February 15, 2004


This comment from Shannon Love, about US politics, also applies to politics in Australia:

I think contemporary politics has more to do with social competition than the battle of ideas. Political parties no longer represent social class or region but instead represent subcultures.

People want to see that "people like us" are seen as dominant in society. They ego identify with political parties like people ego identify with sports team. They root for their team to win with the same uncritical fervor as a sports fan.

The Presidency has become a powerfully symbolic proxy for this struggle. Clinton drove social conservatives absolutely around the bend even though most of his policies were quite moderate because he was not perceived as being "one of us". The same effect occurs with Bush and Leftist even though his domestic policies are very moderate.

The Nation et al want to win for the sake of winning. They want to be able to paint their faces and scream "We're number one!" This ego driven pursuit of power causes them to abandon their principles.

That’s why so many on the Left support Mark Latham. The majority of the public has moved on, however; no longer locked into tribal loyalties, for the past decade Australian voters have sensibly supported a conservative government federally and (mostly) Labor governments at state level (Australia’s state conservative parties are as much a rabble now as the federal party was during the 1980s). They vote for sound policies and reliable government, not parties.

Posted by Tim Blair at February 15, 2004 03:28 PM

Dead right. When I was a left-wing school-boy in the mid-nineties, I never understood why older lefties liked Whitlam so much. He had, after all, supported Indonesia in East Timor, the Soviets in the Baltic states, and, shockingly, the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, (I think he was the only leader in the world to recognise the KR's sovereignty. I could be wrong). Then one day my school sent me along to a Whitlam lecture in Sydney Town Hall and suddenly it all became clear. I saw the teachers' union members with their banners in the gallery, singing/screaming 'It's Time' (one of the most appalling political anthems ever written, for anyone fortunate enough to know it)with a fanatacism that was genuinely terrifying. Whitlam was their man, the embodiment of all their teenage self-righteousness that had never left them. Every Howard election win reminds them of the smashing of Whitlam by Fraser, which is one of the reasons why they are so completely poisonous towards the current government.

Posted by: Dave at February 15, 2004 at 04:26 PM

"[M]ost of his policies were quite moderate..."

As in homosexuals in the military? Repeal of the "Mexico policy"? HillaryCare? (Read: universal health care coverage a.k.a. insidious attempt to bring an additional 15% of the US economy under government control) Ban on "assault weapons"? Vetoing the welfare reform bill twice? The 1995 balanced budget plan 4 times?

If this is "moderate," I hate to find out her definition of "liberal."

Posted by: HTY at February 15, 2004 at 04:27 PM

So Tim, if people are looking for "sound policies and reliable government". How does that explain the Bracks Junta in Victoria? I don't think the terms sound and reliable could refer to anything to do with that mistake.

Then again, they are very very good at extorting cash out of motorists, so that could be what you mean.

Posted by: Todd at February 15, 2004 at 05:35 PM

"They ego identify with political parties like people ego identify with sports team. They root for their team to win with the same uncritical fervor as a sports fan".

The fervour with which supposedly professional journalists such as Margo Kingston barrack for the Labour Party is far, far more intense than even most sports spectators.

Here’s Margo on October 15, 2001:

"I watched the debate in the Ten Network studio last night open-mouthed. Half-way through, a colleague said ``Beazley's killing it!'' ``Give him time, he'll mess it up,'' I replied. ``No, this man's on a roll!''.

"And so he was. I've never seen such a decisive victory. And it wasn't that Beazley was great - he was competent - but that Howard was so bad".

Or Margo on October 22, 2001:

"As Tim Dunlop put it in Vote 1, Labor, we spend our time and our column inches saying Beazley can't get traction because of international events and the boat people. Waste of time. Waste of space. Cop out.

"The Australian people are being played for suckers. In darker moments I think we deserve what we get if Howard romps home. Then I realise the media is aiding and abetting his fraud.

"Now that's off my chest, here's a war issue, election issue to come, although I know they should be mixed because because it's a war election. I just wish Beazley would take off the gloves and make it an election war".

Very professional and detached. Not.

Posted by: The Mongrel at February 15, 2004 at 05:49 PM

Fact is that Howard understands your average Australian more than his opponents. That's why he wins the majority of the vote every time. Until Labor enter the battlefield of Channel 9, the Footy Show, the Daily Tele, Alan Jones, Warnie etc, they will not win. Margo and the SMH people actually WEAKEN Labor's cause as they alienate the vast majority of people who vote for Howard. They do this by not even bothering to hide their contempt for average Aussies. That's because the Herald's base are wealthy yuppies who cream their jeans at the latest Sydney restaurant review.

It may not be great to read the above, but what Howard understands is that in politics, at the end of the day you have to win votes of real people. Hawke understood this. Modern Labor seem to have forgotten this simple truth, however Latham may get there (not the next election, but the election after) - if he survives.

