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Tom Switzer was kind enough to reply to a personal email about his article No Need For The Libs To Move Left which appeared in the SMH last week.

In his article Tom gave an opinion, with which I agree, that despite Kevin Rudd’s election victory last year, the ‘centre of political gravity in Australia remains conservative’ and in fact has moved further to the right. I asked Tom if he agreed with John Howard’s asessement that the media and Universities were “dominated by the soft left” and if so how does he (Tom Switzer) account for the rightward movement of the Australian polity.

In reply, Tom referred to an article of his “Conservatives Are No Longer Losing The Culture Wars,” Quadrant (CIA Love-Child), 2007, which was reprinted in Tony Jones’ ed. The Best Australian Political Writing 2008 (Melbourne University Press), as well a feature article for the London Spectator last October.

Man Of Steel, Brains To Match

Tom extracted the core of his argument from this piece which was that John Howard has PERSONALLY both arrested and reversed the leftward avalanche, the combined weight of all media and Universities, by the sheer force of his intellect and example.

In this piece, I deal with your specific question which to whch you could easily refer:
“Many conservative thinkers, such as the columnist Gerard Henderson, lament that Howard failed to win the culture wars.

Then again, he was by no means alone in failing to transform the nation’s culture entirely. Recall that Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan themselves were unable to change substantially the entrenched attitudes of the Guardian, Oxford and the BBC in one case, or the New York Times, Harvard and Hollywood in the other.

Nonetheless, a strong case could be made that just as the Gipper helped set the scene for Bill Clinton’s New Democrats and the Iron Lady paved the way for Tony Blair’s New Labour, John Howard has pushed the ALP in a more conservative — and politically appealing — direction.

After all, during his nearly 12 years in power he was never afraid to challenge the old assumptions and provoke people into thinking and then arguing about the new attitudes on so many cultural and public policy issues. And although Rudd expresses himself in different ways, his government’s record thus far confirms this conservative trend.

Hero Worship

Many thanks to Tom Switzer for taking the time to reply, and permission to use his references but respectfully, I find it hard to believe that even the great John Howard could overcome all the massed (albeit sickly-minded and morally deficient) battalions of TEH LEFT on his own; though Howard did attempt to the limit of his influence by stacking the ABC Board with conservative ideologues and personal friends and by destroying Student Unions, considered by him to be dangerous purveyors of radical politics and thus inappropriate to be associated with education.

Try It From This Angle

In my opinon the right controls the most influential media and the most influential University faculties. Simply, this is why the polity is conservative – the most important opinion-forming institutions in Australian society behind the family (ok AND J.W. Howard, Order Of The Stealth Bomber, AEI Centrefold for December and Special Consultant to the Australian Wheat Board) are conservative.

The ABC, the Humanities/Arts and the opinion pages of The Age are mere niche markets. Real power is wielded by Alan Jones, the Daily Telegraph, the owners of commercial TV and the Economics and Commerce faculties. Nary a lefty among THEM.

Mr. Howard (and Mr. Rudd) treat Alan Jones et. al. like royalty because he’s speaking to the ‘Howard Battlers’ who, as Tom Switzer said in his SMH article, currently decide Australian elections. And they read The Telegraph.

Most of them, plus most of the rest of us are concerned about their Super and/or paying off Mortgages. These are long-term projects and provide a conservative inertia to economic thinking amongst the mass of voters. My apple-cart takes 40 years to pay off in Apples. I don’t want no flamin’ Marxist redistributing any before they are ripe.

In addition the collapse of the Soviet Union means the major alternative has been discredited while we all looked on.

Why Humanities Professors Do Not Appear On ‘Sunrise’

Business has got money. Humanities professors do not. Hence Business can buy media time whereas Humanities professors can not. Thus commercial media supports the interests of Business, not Humanities professors. Business lives on consumption. Hence the dominant message on commercial media is ‘consume’ not ‘share’.

Leftist Freak Show

I recall an appearance by the Middle East academic Dr. Robert Springborg on commercial breakfast TV at the time of the First Gulf War. Springborg gave an opinion that the USA has done morally repugnant things in the Middle East at which point the disgusted presenters treated him like human vomit.

Non-conservative politics are simply obscene to the breakfast TV crowd. The media is dominated by the right, not by leftists. When a leftist appears in Prime Time it’s for the purposes of a freak show, intentionally or not.

Where The Left Wins

Where the left HAS gained ground is where their agenda intersects with the basic self-interest of the masses e.g sexual permissiveness, killing unwanted babies; or where this is in not in conflict with the right e.g. Women in Work equals increased labour force, should equal cheaper wages; or sometimes where the left cause strikes popular appeal e.g Climate (crucially supported by scientific consensus).

