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November 08th 2012 print

Peter Smith

Divided, conquered and caught napping

Obama couldn't run on his record or allow himself to be faulted for cowardice in declining to respond to the Islamist massacre at the Benghazi consulate. So he played to emotions, class resentments and the mob. There is a lesson there for Tony Abbott



Romney’s sweeping victory has the mainstream media in America and elsewhere, and their readers and viewers, distraught and mystified. How could US voters have turfed out the cool black political messiah who had promised to quell the oceans, heal the planet, make clean water flow, half the budget deficit, and reduce unemployment to 5 per cent? Break out the champagne. Debt, dependency and despair in the United States have given way to the prospect of solvency, self-reliance and hope.

Then I woke from this most pleasant of dreams to grim reality. I blame Dick Morris (“Prediction: Romney 325, Obama 213”). I read his column on election eve. He seemed so sure. A landslide, he said. And why not?


President Obama has presided over massive growth in public debt; increasing poverty and joblessness; a giant leap in food stamp recipients; industrial vandalism disguised as environmental regulations; large doses of crony capitalism (delivering billions of borrowed dollars to green energy rorts and union mates); a completely partisan, job killing, unaffordable, mind-blowingly complex, healthcare law.

To complete the dismal picture, he tried to divide America by class, by ethnicity, and by gender, while internationally resetting America’s standing from one of leadership to chastised and apologetic fellow traveller. And that was before the Benghazi-gate dereliction of duty, and the subsequent lies and cover up to try to save his political skin. In short, his first term has been a disaster. Yet re-elected he was, and comfortably so. Why is the question?

The answer is that more electors voted for him where it mattered. You might say that is simply a statement of the obvious and explains very little. In the past it you would be right. In the present day it explains everything. Let me explain.

When liberals/progressives/socialists, whatever you call them, are faced with a situation in which all of the family silver is sold, their agenda moves from issues and policy to demography. Voting blocs are targeted with targeted messages.

Among other things, Romney had a plan to reform the tax code, including by lessening tax rates across the board, to remove impediments to drilling, and to contain the growth in entitlement spending. Obama couldn’t support any of this without alienating his base. But he had no alternative plan. This was neither neglectful nor was it a clever ploy. No alternative plan which meets progressive aims is possible when debt and deficits are overwhelmingly high. It is as simple as that.

The answer was to avoid policy and appeal to poorer sections of voters by depicting Romney as a rapacious, rich, tax-avoiding capitalist who had closed businesses down when in charge of Bain Capital and shipped jobs overseas; to create a war on women narrative; and to ensure that black and Hispanic voters retained their fear of Republicans and allegiance to the Democratic Party despite suffering most from unemployment and poverty.

The Democrats defined Romney in the image they wanted while he occupied the high ground and talked about jobs and more jobs. That was fine, but it didn’t meet the Democrats and Obama’s messages head on. He remained aloof – surely women would see through the false narrative. Well, no, actually, they didn’t; certainly not in sufficient numbers.

There is a lesson here for the Coalition. Tony Abbott isn’t remotely a misogynist, even by the watered down definition. We know that, but there is no option: he has to demonstrate it. Every time we see him he either looks like a boxer in a suit or is a volunteer fireman or running a marathon. He is macho man writ large.

Surely his campaign staff are clever enough to develop a strategy which has him appearing continually in places and at functions and events which can be identified principally with women. It might be women’s business conferences, women’s associations of various kinds, women’s shelters, nurses’ and teachers’ functions and conferences. I don’t know the specific answer. But the time has gone when conservative political parties can rely on their policies to carry the day. We have a Labor government of complete ineptitude, yet it is becoming more competitive in the polls. Part of that is undoubtedly the war-on-women narrative.

Conservative parties need to start working the room (women, gays, the jobless, ethnic groups, religious groups, whoever) just as hard as do progressives. Then they and their policies might have a chance of winning the day.

Peter Smith, a frequent Quadrant Online contributor, is the author of Bad Economics

Peter Smith, a frequent Quadrant Online contributor, is the author of Bad Economics