In New York, Australians Are Like Texans

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One of the ceaseless chants of the frantic Right-wing media cacophony over the past decade (plus!) of the Howard Government is that the Left are somehow ‘Anti-American.’

Whether they’re criticising unequal neo-liberal capitalism or US foreign policy, the Left’s analysis (according to the Right) must come from a place of pathological hatred. Presumably of Disney and McDonalds.

This charge covers about 30 percent of Tim Blair‘s columns. And The Australian, along with the rest of the Murdoch media, has run a neat line on this accusation for the past few years.

The peanut gallery was never more convinced of the Left’s anti-Americanism than just before the start of the second Iraq War.

Back then, Miranda Devine accused much of the Australian Labor Party of treachery for opposing the upcoming war. ‘There are sophisticated people everywhere who sneer about Howard’s and Bush’s œbinary morality.  They sneer because they no longer know what is right,’ she asserted triumphantly.

For Devine, the ALP and its troop of ‘fellow travellers’ and purveyors of ‘anti-US bilge,’ had overlooked ‘Colin Powell’s proof’ of Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction, provided in February 2003 at the UN Security Council.

Miranda seemed to see the existence of Australians questioning Powell’s now notorious slideshow presentation as a sign of mental illness. She wondered whether their questioning was prompted by psychological pathologies.The more obvious pathology was anti-Americanism. But Devine wondered whether Anti-Americanism wasn’t in fact ‘bourgeoisophobia’ which is, apparently, ‘ a hatred held by people who feel they are spiritually superior but who find themselves economically, politically and socially outranked.’

Several years later, it’s almost impossible to tease out what Devine meant here. Don’t question your American masters? Don’t question your social superiors?

Whatever Devine’s point was, she certainly didn’t want us to question what she was asserting.

It’s important to remember that back then, before this endless Iraq War began, calling someone ‘anti-American’ was tantamount to telling them to shut up. Holding the US Government accountable for its statements was apparently ‘anti-American.’ So too was asking US citizens about their country’s prospective involvement in the destabilisation of an entire region.

(By the way, the Middle East seems worse than destabilised today, what with America’s favorite nuclear-armed dictator, Pervey Musharraf, tanking worse than the US dollar. Then there’s the delightful potential Turkish invasion of northern Iraq. Not to mention Dick Cheney’s plans to invade Iran. Frankenstein apparently wants a sequel to his first horror movie.)

But in 2003, we couldn’t ask Americans what they thought about the potential consequences of their Government’s actions, despite the fact that they’d just elected a bellicose Republican Congress the year before, which ably assisted George Walker Bush to launch his endless conflict.

The idea of not questioning anything, really, seems funny for a country like Australia that prides itself on its Enlightenment culture. One of the founders of Enlightenment thought, Immanuel Kant, once wrote ‘freedom to make public use of one’s reason on all matters’ is Enlightenment.

New Yorkers pride themselves on their public reasoning and debate. And after a year or so in New York City, I now recognise that there’s something funny about the idea of not asking foreign citizens about their Government’s policies. Funny, because the Australian Government’s policies are the first thing roughly one in four New Yorkers asks me about.

Typically, they want to know why Australia was part of the Coalition of the Willing. When we, like, really had nothing to do with Iraq.

Last year I briefly worked at a Manhattan office of further education for seniors. It was kinda like working with Jerry Seinfeld’s parents. These guys were New York caricatures: cultured, liberal and neurotic. And one day the sweet, old, 70-something volunteer at the front desk wouldn’t shut up about John Howard. ‘Why were we in Iraq?’ she wanted to know. I told her most Australians don’t support the war, and hadn’t ever.

‘Why do you keep re-electing that Mr Howard then,’ she asked, her finger stabbing the air frantically in my general direction. I really had no response, except that Australian politics wasn’t about much more than economic growth targets and budgetary management, that the Government reacts to inflation or interest rates figures, and that these targets lead the news bulletins.

Another discussion I had about Australian politics, which began with Australia’s participation in the War, moved quickly to the Cronulla Riots. ‘Did I think that Australians were racist?’ my interlocutor asked. She was doing a research project on the issue in the Department of Anthropology at the New School for Social Research.

Again, I didn’t have a categorical response. So a friend of mine, who’s a native New Yorker, replied for me: ‘Australians are like Texans. Tall, White, burly Northern Europeans,’ he argued. You had to see their stance on race as representative of a Southern-US-style culture, he continued.

I’ve also been asked by gay friends about why Australia banned same-sex marriage, and what Kevin Rudd is going to do about it if he gets elected. ‘Nothing much,’ I’ve had to reply.

In fact, the only prominent people who are championing Howard’s Australia I’ve heard of are Washington-bubble writers like Peter Beinart, a ‘liberal’ champion of the War on Terror and the Iraq War.

Beinart visited Australia earlier this year. He saw Australia roughly as the Left of the Liberal Party members aka Centrist US Democrats would. ‘Australia seems to me like the world that Francis Fukuyama envisaged after the œEnd of History : a little bit boring because there were no problems,’ Beinart wrote:

They’ve had this extraordinary economic growth forever and ever, but it has been equitably distributed, so basically the poor have done really, really well. They have a health system that by all accounts functions extremely well. A very well functioning [sic]welfare State. It has relatively small immigration problems because they are an island and because Indonesians don’t seem to want to go there anyway.

Does this look to you like John Howard’s Australia? Here is a country where the income gap has never been greater. Where immigration ‘problems’ are ‘solved’ by sending refugees to island nations where we pay to build jails to hold these people.

And where the public health system is so run down that women miscarry in emergency department toilets.

But again, maybe we just shouldn’t question what’s wrong with our system, because things have never been better.

No doubt the result of the Australian election in a couple of weeks will receive less coverage in the United States than the footage of Kevin Rudd picking his ear. Or the scandal over whether or not Rudd had touched dancers at New York’s Scores strip-club, after being invited by Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post attack dog Col Allan.

After all, with geo-politics being what it is right now, concerns about who’s going to win office in a tiny conservative country with the population of Greater New York City aren’t that great. It’s a little hard to get past the fear of nuclear blowback from Pakistan or that the Bushies will launch World War IV in Iran.

But in liberal New York on 24 November, the small number of political wonks who follow Australian politics will mostly be celebrating the downfall of George Bush’s lil’ Aussie buddy.

And if things have never been better right now in our ‘Welfare State paradise,’ imagine how much better they’ll be then.

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