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17 November 2011

Picking Things To Bits – Tony Abbott’s Address to President Obama


Because I’m not convinced.

A new thing. I thought it might be fun to periodically choose a piece of someone else’s writing and critically analyse it with an objective eye pick it to bits.
First cab off the rank is Tony Abbott’s speech at the reception dinner welcoming visiting US President Barack Obama. The full transcript is here (Warning: there is a photo of Tony Abbott and Julia Bishop on this page).

It begins:

Mr President, Prime Minister, parliamentary colleagues, distinguished guests.
It is indeed an honour to follow our Prime Minister in formally welcoming President Obama to Australia.


“Yadda yadda yadda, hello, hello, mmwah etc”
 As the leader of the United States, sir, you are the world’s president because no other country has such a place in the life and such a hold over the imaginations of people across the globe.

“Your status as a world power is on the wane, but I’m not going to waste valuable proselytising and brown-nosing time talking about that right now.”
 As Prime Minister Gillard has said, watching the moon landing in 1969 convinced her that there was nothing that America and Americans could not achieve. The moon landing, sir, was special for me, too. My teachers didn’t think it was important enough to interrupt classes for. So, I absconded to a friend’s house to watch the broadcast. It was the only time in my life I ever wagged school and I’d like to think that I did it for America. The subsequent corporal punishment, I suppose that was for America, too: a small price to pay for watching history in the making and cheering for the country which at that moment was acting for all humanity.

“I was a really good boy at school, except that one time when I assumed the position in the name of America”.
 Years later, sir, as a student in Oxford...

“I haz plenty smart book learnin’”
 ...I felt instantly at home amongst the English only to discover after six months that nearly all of my friends were American.

“I wanted to fit in with people who spoke posh and drank lots of tea but they didn’t care for me much.”
 Perhaps it was just the solidarity of strangers, more likely it was the natural affinity that Americans and Australians have for each other. It was an American who not only taught me the Star Spangled Banner but insisted that I sing it in the Soviet Union no less in 1982. It was an American who persuaded me to become a boxer, an American Jesuit, the ultimate muscular Christian.

“Here are some meaningless personal anecdotes that prove how awesome Americans are. Also, PRAISE JESUS!”
 From the American sealers and whalers who were an important part of our national economy back in the 1800s; the officers and men of the Great White Fleet who were given perhaps the most tumultuous welcome ever extended to any visitors to our shores; General Pershing’s men who went to war for the first time under General Monash in the Battle of Hamel; to the countless Americans and Australians at all times and in all places who instantly warm to each other’s informality and readiness to have a go.

“I had my PA Google some stuff yesterday so that I could sound relevant.”
 Our citizens are not strangers to each other. English-speaking peoples never really are.

“Australians and Americans get along because I am blissfully ignorant of the 100 or so languages other than English that are spoken in Australia and the US.”
 I was reminded of this, sir, on a recent visit to Afghanistan. Only a senior American officer would have invited an image-conscious politician...

“OMG you guise, have you seen my spectacular pecs?”
 ...to test-fire a heavy machine gun...

“So heavy, in fact, that only someone with spectacular pecs could use it and not look like some kind of publicity-hounding idiot.”
 ...and only an Australian alternative prime minister...

“I prefer not to use the term ‘sore loser’”
 ...would have been rash...

“Spectacularly muscular”
 ...enough to do so.

But for all the instinctive bonds there can still be misunderstandings. On my first trip to the United States as a parliamentarian, the US Information Agency briefed my hosts that I was a ferocious liberal and deeply anti-republican, which meant that I spent most of the fortnight being introduced to communists.

“Even though we all speak English, you guys are still capable of monumental stuff-ups that result in me having to tell my pre-prepared Christian White Supremacist jokes to a bunch of bloody commies.”
 The very concept of the office I hold as an institutional critic of government...

“This Opposition Leader gig is SO. EASY. I don’t even have to come up with any ideas of my own! I get paid to pick on the Prime Minister, while all you lowly taxpayers are doing it on Twitter for free.”
 ...is foreign to your notions of a powerful and unifying president. Indeed, the nearest thing you have to an opposition leader is probably an editorial in the Wall Street Journal.

“I staunchly refuse to portray the Republican Party in a bad light, because they are SO AWESOME. PRAISE JESUS!”
 But a good thing it is to have a shadow government to keep the official one on its toes.

“I’ve heard the term “formulate workable alternative policies” before, but I have no idea what it means.”
 Regardless, sir, of their normal political affiliations millions of Australians took pride in your election as President...

“Most Australians couldn’t give a rat’s arse about American voters, but hey - they like what Oprah likes.”
 ...because it showed that America could live up to its dreams and that Americans were capable of judging people by the content of their characters rather than the colour of their skin.

“I’m trying to cover up my innate racism. How’m I doing?”
 In similar vein, I am very proud that an Aboriginal has finally been elected to the Australian House of Representatives as a member of the Liberal National Coalition.

“My PA found out on Google that we’ve got a black fellow in the House of Reps. Fancy that! Next thing you know we’ll be letting them buy their own groceries. ANYway, I think you, sir, are just as important as whatsisname.”
 Mr President, we too are a country that has beckoned to the “poor, the huddled masses, yearning to be free.”

“We beckon, they come, we lock them up for months while we do a bit of paperwork. Until I'm Prime Minister, of course, in which case they can all get stuffed.”
 We too are a country spreading across a continent from sea to shining sea.

“This is the extent of my knowledge of plate tectonics”
 We too are one nation indivisible under God with liberty and justice for all...

“I live in a magical fantasy fairyland. Also, PRAISE JESUS!!!”
 ...and at least in this country, sir, the President of the United States stands for power tempered with good will, wealth with justice and energy with wisdom. So, naturally, we could hardly have amongst us a more welcome guest.

“And to finish, I’d like to blow smoke up your arse. Damn, I wish you were white.”