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Muddying waters on way to polls

<i>Illustration: michaelmucci.com</i>

Illustration: michaelmucci.com

It was no doubt keenly noted in the Prime Minister's office that even though Barack Obama enjoyed a decisive 55 per cent to 45 per cent advantage over Mitt Romney among women voters in this year's presidential election, Romney actually polled well among married women. It was unmarried women who did him in. They make up a majority of American women and they voted for Obama by an election-deciding, two-to-one landslide.

It has also been widely noted that Obama's central election strategy of running against Romney's character, not his politics, was vindicated by victory. The mud stuck.

It was well planned. On April 13, the President went to George Washington University to deliver a major speech about tackling the budget deficit. Sitting in the audience was Paul Ryan, the chief architect of the Republicans' budget policies.

Ryan would receive the full blast of what the President was about to say. He singled out Ryan's deficit reduction plan: ''These are the kind of cuts that tell us we can't afford the America that I believe in … Up to 50 million Americans would lose Medicaid coverage … It's not going to happen as long as I'm President … This plan is less about the deficit than it is about changing the basic social compact in America.''

Ryan was stunned. He later told Bob Woodward of The Washington Post the President had portrayed him as an extremist for attempting structural reform of unsustainable healthcare spending. Ryan was not merely shocked by the fierce language of the President, he was shocked by the lies. The President had mischaracterised Ryan's Medicare reforms and plucked from nowhere a figure of 50 million people who would lose their medical coverage.

The tone was set. The politics of compromise ended that night. And the President was just getting started. In June, his re-election campaign spent $200 million in an early blitzkrieg of character assassination against Romney. Attack ads portrayed Romney as a tax-avoiding plutocrat who extracted profits from companies while cutting a swathe through their workforces. Romney was also portrayed as out of touch with working women.

It was a cruel parody of the truth but Romney never recovered. A supposedly unifying president led one of the most self-consciously divisive, negative and personal campaigns in the history of the modern presidency. There was no ''hope and change'' waffle. It was fear and loathing.

None of this augurs well for Australian political debate over the next year. Even before the Obama campaign, the politics of the personal, of character assassination as government policy, were already in full play by the Gillard government.

This is the context for the Prime Minister's sudden, shoot-from-the-hip decision to hold a royal commission into child abuse, with no proper consultation about its sprawling mandate, in an area of state responsibility, when the NSW and Victorian governments have already begun investigations.

It fits a pattern of Gillard's selective outrage. Her concern that child abusers have been protected and covered up for years within the Catholic Church is no doubt genuine. It is not questioned. It reflects community outrage. But it also needs to be noted that her haste stands in overwhelming contrast to foot-dragging over truly gothic revelations about union corruption and her cynical promotion and protection of the former speaker Peter Slipper.

The pattern of Gillard's conduct makes it clear she would have calculated the potential usefulness of the Catholic Church twisting in the wind of a royal commission while the most prominent Catholic politician in Australia, Tony Abbott, leads the Coalition in an election year.

A cynical view? Yes. Also pragmatic and based on pattern behaviour. In January, it was the Prime Minister's office that started the year with a staffer setting an angry mob onto Abbott with a phone call and a lie while Abbott was near the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra.

It continued with lies repeated so often that the government might have even come to believe them - that Abbott, when he was health minister, stripped $1 billion out of spending on hospitals. And that Abbott has described the science of climate change as ''crap''. Both are lies and both have been repeated hundreds of times by the federal ministry.

Then there was Gillard telling Parliament on October 9 that ''my father did not die of shame''. No one in Parliament ever said he did. She was willing to use her father's death, something an honourable person would never do under any circumstances, to smear Abbott with guilt by association.

That was just a prelude. ''It is misogyny, sexism, every day from this Leader of the Opposition,'' she then thundered, without bothering with such fripperies as evidence.

It was a handy diversion from Slipper and revelations Gillard's accommodation of dubious dealings by union officials had been taking place for years before she entered Parliament and had continued and broadened after she became Prime Minister.

In recent months, the strategy of character assassination as diversion has been ramped up from tactical to obsessional. Even the government's invitation to staffers for Christmas drinks depicted an ugly Abbott as the Grinch who stole Christmas. The opposition's Christmas drinks invitation naively featured a Christmas tree.

