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Daily Media Quotation

Howard In Denial As History Repeats

November 12, 2006

by Terry Lane - The Age

David Runciman teaches at Cambridge University and is a specialist on hypocrisy in political thought. He is writing a book on the subject and he takes a trial run in the current issue of the London Review of Books.

In his article "Liars, hypocrites and crybabies", guess who he uses as exemplars of political hypocrisy and mendacity? Our own beloved Man of Steel and his loyal deputy Mr Costello!

The point of the essay is to compare Blair, Howard and Clinton three of the great political dissemblers and prevaricators of our time and to ask why they are so much more popular with the electorate than Gordon Brown, Peter Costello or Al Gore, all of whom have tried harder to stick with the truth.

Runciman describes our Prime Minister as "dour, banal, palpably nostalgic for the values of the older generation to which be belongs".

Now there Runciman gets it wrong. The Man of Steel may have all the outward appearances of an old codger longing wistfully for 1949, but in fact he is in the springtime of life, just one month younger than me, and therefore if he has a time to which he belongs it is the '60s. And, as we know, Howard does not long nostalgically for the '60s and '70s. He wants to eradicate them. To expunge them from the record and our memories. He has mounted a counter-revolution to vanquish flower power once and for all.

Things were going so well for him for a time. He had bypassed the '60s and '70s and taken us back to the time of Menzies, when authority was obeyed and our status as a satrapy of the US was taken for granted. Those who cavilled at our obsequious relationship with the hyperpower were dismissed as "anti-American". The invasion of Iraq had to succeed to erase the bitterest of all memories from his generation the defeat in Vietnam.

Watching Howard on The 7.30 Report on Thursday night was to watch a man in a state of denial. The American elections meant nothing. Presidents always lose Congressional support in the sixth year of their term. Iraq was not the only factor in the election. America must not be defeated because that would diminish American strength and reputation and hand a victory to the terrorists.

It was all reminiscent of the late '60s when the same arguments were used against American withdrawal from Vietnam. Then, as now, the American people lost the stomach for a war that was costing thousands of American lives, but prime ministers Holt, Gorton and McMahon all clung to the domino theory of world communist domination, starting in South-East Asia and spreading out from there if the US army left. Our Tory prime ministers continued to believe the unbelievable even after Americans had accepted that the best they could hope for was honourable withdrawal.

Vietnam rankles because the victory went to the better, more honourable side. For all their totalitarian inclinations, the winners were Vietnamese nationalists fighting a 30-year war of independence. The invasion of Vietnam by America and its lap-dogs was an immoral enterprise, just as the invasion and occupation of Iraq has been.

May we soon see Americans scrambling onto helicopters on the embassy roof in Baghdad, taking the last flights out? Does anyone have a better exit strategy in mind?

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