Guardian editorial – The morning after

9 November, 2006

From the Guardian (UK) newspaper:

For six years, latterly with the backing of both houses of a markedly conservative Republican Congress, George Bush has led an American administration that has played an unprecedentedly negative and polarising role in the world’s affairs. On Tuesday, in the midterm US congressional elections, American voters rebuffed Mr Bush in spectacular style and with both instant and lasting political consequences. By large numbers and across almost every state of the union, the voters defeated Republican candidates and put the opposition Democrats back in charge of the House of Representatives for the first time in a dozen years.

When the remaining recounts and legal challenges are over, the Democrats may even have narrowly won control of the Senate too. Either way, the results change the political landscape in Washington for the final two years of this now thankfully diminished presidency. They also reassert a different and better United States that can again offer hope instead of despair to the world. Donald Rumsfeld’s resignation last night was a fitting climax to the voters’ verdict. Thank you, America.

In US domestic terms, the 2006 midterms bring to an end the 12 intensely divisive years of Republican House rule that began under Newt Gingrich in 1994. These have been years of zealously and confrontational conservative politics that have shocked the world and, under Mr Bush, have sent America’s global standing plummeting. That long political hurricane has now at last blown itself out for a while, but not before leaving America with a terrible legacy that includes climate-change denial, the end of biological stem-cell research, an aid programme tied to abortion bans, a shockingly permissive gun culture, an embrace of capital punishment equalled only by some of the world’s worst tyrannies, the impeachment of Bill Clinton and his replacement by a president who does not believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution. The approval by voters in at least five more states of same-sex marriage bans – on top of 13 similar votes in 2004 – shows that culture-war politics are far from over.

Exit polls suggest that four issues counted most in these elections – corruption scandals, the economy, terrorism and Iraq. In the end, though, it was the continuing failure of the war in Iraq that has galvanised many Americans to do what much of the rest of the world had longed for them to do much earlier. It is too soon to say whether 2006 now marks a decisive rejection of the rest of the conservative agenda as well. Only those who do not know America well will imagine that it does.

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US wakes up to a new world order.

8 November, 2006

It appears that the US Democrats have easily secured the House of Representatives with nearly twice the number of seats they needed to gain in the mid-term election. Media commentators have suggested that the Iraq war, economic management and various scandals in which the Republicans have been involved (most recently the Abramoff affair, claiming a high-profile scalp in House leader and key Bush ally Tom DeLay, and the case of Florida congressman Mark Foley sending sick messages to teenage Congressional work experience students) are uppermost in voters’ minds, while local issues played a part in many of the races. A moderate Muslim has won a historic seat in the US House of Representatives, and left-leaning Nancy Pelosi may well be the new House Leader.

The Senate is looking more tricky – whatever way it plays in Virginia, the Senate will be finely divided, and its history of dissent and independence from party bosses (unlike Australia, the US system does not enforce party discipline particularly strictly, but openly publishes voting records) means that no matter who is elected, it will be far less predictable or dependable than previously, and is likely to oppose economic policies that excessively favour the wealthy. Critically, horrendously anti-gay Pennsylvania senator and Republican rising star Rick Santorum has lost his job, with more than 60% of the vote going against him.

The most interesting product is Bush’s response – commentators were unsure whether he would finally compromise, or fight. Bush finally seems to have got the message. Donald Rumsfeld is gone. Old Donald, once famously seen shaking hands with Saddam, before becoming a founding member of the Project for the New American Century in 1997 and becoming Bush’s defence minister in January 2001 and architect of the Iraq war strategy in 2002-03, believing the war to be a done deal with a small commitment. Barely 5 years into the “New American Century”, things weren’t looking very new, or very American. PNAC itself had fallen apart over internal divisions resulting from the conduct of the war in Iraq. As a salon.com article said today (can’t find it right now), American public opinion in November 2006 seems finally to have caught up with the rest of the world. Now if only Dick Cheney would take a similar path…

We now find ourselves with a rather different USA. Perhaps a less confident, more inward looking, but maybe a more principled one. Alternatively, a USA which wants a change, but knows not what change it actually wants and ends up stalling or, worse, contradicting itself on a weekly or monthly basis. Either is possible. We still don’t quite know where the Democrats will position themselves, whether they will follow up on commitments to use the powerful House inquiry system to investigate the war in Iraq and other issues, and what they will be capable of achieving in tandem with a Republican President and administration hellbent on salvaging and interpreting their legacy for history, and whether Bush will prefer deadlock to progress. We also don’t know whether the intense partisan divisions that have categorised US politics at the population level since about a year before Bush came to power promising to be “a uniter, not a divider” will start to disappear as has happened at state level in California, where Arnie (after several rather public teething problems) has figured out how to work with a Democratic house and senate productively.

