30 Apr 2009

The Gift Of Right Wing Humour

By Irfan Yusuf
Political satirist PJ O'Rourke was warmly welcomed by conservatives on his recent visit to Australia. That is, until he cracked that joke about how we should open our borders to asylum seekers
"The problem with the Right is not that it is at odds with progressives or Democrats. The problem with the Right is that it is at odds with reality. It is at odds with facts, with evidence, with science. And that's why it has been so dangerous. And that's why it has been so discredited."

That assessment of the Right by former Republican Party partner (and now new-media matriarch) Arianna Huffington before the last US presidential election might easily be applied to Australian conservatives, be they political parties, publications or even think-tanks.

But Australian conservatism has a different kind of parochialism to its American equivalent. Our conservatives aren't just pro-life and pro-war simultaneously, nor are they uniformly anti-science and obsessed with the teaching of "intelligent design" in schools. Our conservatives manifest their parochialism somewhat differently.

When they're not beating their chests about religious and cultural issues, some conservatives prefer to pretend they're radical by challenging what they see as the new orthodoxy of a nebulous group known as "the Left". The editorial writers for The Australian, that elite bastion of anti-elitism, heralded the arrival of American humorist PJ O'Rourke in an editorial published on 25 April. They claimed that "much of what [O'Rourke] said this week would have upset supporters of the accepted wisdom" in relation to the free market and the role of governments in helping us out of the recession. Unlike Kevin Rudd, and like New Zealand's PM John Key, O'Rourke understands that "economics is about the way the world is, not the way we want it to be".

Janet Albrechtsen, leaping at the opportunity to talk about how clever and witty the Right can be, gleefully cajoled "the hard left of politics" (as in one Margot Saville) to "laugh with us". PJ's visit is perhaps the first time she's had a good laugh since her "man of steel" lost the federal election and his own seat, and since US voters elected a man whom Janet's side of politics doesn't exactly like.

Still, why should I be surprised? I mean, who better than the employees of an American-owned newspaper to toast a visiting American? I myself am not an American, nor am I employed by Americans. Indeed, the only passport I've ever held is an Australian one, and I'm not about to give it up even for the pleasure of owning a few US media assets. But as a long-time fan of PJ O'Rourke, I also wish to join in the chorus of those having a good chuckle at his gags.

However, my aim isn't to laugh with Janet Albrechtsen and her buddies. Rather, I want to laugh at them. Janet has been among those leading the charge against nasty Afghan, Iraqi and Sri Lankan asylum seekers jumping the invisible (and indeed fictitious) queue and paying people smugglers to transport them to our shores.

PJ happily challenged supporters of the accepted conservative wisdom on asylum seekers and miscellaneous dark-skinned riff-raff when he appeared on ABC TV's Q&A program last Thursday. In what was a very wise and very funny performance, O'Rourke's analysis on the show about how we should deal with asylum seekers outshone even David Marr's.

So what does PJ say about asylum seekers? What does he say about how conservatives in America deal with the issue? While fellow panellist Liberal deputy leader Julie Bishop was frothing at the mouth that "since last August there has been an increase in the number of people arriving by boat" and how "the people smugglers are back in business", PJ had this to say:

"You know, we in the States have much, much more experience with being all wrong about immigration than you do. I mean 36,000 you said in Italy? ... We laugh. That's a day in the United States. And we are so wrong about it. I mean, build a fence on the border with Mexico, give a huge boost to the Mexican ladder industry, you know [...] the thing is when somebody gets on an exploding boat to come over here - they're willing to do that to get to Australia - you're missing out on some really good Australians if you don't let that person in."

With righteous indignation, Julie Bishop made some indistinct noises about smugglers. To which PJ responded: "Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. You know, if you open your borders, you don't have people smugglers."

Then PJ did something that will probably put him in the bad books of many in Australia's conservative establishment. He actually suggested Indigenous people might have something to say about all this.

"I'm not seeing any Aborigines on the panel here. I am not a Comanche or a Sioux. You know, my people came over to the United States in a completely disorganised way. Doubtless by way of people smugglers [...] I really believe in immigration ... Let them in. Let them in. These people are assets. [O]ne or two of them might not be, but you can sort them out later ... Oh, I think conservatives are getting this wrong all over the world, I really do."

And when Bishop finally pleaded for an "orderly migration system", O'Rourke wondered whether such a system would have turned back his ancestors.

O'Rourke's commonsense approach may be the kind of feel-good pinko-lefty elitist inner-city nonsense one would expect of the Fairfax/ABC cabal. Still, I couldn't help but wonder why, when the Australian had so much else to say in support of PJ's take on the world, that paper didn't even canvass, let alone champion, PJ's views on asylum seekers. Weren't the jokes funny enough? Or is PJ just one of those "moralising elites"? Do Janet and her colleagues lack a sense of humour? Or (to use Huffington's analysis), are they simply at odds with facts, with evidence and with reality?

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Posted Thursday, April 30, 2009 - 15:09

This is no laughing matter, as we are actually creating these desperate people (some call them asylum seekers) by engaging in wars in their homelands and neighbourhoods.
And so by refusing to deal with them as legitimate refugees, we compound the problem of our involvement, in what they then perceive to be phony ideological wars, especially when we treat them as no more than collateral damage, or a potential threat to our way of life.
I've also no doubt the global financial crisis has far more to do with the sudden increase in these refugees, than any recent federal policy changes.

Posted Thursday, April 30, 2009 - 17:34

But Irfan, the Australian are so concerned that they had to take cheap shots at ordinary little people like me for daring to send them a copy of Australian law and asking that they tell the simple truth.

