I am a republican.

Patriotism often dismays me. Sometimes it angers me. There is also a thread of it I believe in, which holds out that our best hopes lie in the love of homeland. Belonging to something good means that we can venture out and do good, without the sanctimony of altruism. Rather than hide and shrink away, clutching at the skirts of our imagined betters.

I am no enemy of England. I love their losing streaks in sport, and their unparalleled capacity for good humour. But there won't be many times in my life I rejoice like the day Australia claims its place among equals in the game of nations.

And not because I'm suffering delusions that much will change. We'll still be a small country of 20-odd million people, confronted with challenges made no easier for our formal autonomy. Still I reckon this change in legal status will lend wind to our backs, let us aspire to something more than we've done so far. Our ability to influence the oscillations of our region will increase. Our debate, our art, our cogency, our empathy — each of these things will gain room to emerge from their chrysales. Not immediately: imperceptibly, but significantly.

This is the core of my politics. The rest is padding.

I wonder if that's why I'm so moved when I listen to Barack Obama. I sat on the fence for a long time, but perhaps a few weeks ago it occurred to me that I'd never heard a politician so clearly articulate my standpoint. It is one thing, and an important thing, for politicians and bureaucrats to take action and get things done on our behalf. That's much of the reason we take time to elect them. But it's another and better thing to have a figurehead with a vision, who can put fire in the bellies of a nation, and by raising their spirits give the people room act in their combined best interests.

It's easy enough to believe in a promise. For those of us inured to modern politics, it's even easier to suspect a dissemblance. That's good and proper, but this time I think the former is the better route. Now's your chance, Americans. Yes you can.

Joseph | 29 Jan 2008

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