Smear by association, with no time off for holidays. The Gillard message, explicit and implicit, is emerging. The next federal election is about stopping a hospital-stripping, climate change-denying, scaremongering, women-hating, Cardinal Pell-supporting, political and social Neanderthal.

So much easier than running on your record.

Little wonder that Griffith University's latest constitutional values survey, released over the weekend, found the public's faith in the federal government had collapsed from the 50 per cent who, in 2008, believed the federal government was the most effective level of government to just 29 per cent in 2012.

And who has been leading the country, and setting the tone, for the bulk of the past four years?

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Twitter: @Paul_Sheehan_

231 comments

  • The role of the PM’s imported spin doctor John McTernan in shaping Gillard's strategy of demonisation through the 'misogyny' campaign and various other rehearsed media stunts can hardly be underestimated.

    McTernan’s 24 June 2010 article in the Guardian, celebrating the coup that deposed Kevin Rudd, gives some insight into how later events in Australian parliamentary politics have been crafted:

    ”She is a robust parliamentary performer, more than able to hold her own in what is a far more rowdy chamber than the House of Commons. In opposition, she was named by the Speaker and excluded for 24 hours for calling Tony Abbott "a snivelling grub". (I was in the opposition box that day: it was a towering performance.)

    And she is a very effective communicator who more than has the measure of the Liberal leader, Tony Abbott – with whom she has often sparred in good-nature when appearing on television together. Abbott's populism rattled Rudd who couldn't find a voice to deal effectively with it. But Abbott's appeal to the Liberal base is more than balanced by his difficulty with women voters.

    He is a devout Catholic who is on the record as saying that women should not give away their virginity lightly. Gillard led the attack.”

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/jun/24/julia-gillard-can-turn-things-around

    Commenter
    SteveH.
    Date and time
    November 19, 2012, 7:33AM
    • SteveH - glad to know that you read thye Guardian.

      But your continued appeal to some Machiavellian plot by a McTernanian Svengali is confusing. Are you arguing that McTernan orchestrated the coup against Rudd or was he just an observer?

      Are you arguing that with all the abuse thrown by Abbott at Gillard, a solicitor in private life, it never occurred to her to fight back until McTernan directed her to?

      Are you arguing that it is ok for the LNP to copy the Tea Party and the Republicans and to oppose legislation they support just to damage the Government, but that it is not ok for the ALP to take advice from McTernan - if that is what the ALP is actually doing?

      If the Libs send advisers to conservative parties overseas - which they are known to do, and if they copy conservative tactics from overseas, which they are known to do, then how does it help you to try to establish a link between McTernan and current government tactics?

      Commenter
      Ross
      Location
      MALLABULA
      Date and time
      November 19, 2012, 8:32AM
    • Ross - perhaps look at the facts and take the blinkers off. What we have in Australia is the least respected political leaders - possibly ever. There is no vision, there is no leadership, there is no grand policy structure. What we have is a very bad and incompetent government and a very bad and un liked opposition leader who leads a very uninspiring team. There is little doubt however about the change in government tactics since they brought in their British advisor; it has become far more personal and vindictive; yet when the government receives it in return they cry wolf.

      With respect to Abbott attacking the PM's character - she did go on National TV and say that there would be no Carbon Tax - and before you compare to John Howard - he took the GST to a general election.

      The solution is simple - have an election whereby we the public can chose the leader.....we'd probably end up with a Labor government led by Malcolm Turnbull!

      Commenter
      Mark
      Location
      Brisbane
      Date and time
      November 19, 2012, 8:55AM
    • Ross, my essential point is simply to illustrate that certain events are not as spontaneous
      or as unscripted as some would wish us to believe. Whether its incidents like the 'Australia Day Riot' or Julia's well rehearsed 'misogyny' speech, we can see from McTernan's own words the methodology and the mentality that is directing Labor's current attack.

      Of course professional spin doctors are a feature of all modern political parties,
      but it seems to me that in Labor, the tail is now well and truly wagging the dog.

      Good governance is consistently subordinated to the requirements of good PR
      rather than the other way around.

      Commenter
      SteveH.
      Date and time
      November 19, 2012, 9:31AM
    • Mark - what you say about the poor behaviour of both parties is correct.

