Wow. It’s kinda quiet. With the first lull in the primary schedule in a month, everyone is kinda wandering around, not much knowing what to say or do. Tragically for the talk shows, the writers’ strike ended pretty much on the day the main primary season did, after Leno, Jon Stewart, Conan and others had struggled through months filling their schedule with stupid pet tricks, meta-jokes about show rivalry, audience participation etc etc, exposing them to the painful revelation to the public that their glittering success is dependent on a bunch of fat Jewish kids sitting in an untidy room trading one-liners.

The writers’ strike attracted a lot of gags given that people rarely associate union militancy with flabby people in beige slacks who work from home, but in fact it’s been one of the great labour victories of the past quarter century. Nor should there be any mystery about why that is – strikes work when there’s a high level of class consciousness and a real chance to affect productivity, and both obtained here.

Writers aren’t always political, but they aren’t stupid – though Sea Patrol viewers may disagree. In the US profits foregone from a missed season can be phenomenal. That’s especially so if a show is about to tip over the magic 100 episodes mark, at which point it can typically be sold into syndication on the myriad cable and local networks netting the producers – usually an ex-writer – around $100 million or more. Those sort of numbers tend to concentrate the mind wonderfully, just as the loss from a missed shearing season tended to make the squatters come to the table in the late 19th century.

Indeed there’s an interesting Australian link here, because the writers have been running successful strikes since the ’30s and one of the key figures in organising them was Harry Bridges, an Australian who ran the California longshoreman’s union and basically reorganised American union tactics around those used in the shearers’ strikes. A man crying out for a biopic especially now the strike’s been won.

But I digress. The two main things that happened were that two White House staffers were indicted for contempt by Congress for refusing to testify about the sacking of nine federal prosecutors by the Justice department last year. The sackings were pretty obviously political and the White House directed Joshua Bolton and Harriet Miers not to testify. When the Democrat-controlled House indicted them the Republicans walked out in order not to be on the losing side of the vote, a pretty desperate move.

The move is an obvious last resort to make the vote appear political – which of course it is. But it is also entirely proper and the GOP’s gamesmanship is part of a realisation that the scandal now has more than a whiff of Watergate-lite about it. At this point the Republicans are working both sides of the street, assuming – not unreasonably – that they could absolutely win a McCain/Obama contest as the latter’s lack of experience is tested in a long presidnetial due – but also aware that a bad campaign could take them well below 40% of both the presidential and congressional vote, essentially setting up for a decade or more in which Democrats could reconstruct the country’s institutions and political culture (if they have the will).

While the Democrats’ war goes to the mat – Hillary has effectively taken over John Edwards’ anti-corporate campaign, with every second paragraph in today’s Ohio sweep beginning “we’ll take on…” insurance, big Pharma, etc etc – the GOP are closing ranks, Mitt Romney officially releasing his delegates to John McCain. Was he waiting to see if Huckabee could get over the hump in the Potomac primary, or was it always going to happen? Who knows what a neatly coiffed vacuum like Romney is thinking (Brendan Nelson’s staff would have a shot, I guess), but it may indicate that McCain and Romney are contemplating a joint ticket, a marriage that would give Heather Mills a run for her money (but then who wouldn’t). Such a ticket would win back the conservative base, but are there ten genuinely swinging voters who would prefer a near-death-experience white guy … and John McCain over an Obama ticket?

To see how jammed up the GOP position is, watch what happens over gun stuff in the next few days. With today’s Northern Illinois University shooting, the campus massacres are now piled up about six deep. There’s whole campus shootings that news sources haven’t had time to do pointless soul-searching over before the next one comes along. The country is now in the mood to admit that there is enough of this going on to suggest that something is deeply deeply wrong. Obama will be able to speak to that with minimal political risk if anyone can. McCain and co will have to play it straight down the NRA line, taking them further from the zone where people are increasingly willing to contemplate substantial change.

Mind you, that depends on a lot of ifs. The main one being that guns don’t solve the GOP’s Obama problem in a different way further down the campaign trail.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey