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poor fellow my country

Does a country get the leader it deserves, or does a leader guide the country towards their view of what they believe a country should be? It's an important question in light of the results of election 2004, wherein John Winston Howard, one of the most reviled and vilified leaders the country has ever seen, has won an historic four elections in a row, by popular mandate.

In addition, due to circumstances of retirement, the decline of the Democrats, and probably most importantly, the decline of the One Nation Party, the Liberal Party teeters on the edge of controlling the Senate, thereby enabling them to pass much of the legislation which the Senate has been able to put a brake on and review during the term of the Howard Government. Indeed, the senate has been a controlling influence on whichever party has been in power over the past twenty years, and it has been able to instigate enquiries into matters such as the children overboard affair, an avenue which will be closed to it now the government has the numbers to negate any resolutions. If the government wins the final Senate seat which is still undecided, it will control both houses of parliament.

It is not hard to find evidence of the dislike, bordering one must concede, on hatred towards John Howard. Letters to the editor alone document a steady flow of animosity towards his contortions of truth, his distortion of the values of this country towards his own personal vision, and his ability to drag a largely compliant public along with those values. He has done these things while offering a relaxed and comfortable lifestyle towards his constituents, particularly those not concerned with issues of human rights, illegal wars, and environmental outcomes, and it is a hip pocket response which has allowed him to bring off these victories. Ironically, it is the reforms of the Hawke/Keating Labor Government which have laid the basis for the positive economic times the Howard Government has enjoyed, and subsequently reaped the benefit of.

It was Bill Clinton's presidential adviser, Dick Morris, (who appeared on the ABC's Lateline recently pointing out that Australian Governments had no control over interest rates in a word economy) who placed a placard on Clinton's desk with the famous adage, "It's the Economy Stupid!" which served as a constant reminder to Clinton as to what he had to concentrate on to win the hearts, minds and votes of the American public. John Howard in this election has successfully played the same economic card, which has trumped the trivial suits of wars, lies and deceptions, values far removed from the hip pocket response. It is a rare occurrence when a government is thrown out when the economy is booming, but the great pity in this election is that the economy seems to be a substitute and a diversion for those other values.

With the huge rise in house prices in recent years, (much of it due to capital tax-free speculation) a slight increase in interest rates could indeed spell disaster for many unable to maintain their mortgage payments. The interest rate scare campaign launched against the ALP was therefore, brutally effective.

The great tragedy of course, is that this rich, open, broad minded country has allowed itself to be manipulated by a leader who appeals to the lowest in their make-up. John Howard would be quite capable of winning an election while maintaining a humane response to refugees; while taking an independent approach to foreign affairs; while being honest with the Australian people, and while having a modicum of empathy with the Aboriginal people. His ability to jettison all that the Australian people could quite happily have accommodated, or indeed have borne with pride, is what has ultimately devalued us all as a country.

Has the Australian voting public endorsed the Howard Government's attitude to all the controversial decisions of the past three years? I think not. Has the hip pocket response manipulated many of them into re-electing a Government which encompasses a lot of things which they find distasteful? I suspect so. Is a leader able to drag a country along with their own brand of intolerance, prejudice and bloody mindlessness? Most certainly. Does a country get the leader it deserves? Yes and no. The endorsement of John Howard for his fourth term behoves him to address the issues which a true statesman should aspire to. If not, his legacy could well be that of the most successful, while conversely the most divisive and despised Prime Minister the country has ever seen.

John Howard has repeated many times over the thirty years he has been in public life, that "The things which unite us are more important than the things which divide us." It is time he put these words into action.

Posted: Thu - September 21, 2006 at 04:03 PM      
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