20 November 2003

Bush's Gated Community

The Bush impulse to shut down the world, I suspect, combines many urges at once. Certainly, there's the urge to stamp an imperial imprint of power on the world, and allied to it, the urge to control. The desire to cut off information, to rule in silence and secrecy, must undoubtedly have allures all its own. And then there's also simple fear (a feeling not much written about since our President and his administration quite literally took flight on September 11, 2001). Underneath the 'bring 'em on' mentality -- frightening in itself -- seems to lie an urge, when 'they' actually come 'on,' to flee. Have you noticed how quickly all that 'we-won't/can't/mustn't-cut-and-run' language cropped up -- and in administration mouths no less, even if projected onto others? Such warnings preceded the first significant mainstream calls for any kind of withdrawal from Iraq.

Only this week, L. Paul Bremer, who has reportedly 'grown deeply pessimistic about his job in Iraq,' snubbed visiting ally, Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller, a foreign leader who has put his own reputation on the line by sending significant numbers of troops to Iraq. Their meeting in Baghdad was cancelled so that Bremer, who may soon enough go back to selling counter-terror strategies on the free market if rumors prove true, could rush back to Washington in what looked distinctly like panic bordering on flight.

As we live in a hideously over-determined world, god knows what other urges go into the urge to shut the world down, lock it up, and throw away the key. What can be said, however, is that the Bush administration has shown a remarkable across-the board consistency in its lock-down acts.

Take the upcoming Bush visit to London. American presidential trips abroad increasingly remind me of the vast, completely ritualized dynastic processionals by which ancient emperors and potentates once crossed their domains and those of their satraps. Our President's processionals are enormous moving bubbles (even when he visits alien places closer to home like the Big Apple) that shut cities, close down institutions, turn off life itself. Essentially, when the President moves abroad, like some vast turtle, he carries his shell with him.

In Australia, for the first time in its history, Parliament was shut down to the public so that the President could 'address' Australians.

Apart from the gated community, an apt metaphor for the Bush approach, the scary thing is the assault on language itself, a technique not unknown to the Howard government. Back pages has an item on how Medicare, a universal health system, is being transformed into a residual health system called a universal safety net. A little historical revisionism allows Howard (who opposed Medicare at its inception) to annoucne it was never intended to be a universal system. Let's dig a little, the second reading speech on the Income Tax Laws Amendment (Medicare Levy) Bill 1983:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

By this Bill, and the other that I have just introduced, it is proposed to impose a Medicare levy of one per cent of the taxable income, as determined for income tax purposes, of people residing in Australia. The Bills are a finance- raising complement to other measures designed to implement the Government's universal Medicare scheme. Other basic features of the scheme are contained in legislation that has been introduced by my colleague, the Minister for Health, ( Dr Blewett). Introduction of the levy is timed to coincide with the coming into operation of the main Medicare legislation on 1 February 1984.

Apparently the ministers responsible for the creation of Medicare were wrong when they said it was to be a universal system and John Howard (then deputy leader of the opposition )and a vigorous opponent of Medicare, was right.

More and more, the court bulletins are written in a ceremonial language where meanings get reversed on a regular basis. The latest from Howard is defending Australia by altering the meaning of the word "Australia'.

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