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Hard Heads, Soft Hearts, Young Minds, and… Talking Points

December 10, 2009

I attended an event hosted by the Left-Right Think Tank last night, in which the newly appointed US Ambassador to Australia, Jeffrey Bleich, gave a short speech and answered questions. Left-Right (“HARD HEADS, SOFT HEARTS & YOUNG MINDS…”) is a relatively young organization, as are its members. I like their general purpose, which is to promote the ideas of young people, their involvement in public policy, and a diversity of opinion and perspective.

Left-Right also touts itself as being non-partisan, and “without influence.” There was an interesting moment in the introduction to the event, in which the speaker purported to address the obvious criticism that this may not be possible. I was disappointed that he did not actually describe how it could be possible, but instead made the case that it was simply necessary in “these times of increasing complexity.” This is definitely something worth thinking about more deeply.

I don’t want to be over-critical, though. As long as the organization maintains an openness to ideas from across the political spectrum I think they’ll be on the right track. And while they didn’t fill the room completely, there were plenty of thoughtful questions from a very engaged audience.

It’s hard to know how to react to a speech by a diplomat. I didn’t expect much more than a chummy delivery of talking points, and a reassurance that everything about the ties between our two nations is hunky dory. Well, we definitely got that. But to give the Ambassador credit, he made an effort to engage with his audience and answer questions in an honest and straightforward manner, while still keeping his job. He focused mostly on four big policy issues:

  • Afganistan
  • Trade
  • Climate Change
  • Nuclear Security

He also did a good job at handling left-field questions about urban planning, world government, and a few other off-the-wall issues that I can’t remember.

Of course, my ears perked up during the comments on climate change, but it was pretty run-of-the mill. Bleich certainly didn’t want to get into the weeds on climate policy stuff happening here in Australia. He only stated that Australia is doing what all nations must do: engage in a healthy debate over the issues of energy policy and climate change. Or something like that. He did not rise to the bait presented in the form of a question about the implosion of the liberal (political right) party and how that might or might not be a possibility in the US. Inwardly, though, I like to think that he emitted a hopeful chuckle.

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