22 November 2007

The rain dogs of Surry Hills

From New York came the phenomenon of "rain dogs". Dogs navigate their way around their neighbourhoods by a network of smells, and a sudden downpour will wash away those smells, leaving these dogs stranded in what should be a familiar neighbourhood.

This is what's happened to the opinion writers of The Australian (whose offers are in Surry Hills, thus the title), who have ignored the coming Rudd Labor government and, rather than be embarrassed or catch up, rail against their own confusion like some pensioner shaking his fist at Video Hits.

Writers for The Australian have spent all year confecting elegant theories as to why Labor can't win, and only now is it becoming apparent to these writers (having been apparent to readers for some time, an understanding referred to by the Government Gazzette as 'elitism' until one of its writers succumbs). Today, it's Janet Albrechtsen. Here we see the collapse of a lazy set of assumptions, with jowl-wobbling outrage applied to anyone but the most deserving target: herself.
For the past six elections in Australia ...

There have been three Prime Ministers over this period: the incumbent, Keating and Hawke at his most exhausted. This is too short a period to form any sort of reliable historical pattern, too hard to manage out quirks of individual circumstance and personality. So much for any pretense for a sound historical basis.
A Rudd win on Saturday will rescind all those rules. In a few days we will learn whether precedents in politics count for anything.

They're not rules, they're theories. A Rudd victory will show those theories up as ill-founded. Precedents can count for plenty, but badly-founded precedents need to be re-examined.
... likable election losers such as Beazley and Latham.

Beazley I'll grant you, but most voters regarded Latham about as likable as an angry brown snake.
We have consistently chosen leaders who rate as decisive and strong, except in 1996 when Keating’s time was up and not even this trait could carry him across the line ahead of Howard. Since then, Howard has out-rated Beazley and Latham on this marker. Rudd, with a 12-point deficit on this score, looks set to topple another traditional Howard strong point.

Note the use of "traditional" here, where "cliched" is the word she's looking for. This is someone who's had access to all the inside dope from the Coalition over 11 years; how dopey it, and she, looks now.

Relying on one change of government only over a decade ago is a poor means for assessing "precedent". Jeff Kennett was more decisive and less likeable than both Joan Kirner and Steve Bracks, but in electoral terms so what? You could get all sniffy about state politics if you like, but not only would you be doing the Coalition no favours ultimately, you'd be ignoring precedent. Victorian politics provides a better pointer to Australian federal politics than, say, contemporary developments in Washington DC.

The issue here is not about that Howard has played to his strengths. You'd expect him to do that and you'd criticise him for not doing so. What Howard has (not) done here is less important than what his fan club (yes, including you Janet) has let him get away with: sloppy thinking, the hasty burial of difficult issues confused with permanent resolution. No true conservative would make such an assumption about public policy, but the bombastic prigs who call themselves conservatives, whose only experience is in journalism and PR, fall into this trap constantly.

And when we talk about sloppy bombast, we are talking Greg Sheridan and his Michael Duffy Hot for Boofheads routine:
It has been interesting to observe Rudd this week relentlessly attacking Health Minister Tony Abbott. This is a shrewd, pre-emptive move by Rudd who understands Abbott would be among his most formidable opponents.

Or, it is a sign that by drawing attention to a clueless boofhead, he paints the Liberals into the corner of having to apologise for every offhand, ill-considered misstep this clown makes.
But as this election is showing us, politics is not ruled by precedent.

One in the eye for you, Janet, especially as you don't know a precedent when you see one.
So the Liberals might have an outside chance in three years' time. But they will need to remain credible: more than that, to have a sense of life about them, a sense of vigour and purpose.

They'll need to undergo root-and-branch reform, of which Tony Abbott is one of the major obstacles. The future of the Liberal Party involves a re-establishment of state governments, of which Abbott disdains. In other words, the future of the Liberal Party is over the dead body of Tony Abbott. Following your logic, Greg, you come to the opposite conclusion of your article.
The Liberals will need both their small-l liberal and their moderately conservative wings. Abbott represents the latter.