But the fundamental gravitational pull toward the hip-pocket nerve is always salient. This is why the right attacks Climate on the basis of ‘it’ll cost yer’ and its also why disapproval on the Iraq War did not shift votes in 2004. Australians were much more concerned that Latham would cost us money on the Mortgage than we were about half a million dead Iraqis.

Once again, Tom, thanks for taking the time to reply. Any further correspondence welcomed.

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You often hear the term ‘left-liberal’ but almost never ‘right-liberal’.

Here’s John Howard slagging off the ‘left-liberal’ media in front of his mates at the American Enterprise Institute:

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.

Left-Liberal v. Right-Liberal

As an exercise, try Googling ‘left-liberal’. You will get a huge number of hits.
Now try Googling “right-liberal”. Very few hits. Why ?

In my opinion the reason for this is that the political discourse in the USA and, latterly Australia, has been dragged so far to the right that liberals are no longer recognised. Small-‘l’ liberals are no longer accommodated in the public discourse.

There is no room for them because the political discourse in Australia over a decade was dominated by Howard and in the USA by the Republicans/Democrats, none of whom are small-l liberals, but right-wing either conservatives or ideologues. For Howard and the power-wielding core in the Republicans and Democrats there are precious few questions left to be answered about political economy and society. The debate is over. Hence there is no more need for critique, small-l liberals or, in fact, Liberalism.

Critique, which is a hallmark of Liberalism is thought instead to be evidence of leftism. Small-‘l’ liberals have had their political habitat destroyed by the rightward shift in the polity and have become extinct. Hence the political arm of ruling class (which is a Business-Corporate Polyarchy) and, under their tutelage, the general public have progressively forgotten what Liberalism entails and what it means to be a Liberal Democracy. In today’s polity of the USA and Australia, a small-l liberal is sighted about as frequently as Wasabi Paste in your grandmother’s lamb roast, and, to the ruling class, is about as disgusting (bordering on treacherous).

This article by Tom Switzer, a former senior Liberal advisor and a research fellow for the Institute of Public Affairs (an Australian cousin of the AEI), writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, appears to concur with my thoughts that the Australian polity has drifted rightward, approaching the topic from an ideological perspective opposite to mine.

notwithstanding the loss of conservative government, the centre of political gravity in Australia remains conservative. No longer, for instance, is welfare seen as an unconditional right. No longer are activist judges rewriting our constitution. No longer are Australians ashamed of our past, pessimistic about our future and unsure about our place in the world. In this environment, why should Liberals lurch left when Labor could only win power by moving right?

To Republican voters, Obama’s comment to ‘Joe The Plumber’ that taxes and redistribution of wealth might serve a useful purpose was seen as tantamount to Socialism or even Communism. This is an indication that the Republican Party is defining the political ground in the USA to telescope everything leftward of Milton Friedman and the Chicago School into ‘hard-left’.

In Australia, the climate is not so dire. John Howard merely believed that all the media (see above) and all Universities (see below) are dominated by the ‘soft left’.

JOHN HOWARD: Despite a more diverse and lively intellectual environment in Australia compared with past decades, we should not underestimate the degree to which the soft left still holds sway, even dominance, especially in Australia’s universities.

In his stultifying presence none of Howard’s party colleagues had the guts to disagree and so Howard’s rather crazed ideological/cultural stance, shared by Quadrant and the IPA became increasingly entrenched in the public sphere, thus providing Tom Switzer with that nice afterglow which permeates his SMH article.

Liberalism – Not Dead But Coughing Up Blood

So, as I was saying, in the context of the rightward shift of the polity in the USA/Australia, anyone who critiques the approach or policy principles of a government is assumed to be a leftist.

Thus the media, which centrally exists to critique, is deemed ‘left-liberal’ simply because it critiques and because it critiques it is thought to be ‘dominated’ (Howard’s term above) or controlled by leftists.

In fact, Howard and his ideological fellows in the AEI are not only non-liberal but anti-liberal. For them, critique only emenates from enemies, not from peers with different and equally valid conceptions of how economics and society should be arranged. For Howard and the AEI the media is an adversary which must be contained, disciplined and controlled. For Howard and the AEI, critique of their views is a sign of a sick mind infected by ‘cant, hypocrisy and moral vanity’, as Howard described the left which for him, supposedly dominates the media.

‘Right-liberal’ is an almost non-existent category because if you are a ‘conservative’ (in Howard’s terms) you do not critique except to say that the government is correct but has not gone far enough with its (basically good because rightward) policies. Such voices are those of friends. They are not critiquing the basic wisdom or ethics of the rightward agenda, just wishing for even more of the good stuff.

Liberalism is centrally about freedom of expression, toleration and debate of different viewpoints. For Howard and the American Enterprise Institute the debate is over. They are anti-liberal. The Right is absolutely right to the point of self-evidence. Hence the only liberals are left-liberals.

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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