It’s not often one gets the opportunity to meet with a close, long-term friend of a sitting US President, a US Ambassador or one of the finest legal minds around. So when I was offered the chance to interview US Ambassador to Australia Jeffrey Bleich just before he addressed the Media 140 conference in Canberra earlier this week, it was an experience well worth savouring.Audio – Interview with US Ambassador to Australia – Jeffrey Bleich – Media140 – 23-9-2010
Having known President Barack Hussein Obama since attempting to recruit him as a Clerk to the US Appellate Court from Harvard Law School, Ambassador Bleich has an insight on one of the most powerful men in the world that not many people have. When asked about how he first met the future President, the Ambassador responded with a genuine level of fondness in his voice for a time that would have been considerably less stressful for the both of them. This is important as it shows the level of humanity behind politics, that the public often either isn’t exposed to by the media or refuses to acknowledge.
With even the Ambassador himself admitting that during his youth he thought that Diplomats only drank beverages on verandahs in foreign locations, it’s evident that not many people are familiar with ins and outs of diplomatic service. Not only does the Ambassador have to be the US representative to the Australian Government, he also has to keep himself apprised of the well-being of all Americans whom are currently residing within Australia, business negotiations which are taking place between various multi-national organisations that might influence the Australian-US relationship and the perspectives of the President on various issues. It is due to this the Ambassador argued, that Diplomats will retain their status as extremely important people, as reassuring factors in foreign affairs such as a firm handshake, direct eye-contact and confident body language can’t be reproduced by electronic means.
Ambassador Bleich also offered a key insight into American politics and the unique role that the media plays during US elections. Unlike the US, Australia requires all of it’s citizens of voting age to participate in State and Federal elections. That means that everyone has to vote in Australian elections, whether they are disenfranchised with the political climate or not.
In saying that there are things that the United States could learn from Australia’s use of Compulsory Voting, the Ambassador inadvertently touched upon the role that the media has upon the US electoral system. Under the “Voluntary Voting” system, the Public can easily become disenfranchised with an incumbent Politician and refuse to vote if a given media outlet within their electorate decides not to report on the Politician’s accomplishments. Like-wise, the public can quickly become enfranchised with a politician if the media only reports upon their accomplishments. This in turn could create a situation where a media outlet and the advertisers that support them can directly influence the result of an election, by manipulating their audience to support a specific type of candidate.
By briefly stating his interest in studying Australia’s electoral system, it is also evident that the Ambassador is interested in learning from Australia’s democratic experience. Given that democracy always needs to be nurtured if it is going to survive, both Conservatives and Progressives within the United States and Australia alike would benefit from the insight that Academics with “Real-World” knowledge such as Ambassador Bleich have to offer.
In closing, I asked the Ambassador if he could define his position as an Ice Cream flavour. Needless to say, I doubt that the US State Department has ever been described as a Banana Split, with sauce covering Vanilla Ice cream, on top of a layer of Rocky Road and Fudge.
___________________________Kate Doak is a Postgraduate student at the University of New England, Australia. Since 2004 she’s changed career paths twice, genders once and has developed a major interest in radio. These days, Kate mostly focuses on Modern History and International Politics.