This week


The courage of Iraqi voters who picked their way across the war zone they now inhabit to cast their votes was the best news of the week. Over fifty people are reported to have died on election day. That so many Iraqis took their first step along the way to getting their country back was some sort of triumph in a country devastated by war and, by credible estimates, 100 000 civilian deaths since the invasion began.

Predictably, by Tuesday morning, reports of corruption started coming in: of votes being traded for food rations by the government agency that distributes them. People being forced to sign forms showing they’d picked up their voting papers. And estimates of voter turnout dropped from 80 per cent to 72 per cent to around 60 per cent today.

With the same forces that made more than 90 per cent of the Iraqi people turn out to vote under Saddam Hussein now determined to stop them voting, the wonder remains that even 60 per cent showed up at the polling booths. It has certainly been enough to make the pro-invasion forces crow in ways we haven’t heard since President Bush declared the mission accomplished two years ago.

Once again those who opposed the war are cast as reflexive, left wing, anti-American ‘nay-sayers’, if not full-blown Hussein apologists. We can surely presume that the mother of the Australian serviceman killed in a RAF plane is one opponent of the war who will be spared this designation, at least in the early stages of her grief.

In reality it is possible to think the war was a grievous error and a monumental deceit and still hope for a democratic Iraq, just as it is possible to love America but not its current administration. And it is possible to recognise that the circumstances of Vietnam were very different yet still hear the echoes resounding:

‘United States officials were surprised and heartened today at the size of turnout in South Vietnam’s presidential election despite a Vietcong terrorist campaign to disrupt the voting. According to reports from Saigon, 83 per cent of the 5.85 million registered voters cast their ballots yesterday. Many of them risked reprisals threatened by the Vietcong. A successful election has long been seen as the keystone in President Johnson’s policy of encouraging the growth of constitutional processes in South Vietnam.’ Peter Grose, New York Times, 4 September 1967. Quoted

In a move that dwarfs all his considerable previous attempts to stay in tune with the national mood, Kim Beazley will move to Sydney. Alan Jones, John Laws, the New South Wales Right and all the other national mood-makers and political geniuses will now be just a cab-fare away. For that matter, so will Mark Latham who also took his soundings in Sydney. The inhuman travel requirements of living in Perth and leading the Labor Party alone justify the move, and in truth it was all that needed to be said. But these days no leader of the Labor Party ever says anything without some prolix form of genuflection to what they think is public opinion. We live in an age of unremitting sanctimony, for which read ‘values based’ politics.

As if from a great way off can be heard the rumblings of dinosaurs wanting to reignite the abortion debate. Beazley almost hopped on the bandwagon yesterday emphasising as politicians now all do his churchgoing and personal morality. The Australian Christian Coalition against abortion seems to represent most church groups. Would that they’d turn their attention to a Christian Lobby against Poverty or Violations of Human Rights. Or both.

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