28 September 2003

Bush's mourning-after blues

On the home front the President's approval ratings were positively dizzying, in the high 80s. No doubt John Howard hoped he would bathe in the reflected glory of a presidential tour.

How the landscape has changed.

The US leader is likely to touch down in Australia on October 22 for less than 24 hours. Unlike Bill Clinton's 1996 visit to Australia, when adoring and swelling crowds thronged around him, there will be no majestic speeches with Sydney Harbour as a backdrop, no long walks along the beach at Port Douglas. And certainly no midnight jam sessions with jazz musicians at The Basement club in Sydney as there was on a recent post-presidential Clinton visit.

Bush will address the Federal Parliament but it will be an almost perfunctory occasion.

The reality is that the George Bush who will arrive in Australia next month is a shrunken figure, suffering plummeting opinion poll ratings and skyrocketing unemployment at home, and mockery abroad. His domestic opponents characterised last week's speech to the United Nations, in which he sought its financial, military and civilian aid for the rebuilding of Iraq - although without relinquishing any US control - as 'begging'.


If Bush thinks his visit to Australia will provide some relief from such scepticism and hostility, he is deeply mistaken. It is not the usual suspects he needs to worry about - the undergraduate anti-Americans who would protest against the presence of any US president.

Extensive Roy Morgan research for the BBC says that while Australians continue to feel a deep fraternal bond to the American people - 63 per cent feel favourable towards them - Australians just don't like Bush: 49 per cent actively dislike him, compared with 45 per cent who don't mind him. They consider him arrogant in his unilateral use of power and in the thrall of right-wing religious fundamentalists.

The US President will receive a cordial reception when he addresses Parliament, but even inside the building, away from the baying crowds of extreme protesters, there will be dissent.

The really interesting question is why we don't feel the same way about John Howard.

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