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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

Tim Blair retreats « Previous | |Next »
March 8, 2003

You have to read the post a couple of times before the significance of the fragment sinks in. Tim Blair has conceded defeat and he has beat a retreat under the cover of a smoke screen.

The post was a comment on the recent Phillip Adams column in which he rejected the anti-America charge and argued that he was anti-Bush. Tim Blair conceded the argument on March 8 2003 at 9.25 am---'Its all about Bush' he says. As indeed it is.

Thats a huge defeat for the 'lets pulverise Iraq now' crowd. Anti-Americanism was one of their chief tactics to delegitimise their opponents.

The smokescreen? Calling his opponents 'shallow as Lake Eyre'. A witty quip to be sure. But it has no bite since surface is everything in postmodernity and Tim has always operated on the surface.

I feel sorry for Tim's fans. They will be distressed when their news gets out that their hero has retreated from the battle. Tears all round. Will their hero retreat on other fronts?

Now the neo-cons will have to argue their case to justify their going along with Bush's unilateralism, displacement of the UN as a governing institution, might is right, absolute freedom and American hegemony. Arguing their case rather than attacking the person will be something new.

John Quiggin has noticed Blair's retreat as well.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 8:31 PM | | Comments (9)



Coming from someone who provides an approving link to "BoJo", who argues that war, like his own boyish good looks is only skin deep, to be credited with the depth of Lake Ayer should be accepted in good grace as high praise.

I don't buy Phillip Adam's argument for a second. It's about Anti-Americanism. It's just that America conveniently has a republican president - fair game for american-hating lefties. Anti-americanism is always present, it's just that during periods of Democrat government, the evil of America is still blamed on the evil, capitalist republicans.

What I was really trying to get at with the last post is that, If Clinton was still president, he would be pursuing the same course of action that Bush is.

Healso would probably speak more eloquently about it, and everyone would be much happier, because Democrats, unlike Republicans, are not inherently evil.

In the same vein, a labour PM would be sending Australian troops just like Howard is.


I simply assumed Tim was making the comment (tongue in cheek as usual) that Adams' article was shallow along the lines of "I like Americans. Some of my best friends are Americans." It's a bit like that old Southern magnanimous view- "I'm not racist, I like Blacks. I think every white man should have one."

This argument makes sense if we consider "American" in this context to be only a matter of citizenship. Thus Adams, because he likes Bill Clinton, can deny being anti-American. Clinton is an American; Phil likes Bill; therefore Phil isn't anti-American.

But anti-Americanism isn't a condition of being opposed to American citizens. It's an opposition to a group of ideals. When Adams complains about "American values" or "American interests", he isn't talking about the values or interests of the (left-leaning) Americans he agrees with; he's talking about this other, usually undefined, group of ideals.

Broadly speaking, these ideals (as seen by the left) might include untethered capitalism; militarism; patriotism; excessive individualism; a distrust of the state; and so on. Feel free to add to the list.

Unarguably, George W. Bush represents (a key word, this) these ideals (whether you find them to be, er, ideal or not) to a far greater extent than did the faux-internationalist Clinton. That's why Bush is condemned as a "cowboy" and Clinton was applauded as a "statesman". (Irrelevant here is that Clinton's militarism towards Iraq was largely similar to Bush's.) It's Bush's perceived "Americanism" that leads to the likes of Adams opposing him.

So, far from Phil's anti-Bush stance placing him outside of the anti-American crowd, I'd say that it places him solidly within it. He is both anti-Bush and anti-American.

(This argument is necessarily broad, because it addresses Adams's own broad view, and uses the sweepingly negative definitions of "American" one draws from his work. When Adams writes that something is "typically American", or some variation of same, you know he doesn't mean it to be a good thing.)

That isn't to say that all opposition to Bush is anti-American, because not all opposition to Bush is driven by the same narrow, unexamined prejudices. It is a simple matter to be at once anti-Bush and pro-American (in much more subtle and elevated terms than Adams would ever approach).

A loathing of Bush based primarily on exaggerated notions of historical American wrongdoing and a partisan rejection of the right represents the type of reflexive and predictable anti-Americanism of which Adams and the Australian left is often accurately accused.

