Political Street Fighters

I’ve been reading Bainbridge’s blog for a while. He’s a US law professor and it’s been very interesting to see his entries from his recent trip to New Zealand. One comment has stuck in my mind, however:

First he quotes from Tracy Watkins:

Even up to the eleventh hour, with the polls running against him, few commentators were willing to write John Howard off. He had been far too formidable an opponent and made too many comebacks for many to dare to predict defeat. Mr Key faces a similarly formidable opponent in Miss Clark, who has 20-odd years’ more street-fighting experience.

Then he responds with:

The US election could offer two candidates – Hillary and Rudy – who are among the greatest political street fighters of our era. Both know you don’t bring a knife to a gunfight. Both could clean Clark and Howard’s clocks.

The more I think about this, the more surreal it gets.

I have no doubt that Clinton and Giuliani are seasoned political operators in their own worlds, but the rules seem very different over there. Fund-raising, personal wealth and personal influence seem more important, and people run more as individuals than as part of a party machine. There also seems to be a terrible fear of direct confrontation or contradiction, with a preference for slur by advertisement. (Yes, anyone from the US is welcome to laugh at my misconceptions.)

Clinton is a political coat-tailer using the publicity she got from being a presidential spouse to attempt a third-world style political dynasty, whereas Guiliani is a two-term mayor of a city (albeit a large and influential city). To my mind nothing either of them have done compares with the political abilities needed to attain and maintain the leadership of a parliamentary democracy through multiple election cycles, as both Clark and Howard have. For a start there’s the daily cut and thrust inherent in a parliamentary system, then there’s maintaining party discipline, and finally there’s the knowledge that the leader can lose their position at any time if their MPs lose faith in them.

And to look at a slightly different and not entirely relevant example, could you imagine how amusingly one-sided a debate between George W Bush and Tony Blair would be?