Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Song for Bukko

An acoustic version of “Beds Are Burning” by Midnight Oil, for my favorite expatriate Australian living in Canada, Bukko Canukko, who’s long been a part of the motley crew of regulars over at Jesus’ General’s blog, and who occasionally graces this blog with his comments, which, agree them or not, are in a class by themselves. When I refer to Bukko as a friend, I mean it, and it’s not a term I use loosely. The group of us who’ve hung (not hanged, mind you; that’s used to refer to someone who’s doing the, er, Spandau ballet, if you will) out at the General’s place since at least 2004 or so are genuine compatriots. We’ve known each other and interacted on a fairly regular basis for many years now, and many of us have communicated (and commiserated) with one another in our real lives, outside of blogs and social media, via e-mail and snail mail and the occasional telephone conversation. I consider these folks to be my first on-line “family,” so to speak, and I’ll stand by every last one of them.

Even an expat Australian who’s living in Canada.

But I digress. Yesterday, Bukko left a comment here on a post entitled “Why I’m Not Thrilled With the Fourteenth Amendment Solution,” and I thought it was worthy of a special mention for a couple of reasons. First, Bukko pointed out something I should have included in the original post, as lengthy as it was, which was this:

I’ll tell you another reason I don’t like the “14th Amendment Solution”: it’s one more step toward making the president into a king. If Obama is given the power to unilaterally decide “I don't care how Congress limits my ability to spend money; I’m going to do it anyway” then it becomes a precedent for future presidents.

Um, exactly right. One of the rather disturbing trends on the left – among both Pres. Obama’s supporters (of which I am one, by and large) and his liberal critics – is our apparent inability to understand the role of the president in our tripartite federal government. And it’s particularly sad that we don’t seem to get that, because we rightly pilloried George W. Bush for his usurpation of Congressional authority and his expansion of the powers of the presidency. When Bush asserted that he could set up the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, hold prisoners indefinitely, redefine torture to suit his whims, disregard the Geneva Conventions and the Uniform Code of Military Justice – all despite the fact that Congress and Congress alone has the power to “[t]o declare War … and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water” (U.S. Const. Art. I, § 8) – we said he was disregarding the constitutional separation of powers, and we were right.

So we ought to be very careful indeed to suggest that Pres. Obama should simply disregard federal law – in this case, the debt ceiling – even if there is an argument that that law is unconstitutional. We don’t want Pres. Obama to be the final arbiter of the constitutionality of federal laws any more than we wanted George W. Bush to be, right? So the Fourteenth Amendment solution to the debt ceiling crisis is, as Bukko pointed out, problematic for that reason too.

Of course, I could point out that Pres. Obama’s liberal critics often make the same mistake when they assume he can force laws through Congress despite the fact that the votes just aren’t there to get those laws passed, but I digress yet again.

Anyway, the second noteworthy point in Bukko’s comment yesterday, and the reason I chose the song at the top of this post in his honor, was this:

I’m one of those lefties who doesn’t like Obama because I see him as an old-fashioned Republican (who’s to the right of Eisenhower.)

Now, as I said above, Bukko’s a friend of mine, and since this is my blog, I elect not to take on the substance of that comment (other than to note that I do, in fact, disagree). I will, however, use that comment as an opportunity to make a more general observation about the nature of political leadership, and it begins with that Midnight Oil song, “Beds Are Burning” … or, more to the point, the guy who sings that song: Peter Garrett, a former lawyer and one of the earliest members of the group. From Wikipedia:

Midnight Oil (also known informally as The Oils to fans), was an Australian rock band from Sydney originally performing as Farm from 1972 with drummer Rob Hirst, bass guitarist Andrew James and keyboard player/lead guitarist Jim Moginie. While vocalist Peter Garrett was studying at Australian National University in Canberra, he answered an advertisement for a spot in Farm, and by 1975 the band was touring the east coast. By late 1976, Garrett moved to Sydney to complete his law degree, and Farm changed its name to Midnight Oil by drawing the name out of a hat.

(Footnotes omitted.)

