Monday, November 26, 2007

Howard Gone at Last

A nation of 20 million people and this was our leader? A blinkered, reactionary, unenlightened man. A scarcely reconstructed racist, colonialist, imperialist, militarist, monarchist, sycophant, bigot and bosses' man through and through.

A true man of the 50s who altogether escaped what could be called the 'Second Enlightenment'. Howard and his type learnt nothing from the Sixties. Hence issues like those mentioned above were incomprehensible to him and simply derided as 'political correctness' or a 'black armband' view of history.

He could not bring himself to make an apology to people whose children had been forcibly taken from them by Government policy. What is this other than rank racism combined with blinkered incomprehension? This impossibly foolish man could not understand that the Vietnam war was either a crime or a disaster (or of course both) - not even long after the event. One would think such folly and ignorance would disqualify him from public life, but on the contrary, he ascended the highest office to repeat the folly in Iraq.

His political success and career could be put down to two things: luck and persistence. He was, by his own admission, in the right time and place to become Fraser's treasurer, and thus in line to become leader. Following Fraser's defeat both the country and the Liberal party were (understandably) not very impressed and he thus spent a difficult decade in opposition and internal infighting. This however gave him invaluable experience and showed or developed his other key virtue: persistence. With another stroke of luck he managed to regain the Liberal leadership and then the Prime Ministership.

Narrowly winning again in 1998, his most infamous victory was the cynically crafted Tampa election of 2001. Another victory in 2004 over a weak rival makes up his much lauded decade-long rule. But it was nothing other than a decade of reactionary conservatism.

I'm not much impressed with his famed 'economic management'. He simply ruled in a decade of boom times. And the land bust and global financial crisis might actually make life difficult for the Rudd government. All the more notable, therefore, that Costello has thrown in the towel. Evidently Peter 'no ticker' Costello doesn't believe his own warnings about a 'financial tsunami' and the political opportunities that that might present the Liberal opposition in a relatively short period of time.

Jeff Kennett harshly condemns Costello: "Costello says he has withdrawn in the interests of renewal within the party. For goodness sake, he is only 50 years of age.... Well, one news conference today has destroyed that dream. This one announcement says more about the character of the man than his 11 years as Treasurer of this country."

Howard could be given credit for only two things: his gun law reform (a modest achievement); and his support for East Timorese independence. It was a confused story, but when the opportunity arose, Howard somehow was able to back independence. Perhaps he was just reacting against Keating and Labor?

David Williamson:
There are many reasons to wish Johnnie bon voyage, the most pressing being the thought of another eighteen months of television footage of his morning walks.

It’s time to say no to those daggy shorts, the horrible knees, the resolute stride towards a neo con past where Anglo man still rules the world, and the total lack of wit or spontaneity in his travelling badinage. Joy number two will be picturing the tears and foot stamping of the well paid hosts of Howard acolytes littering our press.

Any journalist who can turn a man his own party dubbed a “lying rodent”, into the Saint who saved Australia, has, like their idol, a superb grasp of slippery rhetoric which has hopefully earned them enough money to retire. These same scribes have falsely divided Australia into “Howard hating elites”, and “ordinary Australians,” without ever asking the question as to why many with the remnants of a conscience, including “ordinary Australians”, find it hard to stomach him.

The shameless exploitation of fear and hysteria over four hundred genuine and dehydrating refugees on Tampa might be a start. The ludicrous and hugely expensive “Pacific solution” might be another. The moral sleaze of the Saddam kickbacks, the lies of children overboard, the blatant and immoral pork barrelling of Coalition electorates, the attempt to deliver a cowed and cheap workforce to employers without a mandate, the constant and unrelenting grovelling to George Bush, the deathbed conversion to climate change and reconciliation lite - the list could go on.... Many would like a return to simple decency, and Rudd patently has more of it than Howard.

David Williamson again:

The Coalition over its years of rule has progressively abandoned any moral dimension in its quest to retain power. We saw racist dog whistling on every possible occasion, brutal treatment of genuine refugees, studied blindness over the Saddam bribes, shameless pork barrelling in Coalition electorates, obsequious deference to George Bush, and in what proved to be one ideological bridge too far, Howard indulging his lifelong hatred of unions by blatantly tipping the power balance towards employers, then calling it, in true Orwellian fashion, Work Choices....

Many commentators saw the election as a race between Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Mark Latham called it the Seinfeld election, a poll about nothing. Rudd as a younger version of Howard. That's a very superficial assessment, one I think is wrong. As one commentator said last week, the same thing was said about the 2000 US presidential election between Bush and Al Gore. The world could have well been a very different and better place today if the conservative US Supreme Court hadn't halted the recount that had Gore on track to win....

