Barack Obama & Jim Scullin

It is true that the Massachusetts debacle exaggerates the Democrats woes, just as NY-23 obscured them. But Barack Obama might remember the example of the Scullin government. Jim Scullin who led Australian Labor to a landslide victory in 1929 was a nice guy (who shocked senior bureaucrats by asking them to call him ‘Jim’), and a great public speaker, but he faced a hostile Senate that refused to acceptis mandate and an economic crisis not of his making. Scullin’s government drifted, failed to develop a coherent response to the Depression until it was too late, failed to push for a double dissolution early enough and eventually fell apart and in 1931 the conservatives returned to power. There is a story about an argument between Scullin and Jack Lang in which Scullin told Lang that he had been advised that a certain course of action was legally impossible, Lang’s contemptuous reply was that he decided on a course of action and then asked his lawyers to tell him how to achieve it. It is true that Obama has been a prisoner of circumstances but has he tried to change these circumstances? Obama thought that the fact of his election alone would distinguish him from Bill Clinton’s centrist legacy but he faced challenges that required far more than the Democrat’s 1994-2000 template offered (memo for further development: was Tony Blair’s problem that he wanted to be more than a run of the mill Labour right-winger, hence his foreign policy? was this Keating’s problem?). TheĀ  impression is that Obama has acted as though the political battle was over with his election. In fact it had only just begun.

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