I think that you are too quick with Bush and Clinton singing the same tune.

That argument misses the difference between their approach to foreign affairs. Bush is far more of a unilateralist than Clinton who was more multilateralist. So though both may end going to war with Iraq, Clinton would be willing to work through the UN than Bush. And more importantly he would be committed to ensuring the UN remains a governing body. Bush is willing to displace the UN because it is too much of a constraint on US power and freedom.

Not much of a difference you say? Well, Condoleeza Rice though the differences very significant: she was critical (big time) of the internationalism of the Clinton administration. Thats why I tried to dig up and post some of her speeches a few days ago.

Such differences in the way international affairs should be conducted are flattened out in Australia; and they only exist in specialised academic circles. You never hear the Howard Government articulating this in the way Rice does---what you get is --'its in the national interest and UN bashing.' Yet the differences underpin the different approaches to international relatons of the Howard Govt and the Crean Labor Party.

But academia is where Condoleeza Rice comes from, and the differences and their philosophical assumptions about the world of nations are extremely important to her.

This is where the debate in Australia should be: ---whether Australia acts in its national interest but also supports the UN as a governing body; or whether it acts solely in its national interest outside the UN and international rules.

Hi Tim,
some common ground:

Strands of the Australian left has been anti-American (re the empire bit) as have strands of the Australian right(pro-British high culture being hostile to anti Amnerican mass culture).

Adams has historically been anti-American due to his defence of an independent Australian culture. This has a long history--directed against Britain prior to 1945 then the US after 1945. Today this means globalization=Americanisation and so no Australian culture or independence

There are quite different sets of ideals, principles values, politics etc within the US as you usefully point out. Lets say that Bush politically represents one Clinton politically represents the other.

And lastly Adams clearly is the Clinton camp and deeply opposed to the Bush camp.

A point of dispute?

I want to say that the US cannot be reduced to either one of these ideals, values, cultural meanings, principles etc;---the US is both and Americans are in conflict over these big time. Maybe you want to dispute this and say that Bush=America; and Clinton does not=America?

Area off diferences

Where we do differ is the significance, meaning or cultural framing attached to Australians being critical of the ideas that Bush represents.

I interpret you to say that because Adams identifies with what Clinton represents and is hostile to what Bush represents then he is anti-American.

And so all the Americans who side with Clinton and are opposed to Bush become anti-Anmerican. So they are un-American and are not patriotic. (citizenship returns at this point.You can be critical of the Bush administration but still love your country etc).

Its not a persuasive argument and you reject it--'not all opposition to Bush is anti-American' and that you can be anti-Bush and pro-American.

(And rightly so because we Australians can be anti-Howard and still be pro-Australia or anti-Crean and still be pro-Australia). Both sides can be partisan to boot--that's politics.

I would maintain that your acknowledgement of this is an important shift in the terms of debate between right and left in this country. It has been centred around the crude US neo-con charge that opposing the Bush view of the world is anti- Amnerican.

That leaves us with your criticism of Adams as anti-American opposed to Bush because of unexamined prejudices. I'm not defending Adams the person.I don't particularly like the man.

What I would say is that, since we all have our prejudices and biases, then what is important is the unexamined bit.What is crucial here is the refusal to critically reflect on them in the light of criticisms made by our opponents.

As an aside on Adams. His piece in the Weekend Australian Magazine struck me as a shift: an attempt to reflect on his own unexamined prejudices in response to criticism.

And I would add that Adams can do a lot more on the reflection bit. But that depends on the arguments of his opponents being much more specific than the standard blanket anti-American charge.

At that point we come down to the specifics of the Bush view of the world--what ones are being criticized by Adams or the Australian left and what is wrong with his/their argument.

We are we in Australia going to get honest about this debate. What we are witnessing is the strategic unfolding of the New World Order. We should always take men such as Rumsfield, Perle, Wolfowitz and the Bush dynasty for their word. This is about changing a chessboard -- the opening curtain on the real American Century. You are either on board with that or you are not.