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John Winston Howard


Worse than I first thought—that’s how the outcome of the Australian national elections now looks.

A “stunning election result which will let [Prime Minister John Howard] put his conservative stamp on Australia,” was how AAP Newsfeed described it, Howard’s coalition the first to also take control of the Senate in nearly 30 years, having received the crucial “support of the fledgling religious right party Family First.” (God help the Australians.) Also a “devastating election result for Labor,” The Age concludes, Labor losing ground to the Howard coalition in both chambers of the Australian Parliament. The leader of the Australian Green Party predicted a “nastier” country as a result. While the head of the Australian Industry Group saw it as a chance to pass so-called “industrial relations” bills that are “needed to shore up the competitive division of Australian industry.”—

I think we catch their drift.

After Spanish voters ousted incumbent President Jose Maria Aznar last March—his Government having been one of the major backers of the “Coalition of the Willing” that aligned themselves with the Americans to invade Iraq 12 months earlier—I had begun to nurture the faintest of hopes that the rest of these states’ voters would form their own nebulous coalitions—a coalition against aggression or a coalition against the “War on Terror” or a coalition for basic human decency in a perilous age—and each take their turns at taking down the political leaderships that, like George Bush, drove this calculated resort to humankind’s greatest evil or, in the other three cases, lined-up behind the Americans’ war. And everything that it entails.

(Quick aside. Speaking of everything that it entails, I see that the American House of Representatives just approved, by a huge 359-14 margin (with 59 not voting), fiscal year 2005 “defense” appropriations worth $422 billion. Of course, the Senate shortly will do likewise. Which means that the President could have this legislation on his desk, ready to sign, prior to November 2. Goody. These days, the American state leads the world in just about every globally destructive category imaginable. This one ranking at the absolute top of the list.)

According to the Australian Electoral Commission‘s “Virtual Tally Room” (accessed early Sunday morning, Oct. 10, on my side of the International Dateline in the States), with 80 percent of the national vote counted, Howard’s reigning Liberal-National Coalition had received 52.6 percent of the ballots cast, compared to 47.4 percent for the Labor Party candidate Mark Latham. Labor already has conceded the election. In an election that started out as a “referendum on [Howard’s] support for the US-led war in Iraq but turned instead on bread-and-butter domestic issues,” the incumbent was “propelled to victory by Australia’s booming economy – one of the strongest in the world – which has delivered an unprecedented era of growth and prosperity and by a six-week scare campaign which warned that historically low interest rates would rise to dangerous levels if the opposition Labor Party of Mark Latham was voted into government.” (“Bread-and-butter policies turn poll Howard’s way,” South China Morning Post, Oct. 10.)

So now my faint hopes feel even fainter than they did just one week ago. (Even forty-eight hours ago!) But what I find distressing about the Australian election isn’t what the people of Australia did with their own country. Hardly. Besides, that’s their business. Instead what I find most distressing of all is the effect that the outcome in Australia might have on that next-to-impossible-to-define human variable known as momentum—the American election being just 23 days away, and so much riding on it. (For lack of a better word. And intending all of the resonances this word can conjure. Not only with gambling and other forms of speculation. But also with every other extraordinary popular delusion conceivable. Including the madness of crowds.)

“Australia is a great ally in the war on terror,” was how the American Brigand-in-Chief greeted the news from Australia, “and John Howard is the right man to lead that country. The president will always work with our friends and allies. We build strong coalitions.” Similarly for the British Prime Minister, who has paid a far heavier price for signing onto the Americans’ war than his counterpart on the other side of the Atlantic ever did, and looks to face an election challenge of his own perhaps as early as next spring. (“Bush and Blair congratulate Howard,” AAP Newsfeed, Oct. 10.)

Clearly, in the Howard victory in Australia, the American President and his campaign advisers sensed some kind of momentum swing in their favor. As when the shares represented on the Pacific Rim stock exchanges open the trading day sharply up or sharply down, and the speculators who follow the openings of the other major exchanges anticipate the exact same momentum to cross the world with the rising sun, all the way to London and, finally, New York.

I wish I could cite here a major opinion poll showing that none of these fears has any basis in fact. But the polls these days measure only the “chatter” that is heard at any moment in time. And can’t possibly tell us what this chatter will be saying, come November.

One Down. Three To Go. ZNet Blogs, October 8, 2004

FYA (“For your archives”): A list of the 14 members of the American House of Representatives who just voted against HR 4200, FY 2005’s “defense” appropriations bill. Notice that all of them are Democrats. If the building of a populist, progressive base has any hope of beginning during this generation of American politics, then it needs to start right here, from within the ranks of the Democratic Party. And fast, too. Not, say, a dozen years from now, either. Because in spite of how progressive the ideas behind the Nader camp are, popular base-building sure as hell ain’t gonna come from there.

John Conyers, Jr. (Dem.), Michigan
Michael M. Honda (Dem.), California
Jesse Jackson, Jr. (Dem.), Illinois
Dennis J. Kucinich (Dem.), Ohio
Barbara Lee (Dem.), California
John Lewis (Dem.), Georgia
Edward J. Markey (Dem.), Maine
Jim McDermott (Dem.), Washington
Donald M. Payne (Dem.), New Jersey
Janice D. Schakowsky (Dem.), Illinois
Jose E. Serrano (Dem.), New York
Fortney Pete Stark (Dem.), California
Nydia M. Velázquez (Dem.), New York
Lynn G. Woolsey (Dem.), California

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