October 10, 2004


Why the voters of Wagga Wagga have good news for Bush and Blair (Tim Hames, 10/11/04, The Times of London)

[John Howard] is a firm believer in the notion of an “Anglosphere” linking his country, the United States and Britain. He might not necessarily use the term “Anglosphere” when addressing sheep farmers in the Outback (who would rightly regard such a phrase as only mildly more enticing than post-structuralism), but it is central to the Australian Prime Minister’s outlook on the world. Put simply, he thinks that ties of culture, history and political institutions are more important than those of mere geography. The electors of Wagga Wagga have their differences with those of Wisconsin or Worcestershire, but it is their similarities that will prove to matter.

Mr Howard could, therefore, identify three aspects of his triumph that, like his nation’s fine lager, are definitely available for the export market.

The first is that within the Anglosphere incumbency is an asset, not a liability. There have been many parts of the world this year — from Spain and Greece to India and Indonesia — where governments with perfectly decent records have been defeated. Mr Howard’s win not only bucks this trend but reaffirms a pattern. In Australia, Britain and the US, it has been better in recent years to hold office than to challenge for it. Over the past 20 years, only one sitting Australian Prime Minister (Paul Keating in 1996), one serving British Prime Minister (John Major in 1997) and one US President (George Bush Sr in 1992) have been thrown out by the voters. The same is true of Canada. In the Anglosphere today, “the devil you know” is usually preferred to an aspiring Angel of Deliverance.

The second is that political life in the Anglosphere remains dominated by economics. Indeed, the economic cycles of Australia, Britain and the US appear to be more closely aligned with each other than with those of Asia, Europe or Latin America respectively. Mr Howard stormed home because he and his party were strongly associated with prosperity and his opponents were perceived as a threat to that benign stability. He now has to work out when to stand down in favour of a Finance Minister who is viewed as the architect of this success (sound familiar?). Canada experienced the same transition — although somewhat ineptly executed — at about this time last year.

There is an analogy with the US as well. The irony of this presidential election is not John Kerry’s failure to exploit a weak economy but Mr Bush’s inability to make more of these good times. The unemployment rate in America today is lower than it was when Ronald Reagan secured his second term in 1984 and when Bill Clinton did the same 12 years later. It is not the challenger but the President who needs to put the economy centre stage over the next three weeks. If he does, then he will remain in the White House and, like Mr Howard, perhaps by a surprisingly comfortable margin.

Finally, the “Iraq factor” is more potent in opinion polls than in the ballot box. Mr Howard’s involvement in the demise of Saddam Hussein was no more popular in Australia than Mr Blair’s role has been in Britain. Iraq would appear to be a negative factor for Mr Bush in his election bid as well. I suspect, though, that the mood in all three countries has much in common. Voters are far from convinced that troops had to go in, but now that they are there they must finish the task, and that quest would be complicated by a change in leadership. The defiant response here to the savage murder of Kenneth Bigley is not what the terrorists anticipated.

Is it truly possible for Mr. Kerry to win the election by offering to move us out of the Anglosphere and into the orbit of France and Germany?

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 10, 2004 7:00 PM

On the day of Derrida's death, can we not speculate that English forces our words and thoughts into certain channels, producing a particular set of responses that are different from those of, say, French speakers.

Posted by: David Cohen at October 10, 2004 11:23 PM

Well, French doesn't have a word for trustworthy.

Posted by: oj at October 10, 2004 11:30 PM


Yes, that is absolutely the case.

How much impact that actually has on behavior is up for discussion.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at October 11, 2004 12:02 AM


Actually, they do. 'Digne de confiance'

The victory of John Howard is important because he backed away from nothing he did over his term in office, including backing America in Iraq and barring the slimy terrorist Muslim 'asylum seekers' from Australian shores.

Bush is being similarly steadfast, and will have a similar result.

Posted by: Bart at October 11, 2004 10:25 AM


If you look in the archives (search for "Piraha"), we had this discussion only recently.

Prof. Liberman had some very good comments on the supposed force exerted on a speaker's thoughts by his language on the Language Log.

Posted by: Eugene S. at October 12, 2004 2:31 PM