US election-watching is a great spectator sport for many Australian politics-watchers. As Bob Carr says, it’s The Greatest Show On Earth. But in the actual real lives of Australians, the dull reality is that US elections generally have big direct effects on just one issue: the wars we will be asked to fight.
Romney’s likely path on foreign policy was harder than most to forecast, due to his remarkable ability to move between far-right and moderate positions. Obama, as grounded US conservatives like Bruce Bartlett have long observed, is a more known and predictable policymaker in the classic centrist tradition, a man who stacked his Cabinet with centrist Democrats and even a couple of Republicans, and who modelled his presidency in part on Teddy Roosevelt. Obama’s election probably means a reduced chance we will be asked to sign up for attacking Iran; he has long said he is against dumb wars, and a fight in Iran looks as dumb as any. But Iran apart, the practical foreign policy difference between the two men might not be that great, as Michael Fullilove has argued.
However, big political events have indirect effects as well. Obama’s re-election seems likely to be notable for its effect on the delusional wing of the US right wing media commentators, who typically predicted a Romney victory even though the data fairly transparently said something else. These pundits grew so convinced by their own rhetoric that they spent part of the campaign’s closing fortnight attacking the analysis of number-crunchers such as the New York Times’ Nate Silver, whose conventional, transparent poll-based analysis was pointing to an Obama win.
This peculiar detachment from reality that has pervaded parts of the US right in recent years – with its birtherism, war enthusiasm and Obama-is-a-Marxist talk – is comparable to what happened to parts of the left in the early 1970s. It’s a long road back from there to reality, but you have to start sometime.
The Australian right has not gone so far down this road. Alan Jones’ bizarre rants against Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott’s predictions of a carbon tax economic apocalypse have been more the exception than the rule (and Abbott’s campaign essentially copied, at higher volume, the ALP’s own slightly hysterical anti-GST campaign). But some on the right, including some in the media, have clearly been wondering whether they can turn up the hype further, whether there are any limits to how wild you can make your claims without ending up discredited.
The answer from the US this week is: Yes, there may be limits, both for politicians on the right and for the media pundits who favour them. Indeed, if you’re on the right, the US election result may cause you to wonder whether a media that always tells you you’re correct is really such a boon.
If you’re a rank-and-file conservative, you’re probably ready to acknowledge that ideologically friendly media didn’t accurately inform you about Election 2012. Some pundits engaged in wishful thing; others feigned confidence in hopes that it would be a self-fulfilling prophecy; still others decided it was smart to keep telling right-leaning audiences what they wanted to hear.
But guess what?
You haven’t just been misinformed about the horse race. Since the very beginning of the election cycle, conservative media has been failing you. With a few exceptions, they haven’t tried to rigorously tell you the truth, or even to bring you intellectually honest opinion. What they’ve done instead helps to explain why the right failed to triumph in a very winnable election.
Both within the Coalition and within the halls of the more right-wing Australian media operations, the pragmatists have received a boost this week.