Monday, May 19, 2008

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Liberal Party: What Does it Stand For?

In many ways, the Liberal Party has become a victim of its own success. Led to four consecutive federal election victories under John Howard, the party began to believe that the hard-conservatism he championed during this time was surely the best, and perhaps only path to electoral success. As a consequence, power within the party at the federal level was essentially ceded to the NSW right under his stewardship and the Young Liberals - the breeding ground for many of this generation's politicians - watched itself become hijacked by the same, far-right elements (watch). The electoral success of the Howard government can scarcely be called into question, but is there compelling evidence to suggest that such hard-conservativism genuinely resonates with the majority of the Australian population and should, as such, be retained by the current Liberal Party?

During the unbridled triumphalism of the Howard years, it became easy to forget the good fortune that facilitated his eventual legacy. Howard lost the popular vote in 1998 and was trailing in 2001 before he was handed the September 11th attacks and the Tampa scandal on a plate. Even the increasingly erratic Mark Latham had them running scared for a while, before his inevitable annihilation at the 2004 elections. As successful as Howard was at winning the support of "middle-Australia", his policies never really had the genuinely broad appeal that many in the party must have come to believe (compare the popularity of Howard's conservatism with the popularity of Reagan's conservatism, for instance). Conservative commentators - I'm looking at you Janet Albrechtsen - fanned the hype, gloating over middle-Australia's embrace of Howard's (and therefore her own) core (and non-core) values.

But is that really what was happening? Was Australia voting Liberal because it is a population of committed social-conservatives, or did a strong economy and a weak, fractured Labor Party merely paper over a broad skepticism that existed concerning the party's direction during these years?

The fortunes of the Liberal Party at the state level must surely shed some light on this question. Over the past decade, the Liberals have lost an unfathomable twenty-one consecutive state elections. This includes NSW last year - surely the state with the highest receptivity to the values of the Howard-era Liberal Party? - against a Labor Party severely weakened by a parade of public scandals. In Queensland, the party is facing a merger with the Nationals to stay afloat. In WA - the only state to vote Liberal in the federal election last year - they apparently can't produce a more popular leader than the bra-snapping, chair-sniffing "larakin" Troy Buswell. And in Victoria the party is being torn apart by factional in-fighting. The situation here, more than anywhere else, is illustrative of the current woes facing the party.

Incensed at the direction the party was headed under leader Ted Baillieu, the right-wing of the party fought back the only way right-wingers know how: with hysterical, vitriolic smear. For deigning to give in-principle support to such issues as the legalisation of abortion and euthanasia in the state, Baillieu was deemed "Red Ted" by the authors of an annonymous blog, now known to be Liberal Party staffers Simon Morgan, John Osborn and Luke Dixon. They also trashed other moderate Liberal Party politicians on the blog, including federal MP Petro Georgiou (one of the few during the Howard years to make a conscientious stand against the xenophobia that had begun to take hold in the party) who was described as a "waste of space" and senator Judith Troeth, who they described as "stupid" and as "having a face" like a "workhorse" (who said that high-brow political debate was dead?). But this is amateur stuff compared to the more forthright sentiments of campaign manager Susan Chandler, who was separately exposed as describing a candidate for her own party as a "greedy fucking Jew".

But the one that really got to me was sentiment of an email authored by the aforementioned Simon Morgan, in which he said: "Can someone... please fucking remind him (Bailleau) that this is the Liberal Party - the party of business". Is it though? Is that all the Liberal Party is now to its right-factions, the party of big-business (with perhaps some xenophobic nationalism thrown in for good measure)? The members of the right would certainly like to think so, but the imperitive for electoral success would tend to dictate otherwise: they've had their chance over the past decade and they have failed miserably. While the state Labor parties have comfortably occupied the soft-conservativism of the political middle-ground, the state Liberal parties have been led off the precipice of hard-conservativism by those who were themselves just following the lead of Howard.

Despite an endless sequence of electoral routs delivered at the hands of this philosophy of positioning the party further and further to the right of the ALP, Liberal party members like Jeremy Browne continue to peddle the delusion that "the public desperately wants a genuinely conservative choice", that self-identified "conservative Victorians" are in "the majority" and that the adoption of moderate policies makes the Liberal Party "unelectable". Thanks to the successes of hard-conservativism during the Howard years, apparently not even a decade of chronic obscurity at the state level can get these people to believe - even for a second - that their views represent no more than a small (albeit noisy) minority of the Australian community.

