A Little Change: Aussie Election a Harbinger of American 'Reform'?

The departure of John "Bush Boy" Howard from office in Australia is most welcome, of course, but the administration of new Labor Party PM Kevin Rudd may less of a rupture than meets the eye. Rudd has clearly cast himself in the Bill Clinton-Tony Blair mode: a "pragmatist" steering his nominally progressive party firmly toward the right, jettisoning any platforms and principles that might hinder "electability" – i.e., assuring the elite that their wads won't be threatened if the "progressives" take power.

A first look at Rudd is offered (via Chris Cook of our sister site, Pacific Free Press) from Sid Astbury in the Bangkok Post:

[Rudd], the former diplomat overturned Howard's 11-year-old conservative government by promising to keep change to a minimum. He doesn't describe himself as a socialist - or even the head of a party from the Left. He's Labor-lite and most of his policies are little different from Howard's…The 50-year-old devout Christian has promised to stick with free trade, balanced budgets, unprotected industries and a floating exchange rate.

A Mandarin-speaking father-of-three, he will uphold the formal military alliance with the United States, and try and emulate Howard in being good friends with both Washington and Beijing. On social issues the cheesy Rudd is conservative too. There will be no gay marriages, no symbolic treaty with the 500,000 Australians who define themselves as Aborigines, and no rolling forward of a progressive agenda on immigration. Those turning up without a visa will still get locked up.

In the election campaign, Rudd matched Howard's offer of huge tax cuts and buckets of new money for welfare schemes. Wealthy women will still get a big cash bonus for having a baby. Millionaire couples will continue receiving help to buy their first mansion. Rudd, who won by convincing voters change was almost risk-free, will soften Howard's deeply unpopular industrial relations policies but not hand power back to the unions.

Next, Australian novelist Richard Flanagan, writing in the Guardian, takes a harsh look back at Howard's reign, then weighs in on Rudd:

…by voting in Kevin Rudd's Labor party, it seemed in many ways that Australia was simply replacing one older short man with glasses with a slightly younger short man with glasses. Where Howard was a reactionary radical, Rudd is a religious conservative once described by a fellow Labor MP as "about as interesting as carpet".

Rudd's conservative agenda was often difficult to distinguish from Howard's. He was declared a "heartless snake" by the Aboriginal leader Noel Pearson after swinging to the right of Howard on Aboriginal reconciliation in the final days of the election. His claim to be strong on climate change rings hollow when he has promised a subsidy of A$110 million to Gunns Ltd, a company intending to build one of the world's biggest pulp mills in Tasmania, which will burn half-a-million tonnes of native forest a year in the monstrosity of its electricity generator alone. Was this Howard's greatest victory: the creation of a Labor party in his own image?

In Australia's "vote for change," Americans may see a vision of what's to come on their side of the Pacific if, as seems likely, Hillary Clinton brings her husband's brand of "pragmatism" back to the White House after next year's election.

Yes, there will be some changes, particularly at the lower levels of government, where Bush has followed Howard's methods, as described by Flanagan:

Howard's seeming blandness disguised his ruthless determination radically to reshape Australia. His politicisation of the public service severely weakened that institution; his government's ceaseless and ferocious attacking of alternative points of opinion brought a disturbing conformity to Australian public life; and he stacked body after body with sycophants and far-right ideologues to prosecute his causes through society.

As we've noted before, quoting Noam Chomsky, small changes in such vast power structures can bring real benefits to many people. The removal of extremist rightwing apparatchiks from, say, the Justice Department, the Immigration Service, foreign aid agencies, etc., would be a genuine boon to many people now suffering from the depredations of Bushist hacks.

(This is not an endorsement of Hillary Clinton, nor an embrace of "lesser evilism;" it just happens to be a fact. It is also a fact that the depredations of Stalin's 'Great Terror' lessened when Beria replaced Yezhov at the head of the security forces. That doesn't mean, however, that the system was not cruel and brutal, nor that it didn't go on producing evil fruit. But to an individual who would have been shot in 1937 but was left alone in 1939 it would have made a great difference. Again, though, to note this fact is not an endorsement of a leader or a system. All of this should go without saying, of course; but as there are countless heretic-hunters out there, just waiting to pounce on some deviation from their own personal party line, it's useful to restate the obvious now and then. )

However, on the larger issues, there will be no great rupture between the Bush and Clinton regimes after 2008 – just as there was no great rupture between the Bush and Clinton regimes after 2000, or indeed, between the Bush and Clinton regimes after 1992. [For more, see "A Tale of Two Houses: How the Clintons and Bushes Took Us to Hell."]

The current Bush Administration has, by and large, merely extended and intensified the policies of the Clinton Administration: military privatization, corporate coddling, shredding the safety net for the poor and vulnerable, murderous policies toward Iraq ("A half a million children dead from these sanctions, Secretary Albright?" "We think it's worth it."), unprovoked wars conducted without UN Security Council approval, relentless encroachments on civil liberties, etc., etc. One of the few differences might be seen in the Clinton Administration's greater, albeit reluctant, cooperation with Congressional probes and special counsels. But it's doubtful that Hillary will make that mistake again once she's in charge.

Does anyone believe that H. Clinton will actually end the U.S. military presence in Iraq? Will she close the Gitmo concentration camp? Will she prosecute Bush officials for ordering torture? Will she scale back the American empire of military bases around the world? Will she push for a windfall profits tax on the oil companies who are reaping record profits on the blood money of war and chaos? Will she take a single step to loosen the deadly chokehold of the military-industrial complex on American policy, and the American economy? Will she bring vigorous oversight to the predators on Wall Street? Will she end the relentless and damaging testing regimen of the "No Child Left Behind" sham that is corroding American education?

No. Like Bill, she will talk and talk of noble purpose and progressive policies, but she will dance to the tune of the corporate lords who greased her way to power, and bend her ear to the prattle of the second-rate minds – the "neoliberal" economists, the "muscular liberals" – who form her court.

But no doubt she will form a Bush-Howard style special relationship with her "fellow reformer" Down Under.