23 May 2006

Yesterday's man

Louis Nowra's piece against 1950s-man Howard rehashed some familiar themes, none of which are helpful in defeating Howard or charting a course for Australia's future once he has gone.

If Howard had been Prime Minister for a week, or even for as brief a time as Whitlam, it might be fair to call him an aberration. The whole reason why Keating lost is because he claimed that many old-fashioned ideas were defunct, and could play no role in our future. Howard disputed this and the voters backed him in 1996. Beazley has not dared buck Howard on any substantive issue since (except perhaps workplace relations) and so it is left to others to try and frame the debate over what falls away, what do we take with us? The Labor Government in Victoria chose to do no searching examination of the Eureka Stockade and its contribution to Australian democracy beyond a sound-and-light show. I'm willing to write off the ALP as a serious political force if you are.

As we gear up for Laura Norder, the mangiest old slut of Australian politics, to lift her fetid skirt to the voters of NSW and Victoria over the next twelve months, you'd have to agree that the "bushranger" of Nowra's piece is well and truly dead. Kelly, E.: stole some livestock, killed some police, was gaoled and hanged. End of story. What legend? The legend depends on there being some notion that this was somehow unfair, with solid doses of social justice and Fenianism and other laughably passé notions. Boy they're ‘gonna hang you high? Nah, leave you to rot more likely to the cheers from splenetic AM radio.

Howard's cultural passivity has given us space to see what we take with us into the future. You tend to see a cultural renaissance toward the end of Liberal governments/ start of Labor, so bring it on I say. Such a shame that Louis Nowra insists on fighting the early 1970s cultural war with a few names changed, tying himself in knots in failing to portray Howard as both a cardigan-wearing inanity and a red-in-tooth-and-claw radical, with all the success one would expect of a First World War detachment marching across open ground with rifles at the slope toward a machine gun nest. Give us cultural criticism, but can't we have a cultural criticism that works today?

It's time, Louis. Time to shut up and open your eyes and ears. If we had to pick John Howard or Louis Nowra for the title of "Yesterday's man", I'd pick Nowra. I'm keen to see the back of Howard but I want a clearer idea of what will fill the void than this cranky sub-Freudenberg wistfulness.

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