Right, right, you’re bloody well right

Well, Troppo readers like Homer Paxton might think I’m full of bovine excreta, but at least Kim Beazley’s former chief-of-staff Michael Costello is on the same wavelength as this armadillo. Costello should certainly know all about “small target” strategies if anyone does, having presided over a failed one not so long ago. Great minds, as the cliche goes, think alike. The trouble is, a great mind and a small one can often reach similar conclusions by mere coincidence. Nevertheless, it’s reassuring for a blogger who keeps getting assailed by commenters who tiresomely label you “M’Lud” and apparently think it’s funny. Costello makes exactly the same point I mentioned yesterday about Mark Latham’s “ban fast food ads on kiddies’ shows” initiative. It’s a classic example of a Dick Morris tactic, where:

[T]he goal is to constantly put forward new, powerful symbolic ideas not necessarily of high cost or policy complexity, but which touch core voters’ concerns. …

Thus we had Latham’s signature symbol of reading to children. Then we had things like banning plastic bags. And for the last two days, talkback has been dominated not by debate over the energy statement but by Latham’s proposal to ban advertising fast food during children’s programs as a way of dealing with the serious problem of child obesity.

Costello also emphasises another point I made the other day: John Howard’s ‘environment’ initiative has rather more to do with an electoral pitch to rural and regional marginal seats than with the environment itself (although most of it, except the diesel fuel excise reductions, is environmentally sound as far as it goes).

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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cs
cs
2022 years ago

With all due respect M’lud, I think you’ve got this a bit arse about. First, the ‘small target’ thing is different to the ‘symbolic promise’ thing. The former basically turns around trying to make the government the story, and hence having policy positions that attract as little press and controversy as possible, so that government falls into your lap. Latham does not have a small target strategy (see’ troops homeby Christmas’ amongst much else). More accurately, Howard, the master of the small target strategy, is trying his very best to ensure that Latham remains the story … an insanely wrong-headed strategy in the context of the new leader, imho.

Re the ‘small symbolic’ promise thing, sure, Morris played this stuff up after he was disgraced, but I’m pretty sure he’s not the original author of this approach … I could be wrong, but that’s my memory (I’ll see if I have time to check on the weekend). In any event, outside of Dolly Downer, Morris is not particularly renowned for this approach; rather, his acknowledged contributions to the Clinton second term campaign are: (1) his polling strategy – he fought tooth and nail to run advertising in targeted markets well before the campaign proper, giving Clinton a buffer to absorb the bounce Dole inevitably got out of his nomination and campaign (incidentally, on this analysis, Dubya would already be completely stuffed); (2) his ‘triangulation’ strategy – defining not just mid-ideological points, but high-ground mid-ideological points.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

All fair points, Chris. But I still reckon the ‘symbolic promise’ stuff (whether Dick Morris can legitmately claim to have invented it or not) is an aspect of a calculated “small target” strategy by Latham, where highly visible ‘symbolic’ policies which on any resonable view are of “third order” importance at best (to adapt a keating-ism) are continually trotted out to disguise the absence of meaty policies in core areas of economic policy.

The “troops out by Xmas” promise is an example of a slightly different strategy, but also serves to obscure the lack of major economic policy announcements. It certainly can’t be dismissed as being of third order importance (in fact its effects, both on the US alliance and on world terrorism, may well be profound), but it serves to divert attention in the same way as the ‘symbolic’ crap. I concede without apology that this reaction flows from my own “it’s the economy, stupid” view of what the policy debate should mostly be about (although I would include health and education policies as part of the economic debate, and I concede that Labor actually has released some partial policies in these areas).

Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
2022 years ago

Ken,
I do not remember any reference bizaare or otherwise of saying your political opinion was full of bovine excreta.
Just in case anyone out there thinks you are being serious could you just tell them that is an embellishment of what I stated.