Morality does count, in life and in politics. I think part of the Rudd vote was due to the fact that Howard, in his selfish and single-minded quest to retain power, had pushed the sleaze boundaries further than Australians wanted to go.

Rudd will be different. If he can tilt our culture's tone to one in which fear, greed, indifference, cynicism and prejudice are a little less prevalent in our national life, then many of us will feel a little prouder to be Australians than we have in the past 11½ years.

Antony Lowenstein condemns Howard and includes some commenters with the harshest views.

Louise Newman doesn't mince words: ‘What I’m describing here is State-sponsored torture and child abuse.’

Keating, predictably, has some harsh words:
Think about [Howard's] tacit endorsement of Hanson's racism during his first government, his WASP-divined jihad against refugees — those wretched individuals who had enough faith in us to try to reach us in old tubs, while his wicked detention policy was presided over by that other psalm singer, Philip Ruddock. This is the John Howard the press gallery in Canberra went out of its way to sell to the public during 1995. The new-made person on immigration, not the old suburban, picket-fence racist of the 1980s, no, the enlightened unifier who now accepted Australia's ethnic diversity; the opposition leader who was going to maintain Keating Labor's social policies on industrial relations, on superannuation at 15%, on reconciliation, on native title, and on the unique labour market programs for the unemployed.

These solemn commitments by Howard, which helped him win the 1996 election, bit the dust under that breathtaking blanket of hypocrisy he labelled "non-core promises". Even on Medicare, contrary to his commitment, he forced each of us into private health or carry the consequences.

[Howard] turned out to be the most divisive prime minister in Australia's history. Not simply a conservative maintaining the status quo, but a militant reactionary bent on turning the clock back against social inclusion, co-operation in the workplace, the alignment of our foreign policies towards Asia, providing a truthful and honourable basis for our reconciliation, accepting the notion that all prime ministers since Menzies had — Holt, Gorton, McMahon, Whitlam, Fraser, Hawke and me — that our ethnic diversity had made us better and stronger and that the nation's leitmotif was tolerance....

He also trod on the reasonable constitutional progression to an Australian republic, even when the proposal I championed had everything about it that the Liberal Party could accept: a president appointed by both houses of parliament (meaning by both major parties), while leaving the reserve powers with the new head of state.

The price of Howard conniving in its defeat will probably mean we will ultimately end up with an elected head of state, completely changing the representative nature of power, of the prime ministership and of the cabinet.

Keating may well be correct in this view but he must share some of the blame. The Republic issue was pushed too soon and politicised, leading to failure instead of consensus.

Bob Hawke mauls Howard: "I will now demolish those arguments, not with opinions but with facts.... As to TV advertisements and the trade unions: what an insult to voters' intelligence is Howard's "union thug" scam.... In some ways the greatest Howard myth, is his claim about foreign relations and security. Again, look at the facts: joining with his pal, George Bush, in Iraq (described by Lieutenant-General Ricardo Sanchez, former commander of the US-led forces there, as "a catastrophic failure"). It is the unanimous view of the Australian, US and UK intelligence agencies that the war in Iraq has increased the threat of a terrorist attack in our country. Thank you, Prime Minister."

Surely over the years the Labor opposition could have used some more direct criticism of the Government in the Hawkie style.

Robert Manne condemns Howard's backward, reactionary and futile war against 'political correctness', multiculturalism and reconciliation: "Compared to the harm it has done to Australia, however, [Howard's achievements] will seem relatively trivial."

Manne is also vigourous on other issues:
[The] Howard Government imprisoned these refugees for indefinite periods in appalling desert camps.... Iraq was the worst foreign policy blunder of any Australian government....

Unprecedented international co-operation is the only chance humanity now has for avoiding real disaster. Just as Western governments of the 1930s are now judged over their response to the Nazi threat, so will today's be judged by whether they have risen to the challenge of global warming. Of all Western governments, Bush's America and Howard's Australia — both of which believe that climate change can be combated by voluntary national emissions targets and yet-to-be-discovered technological miracles — will be seen by history as the most blind, reckless and delinquent.

In July 2005, the Howard Government took control of the Senate. Getting what it most desired provided the foundation for impending defeat. The Government now introduced to an unsuspecting public, radical "WorkChoices" legislation. Even the name was offensive.

Howard's whole career has been dominated by his union-busting ideology ("flexible labour markets") so it is a fitting irony that this issue played such a major role in doing him in.

Alan Ramsay points out that Howard's legacy is to destroy the Liberal party. As a reactionary conservative, Howard spent years diminishing the presence of the Liberal 'wets' or 'small-l liberals' - in other words, the people with values, understandings, and principles that might be worth supporting. What's left is an unappealing collection of religious fundamentalists, neo-con extremists, neo-liberal economic fundamentalists, Hansonite racists and nearly every other kind of unaccceptable right-wing political formation.

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