Book Review — Stepping Up to the Plate: American and Australian Democracy

Stepping Up to the Plate by Graham Maddox

Stepping Up to the Plate: American and Australian Democracy by Graham Maddox is a study and comparison of the evolution of American and Australian politics. Maddox FASSA is Emeritus Professor of Political Science at the University of New England, where he was for twelve years Dean of the Faculty of Arts. He is a life member of Clare Hall, Cambridge, and of the Center of Theological Inquiry at Princeton NJ. He was President of the Australasian Political Studies Association in 1995-6.

Maddox sees American culture seeping into Australia and seems unconcerned with some aspects and very concerned about others. It’s not American pop culture like Taylor Swift or more classic Walt Whitman. It is the business terminology and practices that are creeping in along with the Americanisms. For example, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and former PM John Howard used the phrase “Stepping up to the plate.” To most Americans that would slip right on by, but Australia is not a baseball nation it is a cricket nation. “Stride out to the crease” would be more appropriate. It is not a complaint, just an observation of how Americanism has moved into Australia. America and Australia do share a common past. Both were British colonies formed in the British system of democratic representation. We share a common language. We fought together in two world wars, Korea, Vietnam, and the Middle East. It would seem we are like brothers.

Maddox does have an issue with American democracy moving into Australia’s version of democracy. He forms a well-documented argument and covers the history of democracy from Athens to modern times. He examines American democracy from colonial times to modern times and notes the changes in government over time. He also does the same for Australian democracy. America’s history is covered in much more detail because the book is intended for an Australian audience. One thing this book does extremely well is that it examines America’s democracy from the outside. Maddox offers constructive criticism of the American system and explains why, although it is creeping in, the American type of democracy is wrong for Australia. America’s obsession with consumerism, small government, and corporate influence in government is examined. He does not pull his punches describing consumerism. “American democracy has succumbed to the totalitarian forces of the market.”

Americans believed they have cornered the market on democracy. Maddox shows how our vision is fairly narrow and we are not the most democratic among nations. America has a long history of supporting non-democratic nations and even helping overthrow democratically elected governments. We pride ourselves on the rule of law and due process yet we use drone attacks. Sitting half a world away we act as judge, jury, and executioner and accept collateral damage as an acceptable consequence. When asked about the US blockade of Iraq and the speculation that up to half a million children died as a result of that blockade, Madeleine Albright responded that the loss was worth the price.

Both Maddox and his book are critical of some US actions, but neither is anti-American. Stepping Up to the Plate’s intention is to examine the changes in Australian politics, but for an American reading it, it is like an intervention from a close friend. Americans are used to being the Great White Satan to our enemies, but we are used to our allies falling in line with our world vision. It is rare to see a well constructed critical argument from a close ally. The history is detailed and well-cited throughout the book. For Australians, it is an excellent study of American democracy that shows America with all its defects. It also shows where Australia is changing in a way that is not consistent with its history. This is one of the rare books, that even with an advanced degree in political science, I found fascinating.

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