Politics

Brian Toohey reviews 'Keating: A biography' by Edna Carew

Brian Toohey
Monday, 23 November 2020

This book has drawn comment from press gallery journalists that the author’s background as a finance writer has led to weaknesses in its political analysis. The political sections, however, strike this reader as every bit up to the standard of the press gallery contributions on the subject, and, indeed, add some useful detail on Paul Keating’s early years, which were devoted with such unswerving dedication to entering parliament at the age of twenty-five. Both the gallery and Carew agree that Keating is an outstanding politician and enormously successful treasurer. While it is not always fair to lament that a book is different from the one you might have preferred to read – the author’s task is hard enough as it is – I would have hoped that the economic issues would have been explored with a much broader brush.

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John Gorton reviews 'Six Prime Ministers' by Alexander Downer

John Gorton
Thursday, 19 November 2020

Sir Alexander Downer (1910–81) was a man of great courtesy, absolute integrity, honesty in reporting the things be observed. I think that these attributes are all self-evident in the book he has written about six Australian prime ministers. Also apparent was, I believe, a too subservient attitude to a Britain which was disappearing and changing throughout his life. After all, the concept of the Queen as the Queen of Australia – instead of the Queen of Britain or the Commonwealth – received acceptance only after World War II, which incidentally was a war that Alec Downer saw out living in the hell of Changi Prison Camp.

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Times are changing within the Labor party. As L.F. Crisp points out in his essay on the branches, the new membership is often educated middle class and keen to discuss the International Situation where once the thing was to have a few beers and raffle a chook. Even Bill Hayden, despite his cop background, reflects some of the new flavour of the party with his too often carping manner, redolent of the classroom pedant. That Labor Essays – ‘designed to stimulate creative thought within and without the party’ – should have begun to appear in 1980 seems not unrelated to the growing desire within the party for intellectual as well as emotional satisfaction.

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One of the first books I read about news and politics was a lively British volume edited by Richard Boston, called The Press We Deserve (1970). In it, he quoted a recent speech by the Duke of Edinburgh reciting all the standard clichés about the role a free press played in sustaining democracy. On the contrary, Boston argued, a newspaper such as the News of the World is about as helpful to democracy as an outbreak of typhoid. It may, he said, be the price of democracy, but that was a rather different proposition.

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Thucydides once said, ‘In a democracy, someone who fails to get elected to office can always console himself with the thought that there was something not quite fair about it.’ Chris Wallace is not inclined to agree with the Greek historian, particularly when dissecting the Labor Party’s shock federal election loss in 2019. In her latest book, How to Win an Election, Wallace nominates the ten things that Labor must get right to succeed at the next federal election, and self-pity is nowhere among them. This approach appears simplistic, even tongue-in-cheek at times, but she has captured the key elements of electoral success and makes a strong case that Australia cannot afford another ALP loss.

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‘In fifty years’ time,’ Robert Haupt and Michelle Grattan write in 31 Days to Power. ‘historians will look at the 1983 elections, see that inflation, unemployment and interest rates were at high levels compared to the past, and conclude that Fraser could never have won’.

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Gideon Haigh reviews 'Rage' by Bob Woodward

Gideon Haigh
Friday, 02 October 2020

Tom Lehrer famously believed that Henry Kissinger’s Nobel Prize for Peace rendered satire impossible. Has Donald Trump’s presidency made the same true of political journalism? This may sound counterintuitive. After all, Trump has been a boon for news outlets and book publishing, as well as for social media. Bob Woodward’s Rage sold 600,000 copies in its first week. And that the dean of White House scribes herein abandons his trademark disinterest and pronounces authoritatively that ‘Trump is the wrong man for the job’ has been treated as news in itself. Yet so what?

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It is easy to believe, in the glad confident morning of the new presidency, that not being George W. Bush will be enough: that to restore America’s place in the world, Barack Obama need only avoid the mistakes and repudiate the misdeeds of his discredited predecessor. If so, his task will be easy, and this book may help. But what if something more is needed?

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Apologists for torture often defend their walk on the dark side by invoking putative imperatives, such as protecting their communities from great evils. The paradigm is the ‘ticking bomb’ situation, where pre-empting catastrophe hangs on extracting information from uncooperative terrorists. The merging of combatants and innocents in modern warfare has highlighted the terrible dilemmas of ‘collateral damage’: how much intended or foreseen material destruction and killing of innocents can be justified in engaging your enemy? Then there are the ‘noble’ lies that politicians seem obliged to tell in protecting the larger interests of the nation.

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The paradox of Donald Trump in three new books

Timothy J. Lynch
Thursday, 24 September 2020

In year four of their respective terms, George W. Bush and Barack Obama enjoyed a mixed press. Some accounts lauded them, others were sceptical. The assessments were uniformly partisan. The titles of contemporary books reflected how Republicans backed Bush (he was ‘The Right Man’), Democrats Obama (for successfully ‘Bending History’). Donald Trump, on the other hand, stands as one of the most vilified presidents in American history, from all points of the spectrum. Indeed, these books together make the case that the forty-fifth president is a man so psychologically flawed he poses a clear and present danger to American democracy.

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