Miscellany: Robert Reich and abortion

Robert Reich and abortion

There have been more US abortions in each year of the Bush administration than there were in each year of the Clinton administration.

That statistic was just one of the comments from former Clinton secretary of labor, Robert Reich, during his Australian visit. Miscellany heard him in Melbourne at the joint Centre for Public Policy and Australian Fabian Society meeting at Melbourne University.

Reich was responding to questions about the rise of the fundamentalist Christian Right, suggesting that there had always been a progressive element in the US religious scene (eg the civil rights campaigns) and that rapprochement was still possible between the religious and the progressive.

Reich says the unusual statistic is a product of the failure of Bush’s faith-based approach to family planning in which sheer ignorance leads to pregnancy compared with the more rational approach under previous Presidents. Thus, he argued, if the religious right was really concerned about abortion they would support more progressive family planning policies. Other Reich comments included:

  • We worry about democracy in the Ukraine but there the Supreme Court ordered a new election to ensure the wishes of the people were respected compared with a different response by another Supreme Court in another country;
  • The US media (would we kindly take Rupert Murdoch back? he asked ) was George Orwell squared when it came to propaganda; and,
  • Global politics and foreign relations suffer from “global testosterone poisoning”.

Listening to the hour of questions to which Reich responded, Miscellany couldn’t help but wonder whether a US audience would have asked the same sort of detailed, knowledgeable questions about politics in the rest of the world as this audience asked about US politics. It seemed impolite – and probably unnecessary – to ask.

Gareth and the UN

Gareth Evans is probably not suffering from relevance deprivation at this minute fresh as he is from his labors for the UN.

The Economist recently published a feature quoting extensively from Gareth and last week accompanied an article by Kofi Annan on the UN with a panel giving brief CVs for all the members of Annan’s UN High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change.

Gareth’s entry read – “president of the International Crisis Group and former tourism minister”.

We know he once donated the world’s largest collection of first class amenity bags to a charitable auction but thought he perhaps had other better and more accurate claims to fame

The neocons and their books

The neoconservatives spend an awful lot of time writing books which seek to demonstrate that the entire course of human history, culture, philosophy and economics has culminated in the administration of George W. Bush.

It is comprehensible that otherwise intelligent people need to seek to come up with some sort of rationale for supporting someone as dumb as Dubya but it is sad nevertheless.

The latest is Gertrude Himmelfarb who has written The Roads to Modernity –  The British, French and American Enlightenments. It is always amusing to see neocons oscillating between claiming that there was only one Enlightenment – and that was British – and also trying to maintain a case for US exceptionalism.

In her new book Himmelfarb gets around the problem by arguing that there three: a nasty, brutish Enlightenment (the French); a good one (the British); and, the best one (the American – by which she means, of course, the US and not the Americas). Paradoxically, she says she is trying to reclaim the Enlightenment from the post-modernists who “deny its existence and belittle its achievements” yet at the same time arguing that its culmination is in the faith-based George W. and the neocons. In this respect she shares the misunderstanding of the post-modernists who think the Enlightenment is about certainty when it is in fact about conditionality – as defined by the scientific method of Hume, Smith et al.

Other neocons have devoted much attention to the French thinker, Strauss, who is alleged to be the philosophical cornerstone of modern neoconservatism. In the NYRB recently Mark Lilla looked at Strauss and the neocons and remarked on how different the European interpretation of Strauss was from the US one – in particular the US obsession with manliness, which may have prompted Arnie the Governator’s speechwriter to come up with the “girlie-men” critique of Kerry. With Strauss – as with Himmelfarb – the thrust of the US interpretation is to demonstrate the validity US exceptionalism.

More properly the interest in Strauss reflects the exceptionalism of the University of Chicago where Strauss taught. If that University’s academics shaped much of the 1980s and 90s with their neo liberal thinking then the Strauss thinking (as interpreted by his US epigones) may well have shaped much of the early 21st century US foreign policy thinking and its allusions to (illusions about) “freedom” and “liberty”.

Of course Miscellany has always thought that the best comment on US exceptionalism – rather than that of Chicago –  came from Dr. Johnson of dictionary fame, when he said: “how is that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?”

The Orwell Prize

The Orwell Prize, presented by the George Orwell Memorial Fund, is designed to recognize good accessible, writing about politics, political thinking or public policy. The London office of my former company was a sponsor for a while and got Michael Foot to present the prizes.

Entries for the awards close on January 5 and Miscellany was wondering whether any Australian writing has ever been submitted for the award. David Marr and the Barry Hill Overland essay, which won a Victorian Premiers Literary Award, would be two prime candidates if a precedent is to be set.

Left wing books and films

The FT had a feature a few weeks ago wondering where all the right wing film-makers were. The Australian complained a bit before that about all the left wing books. The right in Australia is never-ending in their search for a right wing Adams. Tony Abbott savaged the left wing dominance of the Australian media an Age opinion piece.

For a while there Miscellany thought Lewis Carroll was alive and well and taking us all through the Looking Glass into another world. But when the sense of unreality recedes, the combination of all this does help understand the political and intellectual approach of the right.

First, they position themselves as victims of a gigantic all-powerful conspiracy by intellectuals, the media and anyone else who disagrees with them. Then, second, they deny reality. Third, they claim to speak for traditional values and the ordinary neglected people.

Now it’s hard to imagine that any one seriously believes that the US and Australian media are left-wing and that Rupert Murdoch and Andrew Bolt are part of some persecuted minority. Equally nonsensical is the assumption that standard Hollywood fare features tolerance and progressivism rather than consumerism and violence. As for books, if you just take thrillers – one of the most popular publishing genres – and think about how right wing they generally are you can see how unusual the claim is. Sure there was Eric Ambler and Graham Greene and there is Julian Rathbone. John Le Carre is becoming quite a leftie, as was Richard Condon, but Tom Clancy is far more typical of the category than any of them. And as for traditional values and ordinary people – well that is a moot point in Australia and the US at least.

But more importantly, there was another time when so many, so powerful people were so adamant that unrepresentative conspiratorial minorities were subverting civilization as we know it.

When and where? A hint (offered in a spirit of curiosity and without in any way suggesting any direct parallels or similar ultimate outcomes) – two of the chief culprits shared a common first name starting with J.

Third Person Communications

A correspondent has enlightened me on Third Person Communications. They are apparently a newish outfit, not many clients and not all that well known the correspondent says. It was set up by Ross Thornton, who the correspondent says, advised John Brogden during the 2003 election. Obviously deeply committed to lost causes!