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Flag Waving

Today we saw new Labor leader Mark Latham speaking with Old Glory on the podium opposite the usual flag, part of a fence-mending exercise with US ambassador Tom Schieffer. Mark is best known for his remarks about the Prime Minister kissing the President's arse, which took on an eerie ring when the President then checked into hospital for colon surgery.

As far as American Ambassadors to Australia go, Tom is pretty typical. Americans probably know him better as former President of the Texas Rangers. We always get an old buddy of the President as ambassador. Someone not afraid to ask for a country where the weather is nice, they speak English and you can drink the water. We never get a career diplomat but there is no need as everything important gets handled by the State Department in Washington. Over there, they probably think that Tom has gone feral. Since 9/11 he has enjoyed being a minor celebrity downunder.

Of course, the government wasn't going to make it that easy. They immediately announced that they would join the US missile defence program. The idea is John Howard's usual "divide and conquer" ploy. Backing the government will be unpopular with the party's left wing but if Labor opposes it, they will be painted as weak on the US alliance.

Let's face it though: out in the marginal electorates, the left aren't going to vote for John Howard; they'll vote for the Greens and their preferences will flow to Labor. Whereas the swinging voters can be lured away from the Liberals.