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In March 2008 John Howard received the Irving Kristol Award of the American Enterprise Institute. In receiving that award he delivered the Irving Kristol Lecture to the AEI. Howard’s speech was entitled ‘Sharing Our Common Values’.

Howard’s Disdain For The Media

During his speech Mr. Howard made the following remarks about the media, inter alia the prevailing situation in Iraq and what he views as the success of ‘the surge’.

But perhaps the most convincing sign of all that some progress has been made is the significant decline in media coverage of Iraq – noticeable both in the United States and Australia. The dominant left-liberal elements in the media in both our countries apparently cannot bring themselves to acknowledge good news stories coming out of Baghdad.

Media: The Enemy Of Government

I find Mr. Howard’s remarks deeply disturbing.

Not only does Howard consider the ‘left-liberal’ media to be biased, he also considers it to be the enemy. John Howard approved of the nauseating description used of the ABC by his former Chief Of Staff, Graham Morris, that the ABC is

our enemy talking to our friends [i.e. the Australian people]

It is very troubling that Mr. Howard considers the media so much his enemy and the enemy of what he describes as ‘conservative’ governments such as his Liberal/National Party administration 1996-2007 and the administrations of Bush Senior and Junior. (In fact, Howard is far from a conservative but I’ll leave that for another time).

Where the media is considered the enemy of the government, repression and intimidation of the media are usually not far behind. And where you have repression and intimidation of the media, Democracy suffers.

Howard’s Harrasment And Intimidation Of The Media

Today I read this article in New Matilda which described the systematic harassment of the media by the Howard government. I was shocked to discover that in my own country the government had regularly despatched police with hammers to destroy the hard drives of computers owned by journalists thought to be troublesome by Howard.

Narrowly Avoiding The Pre-Fascist State

Margo Kingston described Australia under Howard as a ‘pre-fascist’ state, a characterisation thought to be ‘psychotic’ by Gerard Henderson, his former staffer and a prominent columnist. But when police are despatched with hammers to destroy hard drives, one should pause for thought.

Whose Common Values ?

Mr. Howard entited his speech ‘Sharing Our Common Values’ implying that the values he personally championed during his Prime Ministership are also those championed by the AEI, and the Australian and American publics. However, while the AEI and Mr. Howard are in agreement over values, there is significant divergence between the values of the AEI and those of the American public and, as noted above, Mr. Howard’s hostility toward and intimidation of the Australian media are not values common among Australians either.

Both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party occupy positions on the political spectrum which are to the right of the general American population as demonstrated by this article

The University Of Maryland Centre on Policy Attitudes took a poll just after the 2005 US Federal Budget and discovered that the government implemented policies to the right of the preferences of the American people on a very wide range of issues. In the words of Noam Chomsky:

Let’s start with some proposals about the federal budget announced last February. It should have a sharp cut in military spending, including supplementals for Iraq and Afghanistan. It should have sharp increases in social spending, meaning education, job training, renewable energy, medical research, veterans’ benefits, UN peacekeeping operations, in fact, UN generally. With regard to fiscal policy, it ought to be committed to reducing the deficit—it’s a burden on future generations, a very serious one. And it should rescind Bush’s tax cuts for the rich, a large proportion of them, say for people over 200,000 dollars.

Well, that proposal happens to be very conservative. It’s the position of a very large majority of the American population. Immediately after the budget was announced, there was a careful study of attitudes toward the budget, undertaken by the most prestigious research institution in the country, based at the University of Maryland. As they pointed out, overwhelming public preferences were basically a mirror image of what the budget actually was. That is, where the budget went up, the population, by an overwhelming margin, wanted it to go down—and far down. Where the budget was going down, the same overwhelming margins wanted it to go up, by again, very large margins.

In regard to the specific issue of Health Care:

The large majority of the public feels we should have a national healthcare system, like every other industrial society. In fact, about 80% of the population regard it as a moral issue, that the government should provide adequate health care to everyone. The number of people who think the healthcare system is working is about 8%.

The same relationship, or non-relationship between policy positions preferred by the American general public and those of the major parties was observed in more polling taken two weeks before the 2005 US Federal Election

Polls showed that in 1984 over 80% of Americans supported increases in social spending and a majority favored cuts in military spending over decreased spending on healthcare. Obviously the Reagan and his administration chose to curry the favor of 20% of the population when they implemented policy.