Australia is, of course, mildly conservative in disposition, but not to the extent that people like Jeremy imagine. We support border-control, but not the brutalisation of refugees. We support a unified nation, but not the homogenisation of our culture. We support the right to economic prosperity, but not at the expense of the rights of workers. So there is clearly a market for this brand of soft-conservativism, but the trouble is that the ALP - at state level for the past decade and now at the federal level too - have it completely cornered. As I have already said, the solution that the Liberal Party have offered up until now has simply been to move further and further to the right, but it's a path that increasingly few Australians have shown themselves willing to be led down. Given that, what is the solution for the Liberals?

Let us recall the foundations that Menzies founded the party on. In a speech given in October 1944, Menzies argued Australia should be country "in which there is free thought and free speech and free association", "in which no consideration of wealth or privilege will determine the education of either child or man" and "in which citizens are free to choose their own way of living and of life", along-side arguments for economic liberalism which - unlike the preceding arguments - have actually been preserved in the party's current ethos. The question is, why not return to these values? If the ALP is espousing a position of social conservativism and economic centralisation, surely there is room for a party that advocates liberalism, both social and economic? If the conservative right-wing of the party has failed to deliver it electoral success, surely it's time to give the moderates a chance?

Surely, to put it another way, it's time for the Liberal Party to become a liberal party?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

THE Endorsement

Obama / Edwards '08. Has a nice ring to it.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

13% of Clinton Votes in Indiana Came From McCain Supporters


Pretty damning.

I'm not sure whether we can attribute this to Rush Limbaugh's "Operation Chaos" or the success of Clinton's recent attempts to appeal to socially conservative rural voters, but either way the conclusion is clear: Clinton only won Indiana (by a paltry 14,000 votes and closing) because of the votes that came McCain supporters. Fully one-eighth of people who voted for her in Indiana have no intention of voting for her in November!

What does that say about her electability?


Apparently Limbaugh is now encouraging Republicans to vote for Obama. What the fuck is with this guy?

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

A Town Called Gary

At 11pm USEST yesterday, the results of tonight's primaries were looking dismally familiar. Obama was winning one state, Clinton the other. Obama had failed to deliver the knockout blow, Clinton had failed to do enough to bring her back into the contest. Another primary day where both candidates had met expectations and succeeded in producing yet another indecisive result. Ho-hum.

But then the results from Lake County - a small, suburban center in northwest Indiana - began to trickle through. Like many other industrial cities in the northeastern states, the city of Gary - the largest in the county - has been in a state of gradual decline for decades. Since the steel-plants here began to close in the 1960s, the largely African-American population have watched helplessly as unemployment and poverty set in around them. As a consequence of the slow-down in industry, the population of this once bustling city entered terminal decline, nearly halving over the past 4 decades. The per-capita income here is just $15,000pa and over a quarter of its residents - including 40% of its children - live below the poverty line. Few cities have been hit harder by the changing American economy than this one.

But tonight, if only for a night, something happened here to warm the cockles of the heart. Due to a quirk of daylight savings and the large number of absentee ballots to be counted, Lake County - home to 8% of the state's population - was among the last to report its results. Before the numbers had begun to come through, Clinton was enjoying a comfortable, if underwhelming, lead in the state and had already delivered her victory speech, declaring that her campaign was moving "full speed ahead to the White House". By barely meeting expectations here, she looked primed to have enough oxygen to carry on her campaign to the primaries in West Virginia and beyond. That soon changed.

Lake County turned out overwhelmingly for Obama. Clinton's safe result in the state soon become too close to call. The pundits who had earlier seemed prepared to give Clinton a pass on the night watched as the margins narrowed and dutifully shifted their narrative as a consequence. As it became apparent that Clinton was not going to get the result she needed to justify her continued presense in the race, the pundits turned. Declarations rang that Obama was now the presumptive nominee and many suggested that it would be prudent for Clinton to extricate herself from the race now, lest she suffer any further indignities. The shape of the race was sharply turned on its head, thanks almost exclusively to the late results that came through from Lake County.

Forgive me if I find just a bit of poetic justice in all this. Few in the country have found themselves quite so abandoned by the US political system as the people of Gary, yet few have wielded so much influence on its future. If only for a night, the people of Gary were given a say in the trajectory of their own destiny. Thankfully for those of us watching from half a world over, they made the right choice.

Stick a Fork in Her: She's Done

Another Tuesday, another set of primary results to pour over.

No question that Obama exceeded expectations here. A draw overall on the day probably would have sufficed, so to emerge with the result he did really is a crushing blow for Clinton.

