top of page

America and the week that was

President's perspective

We will long remember last week for all the contradictions that it raised, and for the challenge it presented for Australians to reject their political adolescence and adopt a more mature national identity.

It all started last Thursday week, when President Bush elevated Prime Minister John Howard to full sheriff status. The president then bestowed the badge on his comprador in Canberra last week. We witnessed a gala event, with overflowing patriotism, war on terror and mutual love. Missing was a deep analysis of the proposed US-Australia 'Free' Trade Agreement, and ignored was the increasing anger in 10 ASEAN countries to our perceived role as a Bush surrogate. Our ASEAN neighbours are moving to a common market of 500 million people, specifically excluding Australia. At the same time as the secretive proposed trade deal with Thailand was revealed, Singapore became the most recent to mock Howard's leadership.

In the lead up to last week, and in a speech we publish in this issue of the Evatt Journal, former Prime Minister Paul Keating pitched a rational national perspective at the Annual CPA congress, when he emphasised how small states such as Australia have a vested interest in a rule-based international system and multilateral agreements. Australia should find its security in Asia while maintaining its alliance with the US, was the obviously sensible alternative direction that the former prime minister stressed, and we should "essentially make our own luck." As Keating said, we "should go to these places, not as some kind of vicar of empire, or deputy of the US or borrowing the monarchy of another country - rather as a nation confident in ourselves."

Last Friday week, with Evatt Foundation Secretary Jeanette McHugh, I attended the funeral of Jim Cairns in Melbourne. All of us who had been inspired by his fearless campaign against the Vietnam War could not help feeling that we have a heavy responsibility to challenge the amoral and superficial leadership that Bush and Howard represent. Former Evatt Foundation President, Tom Uren, gave a spirited eulogy of Jim Cairn's contribution to the Labour movement, which we also publish in full.

How distant seems the sprit of Jim Cairns today! As Geoffrey Barker wrote recently in an article titled "Playing at Patriot Games" in the Australian Financial Review, the "demands of Australian patriotism are becoming too onerous. Loyal Australians are now expected, on demand, to join uncritically in simultaneous shows of mass grief and triumphant nationalism." Barker correctly observed how the "Bali and rugby ceremonies reflect the extremes of mass grief and national glory, both were produced show business events, contrived to elicit mass emotional responses and to leave no room for individual scepticism or reserve. Both [were] profoundly manipulation."

Media manipulation

As we now reflect on the staged Bush event in the national parliament, we need to be especially conscious and critical of the media manipulation now common to the United States and Australia. In an article titled "Top Gun and his image makers" published in the New York Times in May, Elisabeth Bumiller gave us an insight into how President Bush is produced. The world remembers how Bush, the first president for many decades to wear a military uniform, landed on the deck of the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln. Bumiller described how a team of media experts use stagecraft, technology and television, with expensive lighting to create a new reality.

The media team was embedded in the carrier for days before the president landed to announce "the end of combat in Iraq." Every aspect of the event was choreographed, even down to the members of the Lincoln crew, arranged in co-ordinated colours over Bush's right shoulder and the "Mission Accomplished" banner placed to caption the president and the celebratory two words in a single shot. The speech was specifically timed for what image makers call "magic hour light", which cast a golden glow over Bush.

Likewise, when Bush delivered his speech on the first anniversary of the September 11 attacks, the White house rented three barges of giant muscs lights, the kind used to illuminate sports stadiums and rock concerts, sent them across the New York Harbour, tethered them in the water around the base of the Statue of Liberty, then blasted them upwards to illuminate all 93 metres of America's symbol of freedom. It was the ultimate patriotic backdrop for Bush, who spoke from Ellis Island.

The manipulation knows no excess. Bumiller described how last summer at Mount Rushmore the White House positioned the best platform for television crews off to one side - not head-on as other White Houses have done - so that the cameras caught the Bush profile, his face perfectly aligned with the four presidents carved in stone.

A crucial player in Bush's elite media team is Greg Jenkins, a former Fox News television producer who summed up the strategy. "We pay particular attention to not only what the president says but what the American people see." Bartlett said "Americans are leading busy lives and sometimes they don't have the opportunity to read a story or listen to an entire broadcast. But if they can have an instant understanding of what the president is talking about by seeing 60 seconds of television, you accomplish your goals as communicators. So we take it seriously." Is it any wonder that a majority of Americans believed that Saddam Hussein was responsible directly for September 11?