The United States is the only industrialized nation with no universal health care system… Chomsky cited numerous opinion polls, including those conducted by NBC-Wall Street Journal and the Pew Research Center. Each poll reflected that over 60% of Americans wanted a universal health care system.

The American Enterprise Institute is on the right of the Republican Party which is itself too far to the right to represent the American population on substantive policy such as Health Care, Tax, Climate Change, The International Security, Fiscal Policy, Education, Medical Research, Terrorism, Iraq, the conduct of US Foreign Policy, Job Training and Military Spending.

Howard receives awards from the AEI and describes the ‘common values’ supposedly shared with them by him and the Australian people. I do not think, however, that the media in general, supposedly in the thrall of the ‘left-liberals’ according to Howard, are considered by the general populace of Australia to be the enemy of the Liberal Party or the Republican Party either. In this thinking Howard is to the right of the Australian people and has entered into the domain of an unhealthy ideological spectrum.

The End Of A Nasty Little Era

I am very relieved Howard lost the 2007 election. Always an ideological thinker in economics, Howard throughout the 1990’s became progressively more ideological in his cultural and sociological views and in doing so has absorbed some highly undemocratic ideas from the American outer-Republican right. By 1996, at the time of his election to Prime Minister he had become convinced that the non-commercial media was in the grip of an adversarial, politically-correct culture that made it the enemy of ordinary Australians and conservative governments.

Canaries In A Coalmine

The American author Kurt Vonnegut was once asked what earthly use an author was to society anyway. Vonnegut replied that he thought authors and artists generally were like ”canaries in a coalmine’. The old time miners would take canaries down with them underground. When the air began to foul, the canaries being most sensitive would drop dead. The miners would then be alert to the danger of foul air and be able to vacate the mine before the foul air claime them too.

Kingston, in my view, was quite right. She was one of our canaries in the coal mine, and not the only one. Howard, I am sure unwittingly, was creating the first pre-conditions for the development of an Australian Police State. Without his stultifying presence the Liberal Party has space to remember how a Liberal Democracy should behave and our media can function once again without harassment.

Appendix

Here’s the excerpt from the New Matilda article where journos get their hard drives smashed with hammers:

In 2005, several months after publication of Axis of Deceit, a book about the non-existence of WMDs in Iraq by whistleblower Andrew Wilkie, officials claiming to be from the Attorney-General’s Department raided the offices of the book’s publisher, Black Inc, as well as the homes of Wilkie’s brother and sister, that of the journalist Carmel Travers (who had been emailed a draft copy of Wilkie’s manuscript), and the university office of the person who commissioned the book, the academic Robert Manne.

Travers later described to SBS Dateline how the officials spent all day trawling for information and smashed computer hard-drives with hammers in what they called an act of ‘cleansing’ that they performed regularly ( ‘We do this every day’) , and that they’d carried out perhaps ’70, 72 or 73 times.’ They spent a week at the Black Inc offices. All those who had their hard-drives smashed were asked to sign a confidentiality agreement preventing them from discussing what had happened, which would have opened the way for charges under the National Security Act and the possibility of five years in jail.

From ‘Conservative Correctness’ By Mark Davis, ‘New Matilda’ 21 November, 2007

For more information on how the Democratic and Republican Parties are to the right of the general American population, Google ‘Chomsky Democratic Deficit’.

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One Comment

  1. You misquote Vonnegut.

    He was invited to give the keynote address to the American Association for the Advancement of Science — although he was not a scientist. His keynote started by speculating as to why the organizing committee would invite a non-scientist to give the opening lecture at a prestigious Science conference.

    So he wasn’t asked. He could have given his keynote on any topic. He chose to describe the canary theory of art, more of less as you describe, without prompting.

    You left out the most important part of the story. Vonnegut said that if inviting an artist to give the keynote, to Scientists, was to show that our society was generally healthy, and was using Science wisely, then the most important thing he could do with his life, would be to drop dead, right in front of the audience of AAAS delegates.

    This was well over thirty years ago.


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  1. […] The Coalition developed a hatred for the ABC at some point during the leadership of John Howard and viewed it, quite literally, as their enemy. […]

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