(The people, by the way, rewarded Arnie by letting him stay on as governor. He reportedly said he loves sequels but this was the best.)

As President, Bush is still in control of foreign policy, but the Congress controls the spending and as such may limit his options considerably. But Bush has been told loud and clear what the people think. If he wants to be remembered as a democratic leader in the free world, ignoring their wishes is poison to his legacy.


Indigenous politics, 2006 style (or is that 1930?)

8 November, 2006

The South Western Times, a Bunbury-based newspaper covering the South West, had an interesting advertisement on 11 September 1958 (p.21): “Pacific Islands Exhibition. Featuring Cannibal Arts & Crafts, Pacific Islanders at Play, Dame Fashion Visits The Darkies…. A must for all school children!”

Shirley Lindenbaum of University of New York wrote on early Europeans’ obsession with “savages” and cannibalism:

“The discourse of cannibalism, which began in the encounter between Europe and the Americas, became a defining feature of the colonial experience in the New World, especially in the Pacific. The idea of exoticism, like that of the primitive, is also a Western construct linked to the exploring/conquering/cataloguing impulse of colonialism. We now live in a world where those we once called exotic live among us, defining their own identities, precluding our ability to define ourselves in opposition to “others” and to represent our own culture as universal.”

Check out this piece credited to Daisy Bates in “The West Australian“, p.16, Friday 10 January 1930. Wikipedia describes her as a journalist, amateur anthropologist and lifelong student of Aboriginal culture and society, and the writeup (see link) makes me wonder what level of editorial input went into this article, given her friendship with many Aboriginals around the state – the article is consistent with the tone and theme of papers of the day. (It goes without saying that I do not endorse the contents of this article.)

ABORIGINAL SAVAGES.

LAWLESS CANNIBALS.

Central Australian Natives.

(By Daisy M. Bates).

There is a large area in Central Australia which is as yet untouched by white settlement, though it has been traversed by explorers at various times. Forrest, Hann, Warburton, Lyell Brown, Wells, Maurice and others crossed it in their journeys east and west or north and south, and placed on record their various encounters with the aborigines of the portions traversed. But not one of thoese explorers realised that the tracks he was making would be utilised later on by the native occupants, and followed until outstation settlement, railway line or coast was come upon. It will probably come as a surprise to many persons, who believe that these central aborigines have laws and customs and rules of their own, which make for a certain camp morality, and which the elders of the various groups explain and enforce, to be told that the great central area, which includes 66,000 square miles of country reserved exclusively for aborigines, is occupied by the most lawless mobs of wild humans on this earth. Their numbers, too, have been so generously estimated thatit will come rather as a shock to hear that there cannot be more than 2,000 persons occupying that vast portion of Australia’s hinterland.”

[…large section omitted…]

“These lawless mobs have largely contributed during the centuries towards making Central Australia the desert it is. They have destroyed trees and shrubs, plants and herbage. They have never sown or planted. They have never realised tomorrow’s needs. They will burn miles of country to get one wallaby or other spinifex animal. Their women are the most abject slaves to every man and boy in the camp. The laws of marriage and of consanguinity are utterly lost. When a man is killed and eaten, his females and children are portioned out among the killers, and in the group that came down to me in 1928, so recent had been their killing that the women were still being wrangled over by the six men of the group.” […]

“There is no innocent childhood among the central children, and no child minds to work upon, for all have the full knowledge of evil absorbed into their systems from the first orgy they witness in their mother’s company. When they become wives they may be speared or clubbed or killed by the man who has annexed them or by others who think they have a better right to them. Happily for them, their familiarity with cruelty renders them less sensitive to pain.”

Happily, indeed. It goes on in much the same spirit.

Left to themselves, the groups still remaining in the central areas will continue their savage life until they either die out or trek into civilisation along the tracksĀ  that are being freshened by the footprints of their fellows who are abandoning their own waters. Cannibalism ceases and cruelty and fighting are lessened when they enter civilisation.

And in some ways, much the same spirit as this ABC Lateline article on 21 June 2006. The “former youth worker (anonymous)” has since been outed in a range of sources as Greg Andrews, a senior federal government official working in Mal Brough’s office – the same minister who claimed on 16 May (then later retracted) that a paedophile ring was operating in Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory. The community where it all started, Mutitjulu, has recently been subjected to something of a campaign of persecution by the Australian Federal Police, just as their case against the appointment of an outside administrator for their community is about to be heard.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

  • Interesting article at The Age (22 May 2006) on the general topic here by Jane Lydon, research fellow at Monash