      Where your blinkers are is the statement that the government gives it but cannot take it,

      In actual fact, the Opposition has given it since the 2010 election. You are honest enough to say that they took it on the chin until McTernan told them to return fire. So that makes your statement about the government dishing it out but crying when they receive it frankly ludicrous.

      Commenter
      Ross
      Location
      MALLABULA
      Date and time
      November 19, 2012, 9:47AM
    • SteveH - again another veiled attack on McTeirnan, again I ask the question is it wrong to have a strategist in your party? Are you saying that the LNP do not have strategists? Who came up with the idea that Tony Abbott watched Downton Abbey instead of the football? I'd like to remind you that they didn't do it very well because in Australia there is no football on a Sunday night - go figure?

      Now to Paul's attacks - nobody did say in parliament that Gillard's father had died of shame but in the very week this was topical Abbott used those very same words in association with the govt. Tp use your form of argument Gillard did not say that anyone in parlt had said those words - but we all know what Abbott meant by the use of those words and he got what he deserved. In regard to lies, Tony Abbott has been out there for the last two years telling porkys about the carbon tax and even had the gall to stand up parlt and and use a power bill that to say the carbon tax had increased the bill by double when in fact the use had doubled. Was that a lie or his strategist was off there game on that day? Yes Gillard is selective in her attacks. Are you saying that Abbott is not?

      if you did a quick google about Tony Abbott saying climate change is crap you quickly get many references to him saying this - so are you again distorting the truth Paul.

      Paul you always come out with these selective and bias articles - please show some balance. Or just save yourself some time and energy and just write. "Labor is bad vote for LNP"

      Commenter
      n720ute
      Location
      North Coast NSW
      Date and time
      November 19, 2012, 9:56AM
    • Ross,

      You're just not up with the message, mate. It's all them bloody furriners, you know, those Pommy bloody commie world-domination mob that have been wrecking the country ever since the Tolpuddle martyrs answered the bosses back and asked, like Oliver - "Please, sir, can I have some more?"

      Trouble is, those bloody verminous bolshies don't know their place - fancy having the cheek to want their kids to become edy-micated and next thing you know, Jack thinks he's as good as his master!

      You're already a self-parody Steve - try to argue from a sensible position; or do you go along with Bananaby's $575,000 beef already?

      Commenter
      BillR
      Date and time
      November 19, 2012, 10:01AM
    • SteveH - do you think that 'Juliar', 'worst government in our history' and 'big new carbon tax' are all unscripted?

      Commenter
      Ross
      Location
      MALLABULA
      Date and time
      November 19, 2012, 10:06AM
    • BillR - thanks.

      You remind me of the cover of PUNCH just after Maggie Thatcher's first election victory.

      Oliver Twist fronted Maggie in apron at the front of the Work House with his empty bowl.

      "More gruel!" says Maggie, "You haven't paid for your last lot yet!"

      Commenter
      Ross
      Location
      MALLABULA
      Date and time
      November 19, 2012, 10:08AM
    • The perception is, this prime minister has a shady past, and that belief is growing, that's the bottom line, and appears to have stuck. The misogyny rant was .made out to be applauded by the world press, where in fact it only highlighted Australia's insecurity as a political force on the world stage, insular.. Many in the press here thought she kicked a goal, in reality, as time goes on she has become a bit of a laughing stock, and now forgotten... That "angry bird" who runs Australia went so low in parliament, to use her fathers name to win political points, as pointed out by Mr Sheehan, most people I know didn't like it. .

      As it turns out, it's been a terrible year for Australian politics on both sides, while the people on the street appear to have stopped listening and lost faith in politics in general, somehow the commentators in the press think that Australians are still interested, and it is OK to divert attention from the real issues..

      To make sure, Gillard calls a royal commission into child abuse, the eventual outcome,... possibly an 86 year old clergy member dying of cancer may or may not get convicted, diversion complete.
      It's a no brainer, I don't know anyone who supports child abuse, but the story will fill the front pages for years to come. I suppose everyone who works with kids are suspects now, and it keeps a few lawyers in a job, Hard not to agree with the obvious, but what about the other issues?
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dt-y-811qxc&feature=share&list=PL96B91A4A168225AE

      ..

      Commenter
      timjackelton
      Date and time
      November 19, 2012, 10:22AM

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