Understanding the US

In the light of the week that was, our feature in this isssue focuses on America. The leading essay is an original piece written specially for the Evatt Foundation by Shadia Drury on the philosophical roots of the neoconservatives that led the Bush Administration into the Iraq conflict. The essay, titled "Saving America: Leo Strauss and the neoconservatives" provides a succinct overview of the themes that Professor Drury has explored at length in her acclaimed books Leo Strauss and the American right and The political ideas of Leo Strauss. It is essential reading for anyone who wishes to really understand the US leadership.

Supplementing this essay and Paul Keating's wide ranging speech on "Australia's geopolitical and economic positioning", we also publish a speech that damns the Howard government's decision-making on Iraq that was delivered last week by Andrew Wilkie, the former Australian intelligence officer. On the Sunday that opened the week that was dominated by the power elite, it was refreshing to see the Sydney Peace and Justice Coalition giving President Bush the welcome he deserved. Comedians from ABC-TV's brilliant CNNN show led the ridicule, issuing prizes for placards, displays, western dress and limericks. Andrew Wilkie delivered his speech on a platform that also included ACTU President Sharan Burrow, who spoke of the dangers of the US Trade Agreement for Australians, and Teachers' union leader Maree O'Halloran, who linked the war to education issues. The outstanding characteristic of the audience was the dominance of younger people, who brought along their wit, their music and their irreverent contempt for pomposity. Rounding off our American feature, Abbot Gleason, an authority on totalitarianism, supplies a historical perspective. Professor Gleason makes disturbing comparisons with the 1920s, "when an earlier liberal order collapsed and was replaced by imperial and mega-state regimes".

Other topics

Meanwhile, this month we also publish much else. We follow up on the popular papers in the last issue on the debate over Aboriginal history by publishing the speeches by Paul Keating and Stuart Macintyre on the launch of Professor Macintyre's important new book, The history wars (with Anna Clark). Barbara Pocock's presentation to the September Evatt sunset seminar on the collision over care between work and life is reproduced, Julia Gillard provides a briefing on the government's deeply disturbing attempt to destroy our national health scheme, and Evatt Executive Committee member, Rowanne Couch, reports on evidence that public opinion is finally turning on the question of refugees. We also publish two substantial new papers. Andrew Scott provides a fascinating paper, surveying the international direction of labour and social democratic parties and challenging many of the common assumptions about policy limits and possibilities. Raelene Frances also challenges prevailing Australian attitudes in her paper on sex workers, a paper originally presented as the annual history lecture for the History Council of New South Wales. We may marginalise sex workers, ostracise them, hide them, and ultimately expel them, writes Dr Frances, but that only avoids the shocking social and individual problems in the contemporary sex trade. "What is required", she concludes, "is legislation and policing that ensures they are employed under reasonable conditions and remuneration once in Australia".

PPP Evatt breakfast seminar

This issue of the Journal also announces and advertises some important and interesting events, the most significant of which is the November Evatt Foundation breakfast seminar, which will be on the controversial issue of so-called 'PPPs', or 'Public Private Partnerships'. PPPs describe the still not widely understood frontier of privatisation in Australia, and the Breakfast Seminar will feature the launching of a new study on the policy entitled "PPPs - Paying for Private Profit". The speakers will be Graham Larcombe, a co-author of the new report, and David Carey, the Secretary of the State Public Services Federation Group within the Community and Public Sector Union.

Evatt site breaks more records

All in all, this issue is another jumbo edition of news, views, information and research. In the next issue, we expect to feature our annual asssessment of the performance of Australia's sub-national governments, marking the 10th anniversary of the annual publication of The state of the states.

In closing, I wish to thank the very many people who visit the Evatt Foundation's website, including the very many who visit us from other countries. The month of September once again saw a record number of visitors, with the site receiving well over 300,000 hits. More than 55,000 pages were opened during the month by readers from over 80 countries. We warmly appreciate the patronage and aim not to disappoint. Toward this end, we sincerely invite you to submit, or bring to our notice, contributions in areas that you would like to see represented on the site, or to write to us expressing your views on the material we publish. With the assistance of our readers, I hope it will not be long before I can announce even more records.

Until the next issue of the Evatt Journal, stay active.

Bruce Childs President Evatt Foundation 29 October 2003


bottom of page