When the Prime Minister announced his recent trip to the US, the ‘cringe dwellers’ emerged in numbers. First the Opposition coined what it thought were cute descriptors: ‘Kevin 747’ and ‘Prime Tourist’, which apart from giving it some amusement, exposed an underlying attitude – who does the PM think he is, jetting off when he should be at home minding the shop? An unspoken sub-theme was ‘What could Kevin Rudd possibly have to contribute?’
Soon columnists joined the chorus. The Sun-Herald’s Andrew Bolt in the 29 September issue begins his blog Rudd gets busy with WorldWatch: “What a strange addiction Rudd has for strutting the international stage, doing almost nothing at all of any note.” Note the words “strutting” and “doing almost nothing at all of any note”. But what could be expected? After all he’s only the PM of Australia, a large chunk of land with just 20 million down-unders, only an ex-diplomat, only a past Shadow Foreign Minister; what would he know that anyone else in the world would want to hear? What could Australia possibly contribute on the world scene, and who would listen anyway? What message could he bring from arguably one of the best regulated financial systems in the world to large nations like the US? They must know better. Otherwise the monumental financial mess they’re in would have been much much worse. Bolt, like others of his type think it’s pretentious and arrogant for an Australian PM to be telling any other country anything. He depicts them as trembling with apprehension as Rudd delivers yet another ‘lecture’. Most of Bolt’s following think the same – they had a field day with this blog. The Sunday Telegraph’s Editorial of 28 September Time to clip Rudd’s wings echoed “Kevin Rudd's travel addiction is getting out of hand.” and mockingly questioned the value of his visit, suggesting email and the telephone would have sufficed. Same sentiments as Bolt.
Then there was The Australian’s Dennis Shanahan’s 26 September audio report from the US about the Rudd address to the UN. Although he went on to explain why Rudd’s agenda had necessarily changed because of the global financial crisis and what Rudd had done during his visit, he could not resist beginning by saying that taxpayers watching Kevin Rudd’s address to the UN could be forgiven for wondering why the PM had gone there in the first place instead of staying at home to attend to the financial situation there and to his legislative agenda.
On Channel Ten’s Meet the Press yesterday Glen Milne took a sideswipe when he said, with his usual dose of sarcasm, that Rudd seemed to have plans for global action on many issues but no plan for supporting pensioners. Again the message was - how dare he get involved in global politics. Even the benign Mark Riley in his Channel Seven Sunday Riley Diary made fun of the Rudd visit, although subsequently in his serious comment he acknowledged all that Rudd had accomplished and that his presence in the US was important. Then on the ABC’s Insiders Piers Akerman predictably ridiculed the visit, as if someone as insignificant on the world scene as Kevin Rudd, Australia’s PM, could offer any useful advice. Even the cartoonists portrayed on Insiders had a field day.
To balance this, thoughtful commentators like Paul Kelly, Malcolm Farr and Annabelle Crabb, also on Insiders, acknowledged it was important that our PM was in the US meeting with world leaders, updating himself with the latest on the financial crisis, speaking to the UN on financial regulation, climate change and world poverty, as well a canvassing a seat for Australia on the Security Council, the original reason for the visit. But Insiders still took the time with its visuals to poke fun at Rudd’s UN appearance highlighting the empty seats and the sleepy audience. [more]
We Australians have a reputation for our satirical self-effacing sense of humour, and it would be a pity if we couldn’t continue to laugh at ourselves, our leaders and our politicians. But what is of concern is the cringe mentality that seems to underlie much of this jocularity. Instead of ridiculing our PM, (or for that matter any other well-informed Australian) for daring to offer an opinion on global issues, ought we not to be proud that this country can contribute, that we may have knowledge, experience and ideas that are valuable to the global community? Yet so many of our commentators habitually cringe at the idea that we having something to offer and instead indulge in derision? Why?
So let’s move to shake off this debilitating cringe mentality, let’s not be a cringe-nation just because some of our lesser journalists and tabloids think it’s good sport to ridicule, and of course good copy. Let’s tell them that we Australians can and should walk tall, that our PM does have important things to say on global issues, that the rest of the world can learn from us.
Cringe dwellers, particularly cringe-journalists influence public thinking profoundly; Bolt’s newspaper asserts he’s Australia’s most widely read columnist. They should retreat to their caves, and desist from putting down this nation and its leaders. We’re sick and tired of it.