That there is no people smuggling into Australia, that the courts state that clearly, and that the refugee convention is enshrined in Australian law and has been since 1994.

Instead they write silly stories about "surges" of a whole 80 people while 38,000 other people come to Australia every day of the year and cause no remark whatsoever.

Of course Bishop is still foaming at the mouth and ignoring the rights of refugees.

Posted Thursday, April 30, 2009 - 19:20

If the indiginous population of Australia had been blessed with better border control they would have been saved a lot of strife.
Since the boat people (first fleet) arrived the boat people managed to kill of large numbers of the original inhabitants of Australia, chop down most of the forests, turn many of the rivers and much of the farmland to salt, and as the result of mining rendered large areas of the country unfit for human habitation.
I wonder if this is why so many in Australia see boat people as a threat to their existence.

Dallas Beaufort
Posted Thursday, April 30, 2009 - 21:44

Why just asylum seekers ? when the lefts program to limit the population growth of our country opens us up to further attack by larger nations and their rightly accusations of gross selfishness, can the left lead by example and have two extra for Australia to safeguard their precious lifestyles.

Posted Friday, May 1, 2009 - 03:29

A pity no one took PJ up on his knowledge of the Australian economy, let alone the US and California in particular.

Cancer seems to have dampened his objectivity, and left him soft and unconcerned about a future he may well feel he has less time in.

Regarding his stance on Australian migration, open doors haven't helped Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, or France. UNskilled labor isn't competing, isn't getting work, and is a burden on the welfare systems of europe.

Migrant absorption is different today compared to 30+ years ago. We are a service economy, with little opportunity for unskilled labor. We have enough domestically raised unskilled....

And skilled labor is preferred from developed nations (england, sth africa, europe, canada, nz). Developing nation skilled labor don't get their quals easily accepted if at all and tend to end up in the public sector.

Migrants that come now are more focused on sending remittances back home, in addition to avoiding tax in a cash economy.

Humanitarian migrants have an appallingly high unemployment rate for years after they arrive, and are tax revenue negative.

SOme ethnic groups due to whatever reason, do not assimilate and compete well in a free market economy, and end up bitter and over represented as law breakers.

If migrants are the great panacea and boost to economic productivity the left go on about, then why isn't infrastructure keeping up to speed with population growth? why are the capitals all struggling with health care, roads, water, trains, etc.

The truth is, wealth and our std of living is no longer dependent on manual labor, as it was 30+ years ago.....It is now dependent on capital to fund the means of production......plant, equipment, machinery, offices, and automation...and australian business is more and more reliant on sourcing capital from overseas....so as migration goes up, so to does the pressure on business to increase australia's net foreign liabilities.....or just sell off our mines to the chinese.

We have the most expensive housing in the world, and some of the highest taxes in the world, we are not utilizing our capital productively in the private sector to create sustainable jobs.....

It is a myth that migration can grow our economy when so much of our wealth is consumed in non productive pursuits.

It is a pity PJ wasn't taken to task on this.....

And it is a pity he wasn't reminded of how California, despite open doors to Mexico, is insolvent. Most blame the tax revenue negative drain of Mexicans on the welfare system and public services.....

Maybe just maybe, an open door policy might be less destructive if we didn't have a welfare state.....but we do and probably will for decades to come.....

we have to decide whether we want to fork out welfare to 1000 refugees who make the trip here, or help 100,000 of their brothers and sisters back home with education and economic development.....the utilitarian calculus is painful but has to be done if we want to consider ourselves mature and chasing best interests for many, not the few....and if we want to prove we are not guilt ridden existentially anxious lost souls....

stealing the most educated and skilled from developing world is after all nothing but poxy self interest by us privileged lot.... what would have happened if Mahatma Gandhi had decided to stay in England and practise law... who is supposed to inspire and lead developing nations out of their ignorance if the west greedily steals their best......when the best leave, the military bullies and corruption take over...and then there is even less hope....

So time for Aussies and other developed nations to stop being so damned greedy and self interested, and think a bit clearer and deeper about migration...

PJ proved one thing on this trip....he is yesterday's man....irrelevant in this time.....

Posted Friday, May 1, 2009 - 11:21

That got them going!

Talking about anti-science ignorance. Pru Goward on qanda last night was hilarious as a climate change ostrich. OOhhh it's all a new science called modelling and it's not evidence you can't trust new science.

Crap on three fronts, Pru. 1. Looks like she's never heard of Pythagoras or Isaac Newton. 2. There is in fact plenty of evidence to plug into the models. 3. I'm sure Pru would be happy to trust the latest science on any disease she or her loved one's might be afflicted with, allah forbid.

Kevin McCready

Posted Monday, May 4, 2009 - 17:55

What on earth was that spray about Bruce? I don't think I have read such selfish, self serving tripe in years.

Posted Thursday, May 7, 2009 - 13:46

"I am not a Comanche or a Sioux"

This is typical of the republican entertainer. Totally sick...

Young Abe gained his political spurs with some ethnic cleansing in Illinois. The god of the republicans is nothing but a "pest" exterminator.

Australian Squatters did not make and break treaties. They relied on Nomads to continue to nomad elsewhere. Ignorant and wrong.

PJ was not PC but fun in his own way.

Posted Wednesday, March 31, 2010 - 00:30

People smugglers are such a handy target to beat up on... as if they were slave traders, bringing people here against their will!

But they are not bringing people against their will, they are bringing people who pay handsomely for the chance to get into our country.... almost always in an attempt to escape truly intolerable conditions in their homelands.

Demonising "people smugglers" is an insult to our intelligence, as it ignores the myriad reasons why the "smugglees" choose such a hazardous option. Any politician who indulges in such an intellectually lazy practice should be punished at the ballot box.