The Cringe Dwellers

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.

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30/09/2008After more than a decade of coalition rule when Australians were conned into believing that the be all and end all of existence is in the pursuit of the almighty dollar, the neo-cons and their supporters are now hell bent on using every trick in the book to discredit and undermine the new government. It is, after all, a LABOR government which cannot be allowed to be successful, nor can a Labor Prime Minister be seen to be a competent and intelligent representative on the world stage. I don't think that the ridicule and damning criticism by the rightwing political commentators has much to do with the cringe mentality per se. Rather it is a blatant campaign to sow the seeds of discontent within the electorate to overcome any perception that a Labor Government can be responsible economic managers and forge a respected place for this nation in global affairs. I must say I am still digesting Milne's article 'Market injection well planned' in which he appeared to be an insightful, credible journalist. Was this just a glitch moment when Milne decided to write something almost praiseworthy of Rudd and Swan?

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30/09/2008Janice, I too was astonished to read Glenn Milne's article yesterday in The Australian. It was the most balanced piece I've seen him write. I've noticed that recently he's as inclined to write anti-Coalition articles as he is anti-Government. It seems to depend on what juicy rumours and tidbits have been peddled to him. He seems to be the ‘go-to’ journalist if a politician wants to create mischief by leaking information; witness his recent piece on Malcolm Turnbull being opposed to Brendan Nelson’s $30 per week increase in the single pension. Milne’s journalistic reputation could be repaired if he took to regularly writing articles of the calibre of yesterday’s, instead of his usual indifferent pieces. He obviously can. I hope you’re right about the ‘cringe’ issue. We Australians have often been accused of ‘cultural cringe’; I suspect it still exists, although I acknowledge the validity of your point that it may not be the underlying impetus for the media’s disparaging remarks about Kevin Rudd’s visit to the US. If instead the motivation is, as you suggest, “a blatant campaign to sow the seeds of discontent within the electorate”, that is a serious matter, one that those of us who populate the blogosphere should do our utmost to counter. We have a voice, albeit rather weak, but a voice nonetheless.


30/09/2008Ad astra, I wonder how many others were astonished that Glenn Milne is even capable of writing such an article LOL. Perhaps he has decided to rise above the gutter politics he's been indulging in - or perhaps he's been reading the blogs and finally realises what a dreadful reputation he has made for himself. Whatever, I do hope it continues. The way I see it, given the coalition's obstructionist stance in the senate to vote down budget bills important to the government's economic means to deliver election promises to attend to our run-down infrastructure, and the media's reluctance to give anything but cursory criticism of their tactics, there is a blatant campaign to change the perception of the electorate's view that a Labor Government is good for the nation. They attack Kevin Rudd because he is seen to be making an impact both at home and overseas. BTW, have you read Bob Ellis in Unleashed? This was Bob Ellis at his best.

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30/09/2008The statesman-like comments made today by Kevin Rudd and Wayne Swan, and thankfully supported by Malcolm Turnbull in response to contemporary events in the financial world have been widely promulgated by the electronic media, mercifully free of cynical overtones. The prudence exhibited by the Government in budgeting for a large surplus as a buffer against such times as we are now experiencing, its prompt action on short selling last week, and the $4 billion assigned to buy triple A mortgages from non-bank lenders to improve their diminishing share of the mortgage market, have been and are being grudgingly acknowledged by the media, thus dulling the impression they have been fostering that this Government is short on economic credibility. The tactics of the Opposition in opposing budget measures in the Senate and thereby diminishing the surplus at this troubled time are being, and will increasingly be seen by commentators as shabby and not in the nation’s best interest. I wonder how long they will persist before commonsense kicks in? Did you see ‘Cut & Paste’ in the September 29 issue of The Australian featuring a Peter Hartcher article in the SMH on Rudd’s visit to the US? It read, in part, “While Rudd has been quietly seeking solutions, Malcolm Turnbull has been noisily acting out his new schizophrenia as Opposition Leader. He advances responsible Turnbullesque policy on one hand and defends populist ideas he inherited from Brendan Nelson on the other. In his Nelson mode, Turnbull shamelessly spouts the nonsense that Rudd must rush home to solve problems here. Yet Turnbull knows full well that the biggest problem facing Australia is the crisis in the US, and that’s exactly where Rudd should be. Rudd is trying to do his bit.” A positive comment for a change. And he makes the same observation about Turnbull as is made in the previous post on The Political Sword: “The Turnbull Report Card 10 days in”. But the main reason for mentioning this Cut & Paste piece is encapsulated in the headline to it: “Zoellick, McCain and Bush turn to Kevin for advice” and the subheading: “Peter Hartcher in The Sydney Morning Herald exclusively reveals the architect of the US financial rescue package” Note the heavy sarcasm. Of course we know News Limited often sideswipes Fairfax, but these headers look to me like a manifestation of the ‘cringe-mentality’. I can see too that it fits with your notion Janice of a blatant tactic to diminish the Government. Maybe it’s a bit of both. I haven’t seen Bob Ellis’ Unleashed. I must do so.

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