitment to a continuing US presence in the region we were all quite supportive (except for Greens’ leader Bob Brown).
The association with Obama’s “good mate” Julia Gillard will do wonders for her popularity and probably put paid to Kevin Rudd’s ambitions for a return to The Lodge. And, of course, his speech to the Parliament was history in the making.
However, at the risk of throwing cold water on the occasion, I have to report that there’s a curious disconnect between the President Obama we took to our collective bosom and the political situation in the US itself. And the potential consequences for Australia are at best problematic.
As a daily reader of the “New York Times” (which generally supports Obama) the message from America is that there’s no more than a 50/50 chance of his winning a second term in next year’s presidential election.
And his Republican opponent, if drawn from today’s most likely contenders, would be a disaster. At the moment the race is between Texas Governor Rick Perry, who makes George W Bush look like an intellectual; Newt Gingrich, a pompous far right ideologue; Herman Cain, a workplace predator; and the former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, a Mormon who once drove to Canada on a family holiday with his dog strapped to the roof of the car.
Now, I’m perfectly prepared to believe that Mr Obama has the statecraft to handle the delicate situation of basing troops in Australia to counter Chinese influence in the region without causing serious trouble with our biggest trading partner. He’s a man who understands nuance in foreign policy and appreciates that our future prosperity depends to a large extent on good relations with the Middle Kingdom redux.
But would you really want to trust Australia’s interests to any of those Republican alternatives? Yet that is the clear possibility as the polls stand today. And if, as I suspect, the nomination goes to Romney, we could well find the Oval Office occupied by someone whose cherished beliefs are about on a par with the Church of Scientology.
Then consider the equal possibility that shortly thereafter the Mad Monk moves into the Lodge.
Doesn’t bear thinking about, does it?