Monday, February 06, 2006

1964 and 2001 as political turning points in US and Australia

Finished reading Gary Gerstle's brilliant American Crucible, which is full of material that was new to me and new ideas, such as the commonality between Woody Allen and the Black Panthers! Did civic nationalism come to Australia with post-war migration in the 1950s or with official multiculturalism in the 1970s? His reading of the 1912 presidential election is very interesting and bolsters the case for Teddy Roosevelt’s radicalism (I was reminded of another brilliant book that discusses TR: Martin Sklar's Corporate Reconstruction of American Capitalism). Both Gerstle and Sklar show the type of history-writing we need now. From a contemporary Australian viewpoint the description of the decline of civic nationalism has especial resonance.
In the history of the 1960s Gerstle highlights the rejection by the Democrats of the claims of the Mississippi Democratic Party to be seated as delegates at the 1964 Democrat convention as a crucial moment in the break-up of the liberal consensus and the demise of civic nationalism. Could we see Labor's capitulation on asylum-seekers in 2001 as similar? Did it fundamentally alienate a generation from Labor? I recall hearing David McKenzie who was a Labor candidate in 1966 and 2001 describe his differing feelings of election night, in 1966 feeling that at least they had fought the good fight but in 2001 miserable with the consciousness of Labor's moral failure (he has some further musings on the state of the ALP here. )'Realists' might say that what counts is seats in parliament, but very soon after the 1966 debacle Whitlam had the Coalition on the run and 6 years later Labor swept to power, 4 years after the brilliant damage control exercise of 2001 Labor has gone backwards and at the Victorian election this year Labor will have to have battle to defend Melbourne and Richmond against the Greens, which 10 years ago would have been inconceivable.
In the American context things fall apart in the late 1960s, in Australia in 1972-75, but what falls apart is quite different.


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