The (nearly) final results for the day:

Delegates: Obama +12 (Al Giordano at The Field thinks it could go as high as +19)
Popular Vote: Obama +210,363 (with some Obama friendly counties still yet to report 100% - Clinton will likely win Indiana by < 20,000 votes as a result)
Superdelegates: ?????

Really, the pledged-delegate deficit has been insurmountable for Clinton since the Ohio and Texas primaries, so she has since been pinning her hopes of winning the nomination on coming out ahead in the popular vote count (only possible if the votes cast in Florida and Michigan are counted) and keeping her head above water for long enough to inflict the damage on Obama that she needs to in order to win the backing of superdelegates (as the "electable" candidate).

Both of these hopelessly optimistic scenarios were surely extinguished by the result tonight. The 14% deficit in NC - the last "big" state left - obliterated the ground she had made up in the popular vote in Pennsylvania. The narrow victory in Indiana (she 'squeaked by' according to CNN, which is typical of the media narrative at the moment) does not give her the breathing space she needed to convince the superdelegates and the DNC that it's worth their while to let her continue.

Tim Russert sums up the state of play at the moment:

I see this contest limping to West Virginia (where Clinton can expect a big victory) and probably all the way to the final contests on June 3rd, but none of the remaining states are large enough to give her the momentum she needs to carry her to the convention (where she had hoped to exercise her "nuclear option"). The superdelegates will begin to sharply break for Obama in the next few weeks, especially once Obama's delegate lead becomes mathematically insurmountable after the May 20 primaries (her lead in the superdelegate count - as small as it has become - has been one of the few factors keeping her in the race this long). The media will continue to push the narrative that the race is over (except for Fox News, of course) and her funding will doubtless dry up further.

So it's over, she's finished. Within four weeks, Obama will officially be the Democratic candidate for the presidency. Not a moment too soon, either.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

And So It's Come to This: Curfew

Well it's official: starting June 3, no-one will be allowed (re-)entry into a Melbourne city club after 2am. The rationale is to reduce the number of drunk people wandering the streets from venue to venue late at night and thus, hopefully, to reduce the number of violent acts committed, which have apparently increased by 17% over the past year.

Ignoring the leap in logic inherent in this proposal that even Evil Knievel would struggle to clear, I want to focus on that number: 17%. That is not a statistically insignificant number. It surely cannot be explained as mere statistical noise, nor as some random, self-correcting fluctuation. There must be an underlying cause for such a sharp increase in crime.

Perhaps Melburnians have become 17% more violent over the past year? Perhaps they are drinking 17% more, or consuming 17% more drugs? Perhaps there has been a 17% increase in the number of violent, sociopathic disorders diagnosed over this time? Maybe some horrendously unlucky, statistically unlikely combination of all these factors?

Perhaps, but I doubt it.

There is only one event from the past year, that I can think of, that could possibly account for such a significant increase in violent street-crime: the new smoking laws. The merits of these laws aside, they have forced scores of drunk punters out of pubs and clubs around the city and out onto the streets, where the watchful eye of venue security no longer has any influence. Drunken congregations, without any moderating influence on behaviour, are traditionally quick to descend into violence. Is it any wonder the streets are less safe when we're essentially mandating that drunken groups of people form outside every licenced venue in the city?

That is why I'm struggling to understand the rationale of this new legislation. The hope ("hope" is the right word) is that keeping people who have been drinking out of licenced venues will encourage them to go home early, but if that fails to happen (and it doubtless will) all you're acheiving is forcing scores of drunken punters out onto the streets, making them angry (have you ever seen a drunk person try to reason with security when they've been denied entry to a venue? It is truly a thing of beauty...) and sending them off to wander the streets unsupervised, doubtless to congregate with all the others that have been turned away in the only places they are permitted to: fast food restaurants, the casino, suburban bars and clubs and so on. At least we'll be keeping the smokers inside venues for longer under this new plan, but surely - especially considering the vioation of civil liberties it engenders - they cannot possibly think that violence will be significantly reduced by keeping drunk people away from safe, secure venues?

Friday, May 2, 2008

The Herald-Sun Sucks (Part #4): "Global Warming to Blame for Teenage Binge Drinking"

From last Sunday's Herald-Sun (April 27th):

I especially like the use of the word "experts" in quotation marks. Yes, those "experts", with their "degrees" and their fancy "scientific literature" and their "years upon years of rigorous empirical inquiry" - what the hell would they know?