Thursday 16 Aug 2018 | 02:18 | SYDNEY
Thursday 16 Aug 2018 | 02:18 | SYDNEY

Fear and loathing in the downtown mall


Mark O'Neill

23 October 2008 15:15

I have been in the USA since Saturday afternoon, but I'm more than happy to leave the serious, detailed analysis and commentary about the presidential election to my colleague Michael Fullilove. His latest Lowy Analysis paper, Hope or glory? The presidential election, US foreign policy and Australia, offers insight into what a President Obama or President McCain might mean for Australian interests. 

Rather than the wealth of political analysis and commentary, it is the contrasts with the conduct of elections in Australia that have made an impression on me. 

Firstly, the proliferation of candidate merchandise. In the centre (or is that center?) of a Washington DC shopping mall there is a stall selling merchandise from both camps – and people were buying it. Trucker caps with grinning disembodied McCain and Palin heads with beaming smiles staring back at you. Obama T-shirts and badges too numerous to mention. And if you can't get to a mall (surely a rare circumstance over here) it is available online too. Even more fascinating, from DC to Pennsylvania to Kansas I have seen people wearing this stuff. How many John Howard trucker caps did you notice last year?

It is not just personal clothing that is adorned with political messages. Front yards across suburbia and country towns are adorned with signs declaring support for one candidate or another. According to a report on this morning’s CNN headline news, this is generating a wave of sign thefts across the nation. I find it hard to imagine our suburbia ditching the water features, concrete statues of fauna and 'Santa Please Call here signs' in favour of ‘Kevin 11’ or ‘Mal’s our Man’ in a few years time.

My final observation regards the passion that appears to be aroused on ‘Main street’ for the various candidates. While stopped at a red light in the centre square of Carlisle PA yesterday, I observed a large-ish group of students (it's a college town) staging a rally in support of McCain (who was in the region yesterday on a whistle stop tour). A young man walking past the rally yelled out ‘Obama in 08’. The barrage of profanity and abuse directed at him was loud and sustained. 

I wonder what Joe the Plumber would have made of it all….