Packaging putrescence,Obama-style

So now the election is on for real. Rudd clearly thinks he can bamboozle his way back into government and, after Obama 2012 triumph, who’s to say he can’t? Having been one of the two alternating leaders of the most incompetent and destructive government in our history is no longer deemed an obstacle to re-election. We shall see soon enough. But the election, having now been called sooner rather than later, is a sure sign that there are worse economic indicators and other grim portents to come.

But in looking at the election, and at how it will be run, let me recall a news item from the other day. It appears that three members of Obama’s election “team” have been recruited to help Labor in the coming election. Not a serious surprise but noteworthy all the same. I wrote in the January-February Quadrant about just how potent the Obama election campaign contra Romney had been and ended with a discussion of just how relevant these considerations would be here in Australia come the election whenever it would be. These were the closing paras of the article except for the final para, which I leave for later:

“So here is the problem facing Tony Abbott as he tries, as did Mitt Romney, to put together a package of proposals that will deal with the actual problems Australia has. In running against a party of the Left, based on Obama’s re-election campaign these are the problems he will need to keep in mind.

“They will use some of the most sophisticated analytical and statistical techniques available to uncover every grievance in every sub-constituency. They will then target these groups with promises to fix whatever problems they pick up.

“They will run a precisely targeted campaign of fear based on the threat of losing programs or payments that benefit each of these sub-constituencies.

“They will label the Coalition as representatives of a tired, old ideology based on principles no longer relevant in the twenty-first century. Misogyny, reproductive rights, religion, along with any number of issues that their analytics team has identified, will be driven whether or not there is any reality behind these fears. Labor being the party of the path of least resistance is almost never under such threats.

“They will promise what cannot be afforded and dare the Coalition not to match their supposed generosity. Criticisms about the affordability of such ideas—where’s the money coming from?—will work just as well for the ALP.

“They will invent sources of revenue that will never in reality cover the cost of their programs but which are sourced well beyond their own target constituency.

“They not only will have but will expect to have, and will be entirely dependent on, virtually the whole of the media being in their corner at every stage of the way who will cover for Labor to the fullest extent they can while ratcheting up the decibel count on any issue that might harm the Coalition.”

But it is the last para that was the most important and, in many ways, the most potentially prophetic. Note that this was written at a time when the ALP was struggling to hold 29% of the primary vote.

“The Left’s incompetence and bad government are never enough to ensure its defeat. And the more that outdated notions of personal freedom and independence are moved downwards in the scale of collective values the more difficult a party of the Left will be to dislodge. The ALP has not yet lost the next election. Barack Obama, with hardly a success to his name, is still the president. Polls or no polls, who the Australian prime minister will be a year from today is yet to be determined.”

There are people who think it was only the getting out the vote that mattered so far as the Obama election data machine was concerned — an obvious non-issue here — but it was more than that. There are people who think the coalition of the tertiary ill-educated plus the mendicant class is all that matters, but it is more than that. And there are those who think it was racial politics that drove the American result — again, not something that matters here as much as there, but that, too, does not get to the heart of the political question. 

A Battle of Ideas 

So, before I discuss the modern technicalities of getting and holding votes, let me note that this is, as it has always been, a battle of ideas and ideology. Obama provided psychological and emotional reasons to side with the Left which just got him over the line. His entire campaign was directed at the ideology, and not just self-interest. It will be the same here as well.

It is, moreover, not enough to say that you will bring better economic management and a stronger economy, which the Coalition would certainly do. It may not even be enough to say that you will stop the boats more certainly than Labor; again, something that is certainly true.

It needs to be made clear to all that only under a Liberal-led government will a true small-l liberal philosophy of independence and personal freedom be ensured. Since we want to live in a world in which we are helped when the chips are down and trouble comes, but are for the most part allowed to lead our own lives in our own way without the government trying to carve out a single pathway for us before we have made our own decisions for ourselves, then the kind of policies that will ensure that outcome need to be put on the table and the stakes made clear.

Labor is the party of coercion and control. It is the party of central direction — they lead and you follow, or else. Labor is the party that would deprive you of your right and easy ability to criticise what they do in public. Labor is the party of "unfreedom" whose consequences it disguises by promising a string of economic benefits it can never deliver and never does.

This is an election of real consequence, with real issues at stake. The ALP has the allegiance of most of the media, which will never call it to account for its many failings. It will be an uphill struggle for the Coalition despite the six years of constant harm inflicted by the centralising policies of these fractured and impaired visionaries.

The reason: behind it all is ideology and perception. The ideological currents run against the Coalition, reinforced by the school system that knows almost nothing else but the kinds of soft-minded socialism of the ALP.

But whatever you may think of the ideology of the Left, Obama’s techniques are no sham and mere distraction; they are the reality facing any party of the right. Understanding the ideology and countering it is only half the battle, but it is an important part. But the other part is also important: the need to be heard. This is the challenge the Opposition faces, and it had better understand how Obama did what he did. It needs to think through how it intends to deflect and overcome these very same techniques when used against it here.

Obama’s people are on the ground here in Australia. They are seasoned professionals and veterans of a winning campaign. If you think they and what they do are irrelevant in Australia, you will be making a very very big mistake.

Steve Kates teaches economics at RMIT University. His most recent book is Free Market Economics: an Introduction for the General Reader

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