COVER STORY / EDITORIAL: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
How America's choice will affect Australia
, September 13, 2008
Australia's current situation requires a strong America willing to stand up to emerging powers such as China and Russia, as well as to Islamic extremism.With the conclusion of the Democratic and Republican party conventions, the choice facing American voters is now clear: between a war hero who has served as a long-time Republican senator, John McCain, and an extraordinarily articulate young Democrat senator from Illinois, Barack Obama.
Both represent a break with the past: McCain has long been at loggerheads with the Republican party machine, while Obama is also a party outsider, a black Democrat with only four years in the US Senate.
Each has chosen a running mate who will appeal to voters concerned with his own deficiencies: in Obama's case, with the long-serving Senator Joe Biden, a Democratic Party powerbroker, and in McCain's, with the surprise choice of Susan Palin, the socially conservative can-do Governor of Alaska, and a mother of five.
The candidates represent a striking contrast in their personal views and, ultimately, in the direction in which they will take the United States.
Both have said they should be judged on their respective records. And, as public figures, they have made their positions clear repeatedly in speeches and votes in the US Senate.
John McCain is a former US Navy flier who was captured by the North Vietnamese during the Vietnam War, spending four years in brutal imprisonment, during which he was systematically bashed and tortured, with injuries from which he still suffers.Internationalist
McCain is a strong supporter of America's global role, supporting the US involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, even in the face of public war-weariness in the United States.
Barack Obama, on the other hand, is a product of the affirmative action programs which assisted smart young black students into Ivy League universities. He graduated from Colombia University, then went to Harvard, where he edited the prestigious Harvard Law Review
. He was later a professor at the Chicago Law School and a community activist.
He has been a strong critic of America's war in Iraq, but supported the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan. He has also threatened to invade Pakistan to get at Taliban base camps; but has favoured "dialogue" with Iran, which has virulently attacked the US over Washington's opposition to Iran's uranium enrichment program.
McCain has consistently voted for increased funding for the US defence forces. Obama's record has been equivocal.
On trade policy, McCain is regarded as a free trader, having supported the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). He does not believe that free trade should be subject to environmental or labour considerations, and supported a Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA).
Obama, on the other hand, has called for protection of employees' rights as part of NAFTA, and opposed CAFTA.
Both McCain and Obama favour laws to regularise the status of the estimated 12 million Latinos currently living illegally in the United States.
On social policy, the differences could not be more stark. McCain opposes abortion, gay marriage and the use of illegal drugs. Obama, on the other hand, is a strong supporter of abortion on demand, supports gay marriage, and supports the permissive "harm minimisation" approach to use of illicit drugs.
While these positions are principally of importance in the domestic environment, Obama's stand would undoubtedly reverse the policies which the US has promoted in the United Nations, where the Bush Administration has refused to bankroll the UN's abortion and population control activities in Third World countries.
On environmental policy, McCain supports the development of nuclear energy, opposes government funding of solar energy research and renewables, and opposed the Kyoto Protocol. Obama is a strong supporter of the Kyoto Protocol, and a CO2 emissions-trading scheme.
Interestingly, John McCain has opposed oil exploration in Alaska's National Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, while his Vice-Presidential nominee, Governor Sarah Palin, equally strongly supports it.
American domestic policy positions are often an important guide to how candidates will address international issues.
On law and order, McCain supports the right to gun ownership, while supporting tougher penalties for convicted criminals. Obama, on the other hand, opposes gun ownership and has supported a softer line on crime, with alternatives to imprisonment.
In summary, McCain supports a continuation of the Bush Administration's interventionist policies around the world, while Obama is an American left-liberal, whose election would reverse the policies of American administrations going back 40 years.
Australia's current situation requires a strong America, self-confident (but not over-confident) in its values and place in the world, and willing to stand up to emerging powers such as China and Russia, as well as to Islamic extremism.
No candidate is ideal, but on balance John McCain's policies are better for Australia than Obama's.- Peter Westmore is national president of the National Civic Council.