Attila the Pun
Tuesday, January 11, 2005
Carpe Diem

For those of us who have ever read a Fairfax paper, it can seem strange to hear Mark Latham's ex-speechwriter say this:

OPEN a major newspaper on any day of the week and you will find Labor has few friends in the world of print. Contrast the assessments Mark Latham gets from the Left with the assessments John Howard gets from the Right. Right-wing commentators almost invariably defend the Coalition and slam Labor. Even former Labor ministers, staffers and national secretaries seem to spend as many of their precious column inches attacking Labor's present political strategy as they do attacking the conservatives.

I would probably agree with him if he had have said "after the election, contrast the...". Before the election, left wing commentators were convinced that Latham was the Messiah, come to lead Labor to the promised land. Once he crashed and burned, that's when they jumped ship.

He does make some decent points:

Its hero worship of Labor's dissidents highlights the party's internal divisions and encourages more members to "go native" (and as Howard says: "If you can't govern your own party, how can you govern the country?").

Its insistence that Labor adopt electorally suicidal policy positions in the name of political purity robs Labor of its support in crucial marginal electorates.

With one I particularly agree with:

It's obvious to anyone who travels the suburbs of Australia and has access to the reports of political pollsters (whose margins of error are smaller than in the published polls) that Australia's left-wing journalists and writers are out of touch, and often radically so.


The contrast with the Right and its relationship with the Howard Government could not be starker. The Howard Government is far from ideologically consistent. Somewhere in Australia a right-wing intellectual sits bitterly disappointed at Howard's betrayal of conservative flagship ideas -- small government, low taxation, opposition to middle-class welfare -- it's just that she'll seldom say so.

Very true. It is human nature to love a winner. Howard keeps winning, and keeps doing enough 'good' things (refugee policy, foreign policy, some tax policy) to outweigh the 'bad' things (family bribery, incomplete tax reform)

But where Glover goes wrong is this:

This victory is partly because right-wing commentators have led public opinion. They've helped Howard mould the times.

Whilst not claiming a Vast Right Wing Conspiracy (TM), he still makes claims that, to anybody that pays attention to the bias of the media, sound ridiculous:

The process has been simple and open. Starting as pseudo-academic articles in Paddy MGuinness's Quadrant and the IPA Review, ideas travel down the intellectual food chain via broadsheet opinion columns, to the Melbourne Herald-Sun's Andrew Bolt and Sydney Daily Telegraph's Piers Akerman and on to Sydney-based radio broadcasters Alan Jones, John Laws and others.

Isn't it amazing that when talking about the right wing control of the print media, people can only mention, by name, Bolt and Akerman? He doesn't mention the other columnists that their respective paper carry (like the increasingly hysterical Jill Singer), nor the broadsheet columnists that apparently dripfeed Bolt's talking points to him.

It shouldn't be hard, a review of the Australian's op-ed page would find him a few - the Greg Sheridan and Janet Albrechtsons of the world for example, but then he may be forced to admit that the same page carries ex-communist Philip Adams and Latham backer Matt Price. And lets not start on the Sydney Morning Herald, where Margo Kingston gets a permanent 'diary' to attack Howard, today carries a love letter to Marxism, and provides a retirement home for Mike Carlton and Alan Ramsey. Sure there is Miranda Divine and Gerard Henderson as well, but that hardly counts as a complete hegemony over public opinion.

Having mischaracterised Labor's problem, he at least has a sensible solution:

Defeating Howard needs a smarter approach from all who oppose what he stands for. I don't mean something directly co-ordinated; intellectuals and writers should never accept political "guidance" or a party line. But it does mean they must wake up, take a sympathetic interest in what ordinary people believe, and work out some practical way of appealing to them.

It is an indictment on the modern intellectual left that such a suggestion - to actually listen to what people believe, rather than ridicule and berate them - might seem radical, or that it needs stating at all.

The Left can learn a lot from the successful tactics of the Right. The US Left already has. Many American left-liberals have woken up to the fact that the present dominance of the Congress by Republicans and their ideas didn't come about by accident. The ideas of the think tanks of the 1960s and '70s quickly became the content of the talkback shock jocks of the '80s. They were then resold by the tabloid television commentators of the '90s and pushed further by the Drudge-like bloggers of the noughties.

I hope my Right Wing Talking Points Newsletter arrives soon, otherwise what the hell am I going to blog about?

This combination of simple ideas and populist flair has all but destroyed the link between the Democrats and their traditional blue-collar base.

So their increasing betrayal of their traditional base had nothing to do with it?

Liberal America has now started to counter-attack in a way that may promise eventual success. Although it did not get a John Kerry win this time, it will help create the preconditions of victories in the future.

This should be good.

Former Clinton chief of staff, John Podesta, has established a new organisation, the Centre for American Progress, that is neither think tank nor media outlet but an attempt to both create ideas and disseminate them via the popular media.

So it is a think tank and a media outlet? Why not just get Soros to buy CBS?

Other liberals have turned into successful populist commentators, publishing humorously written political books, such as Al Franken's Lies and the lying liars who tell them, that had a simple aim -- getting George W. Bush out of the White House.

And failed spectacularly to do so.

Still others have become hosts on new liberal talkback radio networks.

Which, apart from knocking several minority based stations off the air, also failed spectacularly.

Mike Moore (who now sees the errors of his ways in helping undermine Al Gore in 2000) has used Hollywood to reach out to millions through his committed, but populist, documentaries and books.

He saw the error of his ways, and promptly backed Wes Clark?!?

His final paragraph is still quite good though:

So there's the lesson for the Australian Left. Connect with the people - with their interests, their feelings and hopes for their families and themselves. Try to understand the electoral pressures that affect Labor's policy positions. Win power. Then lead the way, intelligently, with the help of friends, in changing the political direction of the country. There's nothing sinister about it. It's called democracy, and it's the only way to have something resembling a social democracy.

Yeah - that means no more "every Howard voter is a racist igorant redneck etc" shtick, sorry.

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