Ceaselessly into the past
Gerard Henderson's political outlook was forged during the 1960s, an unusual time in Australian history to say the least. He was a successful columnist when he could apply this outlook to the issues of the day. Now that he is applying the issues of the day to massage perceptions of the 1960s, he has lost value as a commentator.
This article drips with nostalgia and gives more credence to Tariq Ali than he deserves. Henderson would argue that Ali does appear in a lot of foreign newspapers, and is therefore highly significant as a shaper of perceptions. Newspapers pay less and less of a role in shaping perceptions over major issues; Ali is widely publicised but so does Britney Spears and their contribution to the culture is about as significant. It isn't just leftists who can be regarded as "old soldiers who seem to remain fossilised in 1968."
This article started with an idle and ironic statement from a rival newspaper, and used that flimsy pretext to flay fellow chattering-classers Julian Burnside, Robert Manne and Raimond Gaita (as if he needed an excuse!). In a previous column, Henderson demanded that Manne apologise for what he may or may not have done as a student over the space of a fortnight in 1965, which apparently didn't involve any violence or criminal activity.
Henderson then demanded the ALP then admit a slow creep who had never apparently wanted to join that organisation in his lifetime, and who is now dead.
The worst thing that could happen to such a person is not that he would get what he wants (insofar as he's clear on what that might be); but that his enemies, who give his life meaning, might disappear. First there was this setting up of a straw man of A World Without Lefties, followed by this smackdown.
Worst of all, however, was this, in which our hero goes around stomping out the last pockets of skepticism that have always existed about war and politicians' appropriation of the emotions that wars stir up. The respectful approach to the deaths of those soldiers were squarely in line with Australia's experience of death in war, and show the indifference and disrespect of the 1960s to be the freakshow that it was. Not that Henderson fully understands this: never mind the two troopers used as a hook for this column, what about my uncle dead for ninety years, hmm? What about Wilfred Burchett and Brian Toohey and the latter-day Manning Clark:
In his A Concise History of Australia (CUP, 1999), Stuart Macintyre makes no mention of the Hitler-Stalin pact or its domestic impact.
Henderson shows history at its worst, an arsenal of axes for this increasingly irrelevant man to grind. Henderson has failed to apply the lessons of history to the challenges of today.
His Nile-like excursions in linking Muslim Australia to fake militant Islam have discredited him, and showed him to have failed to grasp crucial new realities that might have given him new life as a commentator. Instead, he shuffles around the public debate lifeless but undead. Gerard Henderson may bully moderate or left-leaning media into accepting him as innoculation against Bias, but if his is a voice for conservatism then conservatism is as stale and irrelevant as its opponents would hope, and Henderson helps them prove their point.