[csaa-forum] Howard's Tampa

stephen crofts crofts5 at hotmail.com
Mon Jul 16 14:57:52 CST 2007

Dear All,

The following contribution was bounced a couple of weeks ago, but I hope it 
may still conribute to discussion.............

Stephen Muecke, thanks indeed for kicking off this strand of discussion with 
Jennifer Martiniello's brilliant analysis.  I'd like to add my two cents' 
worth on Howard and the electoral politics of all this.

I actually hate to think of Howard's mind, and what he really thinks - 
though his revulsion from dark-skinned people has been evident for years in 
his facial and body language. Nor am I sure that there's any one persona.  
Isn't it rather a matter of adopting whatever rhetorical posture he and his 
focus groups think will advance his causes?  As for the causes, I think 
there are two agendas:  governing the country in the interests of those he 
favours and who favour him; and maintaining power through the next election.

Broadly then, there are the interests of corporate - including landowning 
white - Australia over the “battlers” he occasionally pretends to woo.  
Internationally, alongside his fear of upsetting Indonesia, there’s his 
poodle role to King George Dubya.  Expanded uranium mining in NT is surely 
connected to Howard’s recent deal with BushCorp on nuclear power and his 
urgent promotion of  nuclear power as our best “clean” energy source.  And 
let’s not forget Howard's serious attempts from 1996 on to dismantle the 
advances of Mabo and Wik – not to mention that glorious moment when almost 
half his Aboriginal audience turned their backs to him and Noel Pearson 
spoke out so forcefully against him!

Then every third year there's the next election.  Howard's politics, as 
Robert Manne has shown, are thoroughly unprincipled, lacking any coherent 
social vision of the Whitlam-Keating kind.  He’s too interested in 
maintaining power.  And he, his advisers and his pollsters are quite 
brilliant at it.  Of course there was the outrageous lie of Tampa.  But who 
else could win an election on the GST?!  Hence the present wedge politics 
trying to alienate both corporates and unions from Rudd.  Wedge politics is 
at play in the current NT affair too:  separating Rudd from the left 
liberals worried about sending in the military and about the abject failure 
of this Government's health and educational programmes for Aboriginal 
communities.  But also in seeking to play off state Labor premiers against 
Rudd.  And, too, there’s Howard’s long-held ambition to reduce the powers of 
the states.  I suspect the powers invoked against the NT Government are at 
the least constitutionally dubious, but they could be an interesting prelude 
to attempts to wrest yet further control from the (Labor) states.

If Howard “declares war” on a section of our own population, it’s to win 
votes.  It’s been working very nicely for him and his friends ever since he 
co-opted Hansonism against Asian immigrants in 1997.  The recent 
demonisation of Lebanese Australians updates the tactic.

I agree we CS folk need not to theatricalise our own discourse. As for 
getting to grips with those of Howard and friends, we might ask why the 
discourse of war works so well:  war against drugs, war against child abuse, 
even war for “democracy” in Iraq (but wait for Howard’s retreat from that 
once King George phones him).  War unifies populations against a perceived 
external or internal enemy and instils a phoney patriotic pride (the 
Falklands War was how Thatcher won the 1984 election).  War against others 
external or internal to the nation-state often carries a discourse of blame. 
  Hanson used to rail against Aborigines for getting welfare when her 
party’s outer suburban and regional constituents supposedly did it hard.  
Supporters of Schapelle Corby vociferously blamed the Indonesian judges who 
sentenced her.  Who feels better as a consequence of such a discourse?  
Ideally for Howard, the swinging voters targeted by his focus groups.  I 
suspect that some purchase on the discourses of what might be called 
“Howardism” can be gained from work in media studies that partakes of a CS 
approach:  John Langer’s analysis of news categories in his Tabloid 
Television book, and my own contribution to that work in an article on the 
Corby media phenomenon in the Oz Journal of Communication 33 (2-3).

Some final questions:  Why is it that this topic takes off with us now?  
Perhaps because another Howard electoral victory looms ahead?  Perhaps 
because it's Aboriginality at stake?

Stephen Crofts

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