31 December 2012
By Tom Switzer
Seasoned political observers should be shocked by nothing. But sometimes one witnesses hypocrisy of such dramatic proportions that it is impossible for even cynics to remain unfazed.
I refer to Wayne Swan's attacks on US congressional Republicans on the eve of the legislative negotiations to avert the so-called fiscal cliff.
Last week, the federal Treasurer took repeatedly to Twitter to slam US small-government politicians, otherwise known as the Tea Party, for holding the global economy to ransom.
This follows his criticism in September when he warned that the biggest threat to the global economy were "cranks and crazies" in the Republican Party.
Their sin, it appears, is to obstruct President Barack Obama's march towards European-style statism, welfarism and insanely high debt.
Those US politicians, in Swan's telling, who support policies that reduce the size of the state and oppose indecently high spending, are recklessly holding the world's post-global financial crisis economic recovery hostage.
Never mind that about 20 house Democrats have supported Republican bills to renew across-the-board tax cuts this year. Never mind that at the time of writing the Democrat Senate has failed to pass a budget during the past three years.
Swan's foray into US domestic politics not only marks a desperate attempt to blame US politicians for his own failure to deliver a budget surplus in Australia. It also displays the rank hypocrisy of the Labor Party and much of the media.
Go back six years. John Howard was asked about a policy proposal of a US Democratic presidential candidate to withdraw US troops from Iraq. The then-prime minister's answer was consistent with his past positions: that any premature withdrawal could destabilise the region and threaten Australia's security by emboldening terrorist groups linked to al-Qa'ida.
The response was overwhelmingly hostile.
"Short-sighted", "irresponsible", "inflammatory", "ill-considered" these were just some of the barbs that Swan's colleagues hurled at Howard. How dare an Australian political leader weigh into divisive US affairs, Labor frontbenchers chanted.
The media echoed the opposition's charge. There was "no justification for trespassing into American domestic politics", thundered the Australian Financial Review. Howard looked like a "player in US domestic politics" and "a partisan politician meddling in another country's election", complained The Sydney Morning Herald.
Bear all this in mind as you witness Swan's meddling in Washington's political process. Except this time, the Deputy Prime Minister's attacks on the Tea Party, merely a segment of a party that lost the recent presidential election as well as seats in the congressional elections, have met hardly any criticism in Australia.
Whatever the merits of Swan's position, it is a rule of diplomacy that political leaders should refrain from commenting on the internal affairs of another nation, not least our most important security ally. And if they do so, they should maintain a civil tone in their comments.
If it was ill-advised of Howard, in an off-the-cuff moment during a television interview in early 2007, to say that al-Qa'ida would pray every day for an Obama victory, then it is impolitic for Swan, in well-prepared speeches and tweets, to slur Republican politicians with whom he disagrees. What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.
This article was originally published by The Australian