Politics

Campaigning during the 1912 US presidential election, the great labour leader and socialist Eugene Debs used to tell his supporters that he could not lead them into the Promised Land because if they were trusting enough to be led in they would be trusting enough to be led out again. In other words, he was counselling his voters to resist the easy certitude that zealotry brings; to reject a politics that trades on blind faith rather than the critical power of reason.

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The import of this book is best summed up by pinching one of its section headings: ‘another Europe is possible’. In this other Europe, this better one, the ‘democratic deficit’ that has bedevilled the European project from the outset has finally found a satisfactory resolution. A dream? Not at all. For the authors of this book, it is a ‘realistic utopia’, fully achievable if the right measures are taken. All that is needed is an agreement on a treaty and the dismantling of a Trojan Horse. 

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Andrew Johnson’s first day in the White House was less than promising. Whether, as his supporters claimed, he was suffering from illness and had attempted to self-medicate or had simply been celebrating his new position as vice president, Johnson was devastatingly drunk. It was 3 March 1865, the Civil War was rapidly drawing to a close, and the recently re-elected President Lincoln was to deliver his second inaugural address. In prose that would eventually be inscribed across the walls of his marble memorial, Lincoln reflected on God, war, and the emerging challenge of how to rehabilitate a divided Union. The vice president’s words that day were barely decipherable and after prostrating himself before a Bible and subjecting it to a long wet kiss, he was quickly ushered away.

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Every biographer has a relationship with their subject, even if they have passed away. A real advantage for biographers of the dead is that the subject cannot say what they think about the book. The relationship between Margaret Simons and Penny Wong was fraught. That this mattered is evident from the opening sentence: ‘Penny Wong did not want this book to be written.’ Simons, a journalist, biographer, and associate professor at Monash University, uses her preface to complain about how difficult it was researching the book without Wong’s assistance and against her will. 

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In 2016 John Kaye was dying. Once leader of the Greens in New South Wales, he had a final message for his party. ‘This isn’t and never has been about changing government … This is about changing what people expect from government.’ In our era, dogged by chronic distrust of parties and government, it might have served as a rallying cry for people to transform politics by demanding more of their representatives. But Kaye was a man of the left, and in the context of an impending election, as the Greens descended into vicious factional brawls over preselection for his seat, his words unleashed a storm of controversy over the direction of the party.

This is just one among many eruptions of internecine warfare over the purpose of the Greens chronicled in Paddy Manning’s comprehensive history. The survival of the party since 1992, despite the elaboration of a program, and despite its professed commitment to consensual democratic processes, has depended on its leaders: the iconic Bob Brown, then Christine Milne, and lately Richard Di Natale.

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The war on journalists and whistleblowers

Kieran Pender
Monday, 21 October 2019

It is a famous parable. If a frog is dropped in boiling water, it will immediately leap out. But if placed in tepid water that is gradually heated, the frog will not notice the increasing temperature until it is boiled alive. The parable may be biologically inaccurate, but it remains instructive in the context of civil liberties ...

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Selling books is a difficult business. Publishing, too. Booksellers and publishers need courage and imagination. A book about a contemporary Federal politician with the adjective ‘new’ in the title displays both these qualities. Tony Blair may have got away with ‘New Labour’ in Britain. In Australia, a large part of the disenchantment with politics and politicians stems from the feeling that, apart from the fresh face of Natasha Stott-Despoja, there’s nothing new around; no new ideas, no articulated vision of where the country might be in ten or twenty years’ time, nothing inspirational. Perhaps something might emerge before the next election. But no one’s holding their breath. All the signs, surveys, focus groups, radio talk-backs, flirtations with maverick independents show that Australians are looking for something better from Canberra. And they have vestigial hope. So the word ‘new’ in the title is not so stupid after all. It’s based on the theory that hope usually triumphs over experience. People might buy the book hoping for the revelation of a ‘new Liberal’.

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When the Bill that became the Modern Slavery Act 2018 (Cth) was introduced into the federal parliament, it was accompanied by a grim message: two centuries after the abolition of the slave trade in the United Kingdom, it is estimated that there are twenty-five million victims of modern slavery worldwide. It also came with a bracing if Panglossian promise: t ...

This is an unusual book. It is, so the title indicates, about guns and firearm regulations in Australia, with some comparison to the United States. But, as a prefatory note to readers cautions, ‘this book is less about guns and more about the continuing tension between the authority and power of the state and the responsibilities and entitlements of citizens ...

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The commons, the common good, the commonwealth: all words for humans’ shared right to the fruits of the earth to sustain their lives, and all words with deep political histories. In The Politics of the Common Good, Jane R. Goodall excavates some of these deep histories, beginning with the Diggers and Levellers of mid-seventeenth-century England who, in pr ...