Posted by: TedD at February 15, 2004 at 06:00 PM

I don't understand why tribalism is a great analysis. It's self-contradictory. Tribalism disallows precisely identification by idea. But people change ideas all the time. Arguments aim at nothing else. So along comes this idea: it's all tribalism! And people climb on. Amazing. A tribe of morons perhaps.

I don't think Bush is like me but like his strategy on post-9/11 terrorism. Yet I own no cowboy boots! I do not clear brush! I have no truck!

I think it's a divide between people who can foresee perverse consequences and those who can't. The latter favor direct amelioration no matter how counterproductive. The former stop doing what doesn't work. Call it female and male thinking.

Pretty much everybody agrees on what the problems are.

Posted by: Ron Hardin at February 15, 2004 at 07:24 PM

TedD, it's not just the Margoyle and other SMH hacks championing Labor, the rest of the Australian media's hard-on for Latham is becoming nauseatingly prevalent in just about every bulletin as well.

Posted by: Phil at February 15, 2004 at 09:18 PM

Some good comments here.

The SMH is a case in point of the "people like us" view.Columnists and letter writers alike cannot fathom how it is that Howard is PM.

'But WE are right', they exclaim. This is fine if you look at the demographics of most inner city areas (of state capitals), though ignores the many aspirational Australians who still manage to live , eat and breathe in sizable numbers.

The chattering classes can chatter all they like. The buttons they push only serve to alienate themselves from quite a few home truths and realities.

Posted by: nic at February 15, 2004 at 10:30 PM

I think many Australian voters just like a politician who kows how to shut the fuck up. Howard know this and he's good at it. He doesn't say all that much just every now and then throws something up and lets his opponents make fools out of themselves. And fools they dooo make.

Posted by: Dead Ed at February 15, 2004 at 11:03 PM

This is nuts. In the US, we are not that racist or class conscious. You see, the real idea of America is that even the son of a white trash hillbilly can become president (Lincoln or Clinton). Except for a few very very upper class elite back east, the lines of class are porous...and intermarriage is common between races, religions, and "cultures"....

Clinton was white trash from Arkansas, and I am white trash from nearby eastern Oklahoma. Both of us were scholarship students in prestigious colleges. Both of us attended Catholic gradeschools. He's "not one of us"? Nonsense. we Nascar moms and dads voted against him because we didn't like his policies.

Kerry is an aristocrat from a middle class family. He is Democrat, the party of the labour unions.

Bush is a good old boy from an old New England upper class family. He is the party of the country club elites.

Most of the country club elite will vote for Kerry, and most blue collar workers will vote for Bush.

Go figure.

Posted by: Nancy Reyes at February 15, 2004 at 11:08 PM

Probably one of the most brainless statements I have ever heard came from an acquaintance who ended a discussion at dinner over the Liberal's refugee policy with:
"My Dad voted Labor all his life, so did Grandad, and I'll never vote any other way"

Good case for retrospective abortion.

Whoops, not Labor policy.

Posted by: Pedro the Ignorant at February 16, 2004 at 02:10 AM


That was a very interesting post. Australia is different in one respect: most of the upper classes here vote for the conservative parties. The poorer arears are rock-solid socialist. The conservatives often win lower middle-class areas, but Labor never wins in the richer parts

Posted by: Toryhere at February 16, 2004 at 08:26 AM

That's the way it used to be in the States. Then the Sixties happened. Guilty rich kids ran off to join communes, read Marx, and run about spouting about "The Workers." Unfortunately for them, blue-collar workers couldn't stand hippies any more than rich toffs could. Hippies and other "activists" were against everything the average blue-collar worker wanted out of life: to earn money, own property, and be able to pass this on to their kids. They could also see that "social activism" was becoming a euphemism for instilling a sense of entitlement in every loser, soak, and grifter. This eventually led to a situation where many of the well-to-do are batty liberals while the poor and and lower-to-middle middle class are conservative.

Posted by: Andrea Harris at February 16, 2004 at 12:14 PM

The Victorian Bracks Labor 'junta' has an equivalent in NSW.

Today's Australian editorial* on the NSW rail system:

Meanwhile, as the rail system totters ever closer to collapse, voters will become increasingly impatient watching Mr Carr (NSW Premier) engaging Tom Stoppard in elegant conversation at the Sydney Festival or musing on his constituents' shoddy taste in housing. The time has arrived for a bit less Renaissance Man and a bit more Iron Lady.

Old Labor - still crawling to the unions. Still cultivating the arts tax leeches. And still bleeding enterprise dry with over-regulation.

Latham has made hostile noises about each of these issues. That Labor has even elected him leader can be regarded as some sort of acknowledgement of Howard's success in dragging Australia's political focus back to the mainstream - irrespective of the result of this year's election.

*scroll down

Posted by: ilibcc at February 16, 2004 at 01:19 PM