06 November 2010

The limits of partisan reporting

Greg Sheridan is the foreign editor of The Australian. In writing this article he clearly hoped to do two things: first, explain the results of the US midterm elections to Australian readers, and secondly express his satisfaction that conservative candidates beat liberals. He failed at both.

Firstly, the headline is wrong: Americans did not flock to the Tea Party. More than fifty of the 89 candidates endorsed by the Tea Party lost, and none of them have made it to the upper reaches of the Republicans. In an earlier post I pointed out how stupid it was for the Republicans to run the wrong candidate in Delaware, and so it has proven: Republicans might have won even more had they were strong enough to hold off clowns like the Tea Party candidates.
It is intellectual cowardice to pretend that the American people were not passing judgment on the policies of the last congress. They don't like the deficit, the size of government or the unemployment rate. You can blame all that on George W. Bush if you like, but at the very least the Democrats did not convince voters that their solutions were effective or sensible.
It's amazing that after eight years of Bush stuff-ups, people are turning back to the party of Bush. Someone in Sheridan's position should be able to explain that without getting all giddy.
Many bad things have been written about the Tea Party. But it had a huge win yesterday. It injected energy and enthusiasm into the Republicans. As a result they won many more House of Representatives seats than they expected. On the other hand, the selection of two frankly weird Tea Party candidates, Christine O'Donnell in Delaware and Sharron Angle in Nevada, probably cost them two Senate seats. But that in itself is a good thing. The Tea Party got rewards for its efforts, but was shown that it must select mainstream, credible people.

The Tea Party has been a huge strategic success for the Republicans at another level. It would have been very easy for the Tea Party to end up as a third party. Doing this, Ralph Nader's Greens fatally split the Democratic vote in 2000. That would have devastated the Republicans. That the Republicans were able to accommodate the Tea Party is a huge strategic gain for them.
The Tea Party can't tell the difference between weird candidates (Christine O'Donnell) and non-weird ones (Mike Castle). Rand Paul and David Vitter, who won, are no less weird than Sharron Angle, who lost.
The election was also a big win for former Alaska governor Sarah Palin. Almost every candidate she endorsed won their Republican primary. Several of them, such as senator-elect Marco Rubio from Florida and governor-elect Nikki Haley from South Carolina, won their general elections and are future stars for the Republicans.
Nikki Haley ran for the Republicans in one of the most Republican states in the US - she should have won overwhelmingly, in a state and a year favourable to her party, but she squeaked home with 51%. Someone like Greg Sheridan should have looked into that. Rubio won against a split centre-left vote.

The Nader example from ten years ago is silly. A better example is Obama in 2008: he got people's hopes up, he let them down, they voted against his party in 2010. Now it's the Republicans who've got Americans hoping, and if they can't deliver the Democrats look set to reap in 2012 what was sowed this week.
In virtually no other country is it conceivable that at a time of widespread unemployment a huge grassroots movement could be demanding lower government spending, fewer and smaller government programs, an end to the deficit, and lower taxes. The Tea Party is quintessentially concerned with mainstream economic issues and it gives both Obama and the new congress a real chance to rein in government spending.
As if the Republicans are going to rein in spending across the board. As if.

The most senior Republican politician is not some three-cornered-hat-wearing yokel: he bears a physical resemblance to Bob Dole, and like Dole is basically a career politician. He didn't get where he is by cutting government programs. Taxes, particularly for the well-off? You betcha. Bush had eight years to cut government spending, and he increased it. The Republicans, like the Gingrich revolutionaries of the 1990s, are no more going to deliver smaller government than they are going to deliver victory in Afghanistan. Sheridan should be honest enough to admit that (and to realise that no classics contain the phrase 'Oy vay!', unless you want to rush some Philip Roth or Fiddler On The Roof into the Canon.
The Republicans this time also did well in the critical battleground of the midwest, winning key contests in Ohio and Illinois. I see it all as a magnificent sign of America's determination to come to grips with the key economic challenges.
The Republicans will block and block and block, they'll start up nonsense like Obama's birth certificate and gays and denying healthcare for poor people; they will no more come to grips with key economic challenges than Sheridan will define them. There shall be sex scandals, oh yes and ugly too. Republicans don't do economic reform, haven't done since the Berlin Wall came down, and Sheridan should know that.

His second-last paragraph, on demography as political destiny, is too stupid to be reprinted here. Sheridan's whole article is what you'd expect from a first-year undergraduate Liberal Student jotted out the night before it was due, rather than the Foreign Editor of a major newspaper (whose owner in headquartered in Delaware, largely because of the policies of Mike Castle).

Greg Sheridan basically wants to look both sagely responsible and giddily partisan at the same time when it comes to American politics, the only element of foreign policy with which he has any real familiarity. In a time of turmoil he lacks confidence in his predictions, mainly because he has no confidence in his assessment of what's going on now. No reader should have any confidence in his assessments either. The radicalism of the Tea Party provides no evidence of political success, let alone conservatism or even coherence in that country's government.


  1. Well Greg Sheridan is a dyed-in-the-wool Liberal supporter, you shouldn't really expect anything impartial from him.

  2. He's supposed to be foreign editor, and describing a country other than his own. 'Impartiality' might be too much to ask, but even a partisan observer can recognise basic shortcomings from their own side. Sheridan failed to produce a partisan vindication of Republicanism (with or without the Tea Party) or any kind of description as to what happened last Tuesday.

  3. The big lie he tells is to describe the Tea Party as a grassroots movement. It is anything but, supported as it is by various rightwing billionaires, inc Mr Sheridan's employer. Then again, Sheridan is hardly the only journalist to perpetrate this particular piece of BS.

  4. Does anyone know how long Sheridan's been working in Rupe's bunker? I think it's been at least 30 years. If that doesn't institutionalise you, nothing will.

    So go easy on the poor guy. He's got a mortgage to pay and a boss who now owns the US republican party. I kid you not. Every major Republican candidate for the presidency in 2012 is a "contributor" to Foxtel.

  5. A belated comment.

    It strikes me that Sheridan and others can almost be forgiven their genetically partisan giddiness; but not their willful blindness to America's enormous trough. If these serial 'wave' elections tell us anything, it is the US has been a roller coaster on borrowed time (to mangle two metaphors). Such economic conditions and blind electoral responses in Europe would have the likes of Sheridan in schadenfreudenlander.