Australia: PM's values platform is a two-pronged attack

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Tue Sep 19 12:36:29 UTC 2006

PM's values platform is a two-pronged attack

 David McKnight September 19, 2006

IF THE Cold War was a clash of ideologies, the new global conflict is
about values. In the US, neo-conservatives argue that Western values are
threatened by terrorists and postmodernists. In Australia, the Prime
Minister, John Howard, argues that better proficiency in English and a
knowledge of history and civics are needed to combat a threat to
Australian values. For some time now Howard has positioned his party as
the true inheritor of Australian values, winning the votes of many
battlers and other Australians. On Australia Day this year he argued that
cultural diversity must give way to an emphasis on Australian values. He
repeats this mantra as if unnamed parties strongly disagree with him. In
so doing he has created a framework and political agenda in which he is
triumphantly, if banally, right.

This values strategy neatly appeals to our desire for security against
terrorism and our desire for a cohesive community. That's why comments
about Muslims who refuse to integrate or learn English are symbolically
powerful and are a coded appeal to Anglo-Celtic workers fearful of
globalisation. The appeal to Australian values is also a textbook example
of a strategy outlined in two books being widely read in political
circles. One is George Lakoff's Don't Think of an Elephant. The title
relates to an exercise Lakoff sets for students when teaching cognitive
science at the University of California. He asks his students to do
something and adds, "and don't think of an elephant". Not surprisingly,
the first thing many students think of is an elephant. Lakoff's book is
about the ascendancy of the right in American politics, which has set a
political agenda by articulating a unified, coded discourse, not just
particular policies tailored to interest groups.  Lakoff argues that if
you simply deny an opponent's claims you adopt his discourse in spite of
yourself. So when former US president Richard Nixon said on television "I
am not a crook", many people thought, "Nixon is a crook".

Lakoff's point is that political leaders are successful when they use
words and concepts that reflect a deeper and persuasive framework of
values. If their opponent adapts those words, they fight on foreign
territory. The central framework for the American right, Lakoff says, is
family values. The right argues its case on everything from welfare to
foreign policy using a model of the "strict father" who protects and
punishes the nation-family


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