Indeed he does. To be successful in a leadership role you have to reach out, and Abbott can't do that. The far right hate him for what he did to Hanson and the moderates hate him for what he did to Puplick, Payne and others. He needs to break free of the Taliban, and he can't. He needs to have the greatness of spirit that nobody believes he has, and that only his friends wish for (but do not make laughing-stocks of themselves by claiming he has).
More importantly, he is a genuine intellectual and political warrior

No he's not: the Catholic philosophies he picked up as a schoolboy back in the 1970s are the only intellectual qualities he has, swords and shields in an era of dirty bombs and 9/11. You can impress a shallow efforts like this with that nonsense, but Abbott's is not a fit mind, engaging with the ideas of others and adapting them to changing circumstances: this is a bulldozer who is easily bogged and not particularly adaptive, but impressive to those who can't peek behind the curtain.

One of the things that's diffrent about Labor '07 is that they know how to play the Liberals' biggest weapons, Costello and Abbott, and neutralise them. Julia Gillard has Abbott's measure and so does Nicola Roxon, it seems: Abbott so lacks intellectual and political flexibility that he can't handle being trounced by a couple of women.
Suggestions that he is tired of politics are dead wrong.

Oh, I see. I wondered what the Foreign Editor was doing in writing about the Health Minister. This is a rebuttal to Milney. Never mind the fact that the Liberal Party was right to minimise the damage they suffered at the hands of this boofhead, whose idea of being a "political warrior" is to dump on a dying man who's made more of an impact on public health than the Minister.
An essentially genial and gregarious personality, Abbott is nonetheless addicted to the battle of ideas.

I've known redback spiders to be more genial and engaging than Tony Abbott. It's all very well going on about ideas, but as a minister of many years' experience you should have some added depth from seeing those ideas play out in the lives of many people far from your own life. Abbott lacks this. He genuinely can't tell the difference between a lousy idea and one that hasn't been pushed hard enough. His addiction isn't my problem, it needs treatment rather than encouragement.
In that way he resembles many in the Labor Party and is a precious resource for the Liberals.

Because what you want is for Labor to set the paradigm of Australian politics, and if the Liberal Party isn't like Labor then it's lacking. You disdain this argument applied to moderates, and it doesn't work here either Greg.
Abbott, more than anyone except Howard, was responsible for defeating the push to a republic. Republicans may resent this but it cannot be considered a political failure to have your position endorsed by the overwhelming majority of the electorate ... But any opposition that defeats a government referendum wins a huge victory.

This explains why when Evatt defeated the ban on the Communist Party, he romped into government.
And remember that he was brought into health to solve a crisis for the Government, which he did, and the Government has had a shot at playing health from the front foot ever since.

Yairs. Kay Patterson, a moderate, was given a set of policies to introduce and little room to manoever in getting them through. A healthcare professional, she was stuck with policies she knew wouldn't work. Abbott, a healthcare ignoramus, was given absolute freedom to abandon the unpopular and impractical stuff. But the Foreign Editor, like the immediate past Premier of NSW, can be forgiven for overlooking such a quotidian miasma. Three cheers for moderate government, I say.
Many in the media continue to write that Abbott swore at Roxon.

Just imagine what would have happened if, say, Stephen Smith had said bullshit to Julie Bishop. You, Greg, would be on the ramparts defending her honour with jowl-wobbling indignation. Once you understand that, you'll be better able to regulate your cant gland.
Abbott has been central to conservative politics for the past 15 years. He needs to be central to it for the next 15 years.

He might have his needs, but we don't have to indulge them as you do, Greg. Bring on the warrior shining and dripping with the jugular blood of David Clarke; such a person would be a credit to Warringah and the nation in Parliament (as opposed to the grubs from Penrith - Tony Abbott's mates all - with their silly pamphlet).

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