Tim Blair


New Criterion



Monday, March 22, 2004
JOHN HOWARD'S RHETORIC BY-PASS has been noticed before, more than once.

As a squishy kind of conservative, I think it reflects a hard-line conservative's impulse to take the lower moral ground. He wants to distinguish himself from his left opponents crowing on the higher moral ground of their own construction.

The US conservatives do it differently, of course. They go to war for ideals as well as self-interest.

I can't say I prefer the US style, but costs of the Howard way grow clearer by the week.

The "Be Alert but not Alarmed" campaign was a bureaucratic monster that no compleat politician should have shackled himself to.

Howard and his Government know that we are in a war against terrorism, but they seem to think all they need do is print ration coupons.

Instead we need more and better-crafted calls to arms. With a firmer rhetorical basis the government would be less liable to the kind of over-reaction police Commissioner Keelty's half-baked comment gave rise to.

They could make use of the considerable efforts official Australia is now putting in to preparations for attack and counter-measures. Some of these are nicely summed up in this news item. It adds meaning to the war and credibility to the Government.

Instead the ground is left clear for the Opposition's Kevin Rudd to nit-pick and imply Labor would do better (listen to any ABC Radio News service for examples).

This from a party that supports the war but opposes every attack on the enemy.

When the Government has news about its preparatons for maritime attack, it allows it to be delivered by the narcotic John Anderson, in open-necked shirt, on Sunday morning television. Unimpressive.

Here's Uncle's suggestion. Hold back .001% of the money from the pork-barrel and spend it on publicity. Not on bureaucratic paper blizzards, but on regular set-piece speeches written by good writers, and even more regular progress reports on what is being done.

And keep telling us ways in which we can be alert but nor alarmed.

Even show us what it will be like when central Sydney is, one day, shut down by terrorist action. Then the actual event won't be so damaging to morale.

Go for it, John Winston Howard. You can rely on the Islamists to provide regular demonstrations that you're not just making it all up.