Garrett was one of the co-writers of “Beds Are Burning,” and it’s one of the more radically leftist songs by a group known for its radical-left-type songs. It’s a song about how European settlers abused the indigenous peoples of Australia, and it advocates giving the country back to them:

The time has come

To say fair’s fair

To pay the rent now

To pay our share

The time has come

A fact’s a fact

It belongs to them

Let’s give it back …

So, a guy who’d write and sing lyrics like that has to be a bona fide, genuine leftist hero, right?

Well, apparently not. See Garrett, not altogether unlike a certain other former idealist with a law degree, went into politics and is now a Labour Member of Australia’s Parliament and its Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth. And since he entered national politics in Australia in 2004, he’s repeatedly been chastised for “selling out” and becoming a mainstream Labour Party politician (see, e.g., here, here and here).

In fact, I believe it was Bukko who first told me that liberals in Australia were bitterly disappointed in Garrett …

But that gets me thinking. Did Garrett really “sell out,” as some accuse Pres. Obama of doing, or did he, like so many idealistic people who get into politics, find out it’s easier to come up with political slogans (and catchy lyrics) than it is to actually govern? Because it seems to me that if a guy like Peter Garrett can’t sustain that perfect liberal persona once he enters politics, maybe nobody can. If idealist after idealist after idealist enters into the political arena and is eventually perceived to be a “sell-out,” I wonder if it’s really even possible to be an idealist and yet do the business of government.

Which doesn’t mean liberals should give up their own idealism. Not at all. But maybe we should recognize that there is no such thing as a perfect liberal. Or, at least, no such thing as a perfect liberal politician.

© 2011 David P. von Ebers. All rights reserved.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the shout-out, Dave. Slight correction about me, though. I'm not an Aussie.

    I was born in the U.S. way back when Nixon was VICE-president. My wife and I were among the few Americans who actually DID leave the country because we were so sick of living under the Bush regime. We hated the bastard THAT much, and we thought that Cheney was going to launch another war with Iran, which would have wound up with the U.S. dropping nukes after the Iranians engaged in some asymmetrical tit-for-tat. Not that I'm any fan of the Iranian regime, because they're a bunch of asshole religious fanatics, but I didn't want to be part of a society that would kill millions of civilians AGAIN. Fortunately, our paranoia proved to be unfounded about that.

    I was about the age that you are now when we nicked off. It was music, in part, that led us to land in Oz. I was a fan of punkish Aussie groups such as Radio Birdman and the Hoodoo Gurus. I used to swap home-burned CDs (and cassettes before that) of obscure American bands with online friends in Australia, who'd send me tunes that were next-to-impossible to find Up Over. When I'd get something from someone in, say, Perth, that would motivate me to learn more about that city. So when we decided to flee the U.S., I felt like I already knew so much about Down Under that it would be easy to fit in.

    I loved the place, mate, but my wife detested it. So we chose Vancouver as the next best thing. My humble career as a butt-wiping hospital nurse, along with the fact that our paranoia led us to do things like sell our San Francisco house at the peak of the bubble and cash out our retirement accounts while they were still worth something, allows us to flit around the planet like that.

    I was never big into the Oils. They seemed too preachy to me, and their sound was more mainstream than I liked. I go for aggro. As you mention, Garrett was a disappointment. I didn't know what his latest portfolio was, but it looks like he's been severely hobbled. I suppose he, and Obama, are examples of how the political system neuters people. If you have principles that you stand by, you'll be ground down, sidelined or never given a chance to have power in the first place.

    Some people, like Truman and LBJ, DID stand up for what they believed in, though. And while my wife and I voted for Obama with our absentee ballots in 2008, we're not doing that again. If my paranoid suspicions about the one-party nature of American politics are true, the corporate power structure will let the "R" faction nominate a monstrosity like Bachmann to give the knuckle-draggers an illusion that they have influence, which will serve to guarantee that Hopey gets reelected with the votes of non-insane Americans. So he's in no danger. He's doing the corporatists' bidding. If it plays that way, remember you heard it here first, and it's proof that the fix is in.