Michael Costello is no Dick Morris indeed he didn’t even know the basics of calling a double dissolution indeed calling him a poilitcal pundit is an exagerration.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Homer,

of course a man of your erudition would never use the expression bovine excreta or its even cruder synonyms. But that was the purport of your various comments. Moreover, in part I did you a deliberate injustice by using you as a rhetorical springboard. You (and others) may conceivably be correct that Latham’s evident strategy of holding back major economic policy announcements until the election campaign period proper is a sound judgment in purely party political terms. I don’t really see the point in arguing about that, because the political wisdom or otherwise will be revealed by events in due course. My points are:

(1) It IS a small target strategy, albeit a more cunningly oncealed one thatn Beazley employed;
(2) Irrespective of its immediate political wisdom, such tactics are democratically illegitimate, because they deny the people a proper opportunity to evaluate the parties’ competing policy positions.

I’m not arguing that Howard hasn’t pursued somewhat similar small target strategies in the past, because obviously he has (and with great success). Nor can I immediately think of any viable campaign law reforms that would inhibit such strategies without giving an unfair advantage to incumbent governments (who have Treasury available to run through Opposition costings with a fine-tooth comb). Although, come to think of it, I suppose you could legislate to give Oppositions a right of access to Treasury to have their proposed policies costed and assessed (confidentially) in advance of release. That would put government and opposition on a much more level playing field (which is precisely why it’s very unlikely that any government would ever pass such a law).

cs
cs
2022 years ago

I still think you are being too hard Ken. Macroeconomic policy is basically off the table. Howard has no policies in this area, having outsourced the job to the Reserve Bank Gov, and latham’s already made his paremeter pledges (wrong-headed ones imo, but there out there).

On micro policy, modest IR rollback’s out there, no Telstra sale is out there … all that’s left is the (non)FTA, the much trumpted tax thing (yawn, although hopefully something for poor folks) and presumably something more on health (there’s already a medicare thing out there) and an education thing.

Compare that with Howard in total … take your bribes, pass the (non)FTA, ‘finish the job’ (whatever that means) … and react to Latham. That didn’t take long.

What more are you after?

Ron Mead
Ron Mead
2022 years ago

“Howard has no policies in this area, having outsourced the job to the Reserve Bank Gov”

This is just Chris having a bit each way. Imagine the screams from the luvvies if Howard and Costello dared to interfere with the so-called “independence” of the Reserve Bank by asserting control over monetary policy. This so-called independence of so many government agencies, from the ABC to the National Museum, is part of their sacred site mentality. They want to hold the government responsible for anything that goes wrong but don’t want these bodies accountable to the taxpayers’ representatives. It’s part of the luvvies’ Brechtian philosophy of “dissolve the people and elect another” when the electorate won’t obey their dictats.

cs
cs
2022 years ago

Not this luvvie Ron, at least when it comes to the Reserve. Of course people would scream if the government interfered simply to keep interest rates low in its own political interest. Bad policy is always a risk.

But more generally, I’d prefer the Reserve to be operated in the ‘official family’ sense that it did under the Hawke/Keating years (spare me the interest rate story … it was a global recession, and similar conditions have not appeared on Howard’s watch), and more specifically, I’d prefer a touch more emphasis on the Reserve’s employment objective over its inflation target, and it to be a more active player in global finance policy circles … and these seem to me to be very much political not a technical decisions.

All the same,I think the Reserve deserves some credit for managing through the Asian crisis … and the Howard government deserves practically no credit whatsoever for macroeconomic management, unless that be credit for outsourcing the policy area to someone else.

The ABC and the Museum, on the other hand, are institutions that are fundamentally about truth telling so to speak, a basic condition of which is that they must be independent of the government, unless you prefer the Soviet model.

Ron Mead
Ron Mead
2022 years ago

“The ABC and the Museum, on the other hand, are institutions that are fundamentally about truth telling”

Maybe they should make a start, Chris. Propaganda machine for luvvies more like it.

Unless you count the ABC staff-appointed Board member’s unprincipled leaking of confidential Board discussions.

cs
cs
2022 years ago

Oh, so you do prefer the Soviet model Ron. As for the ABC thing, governance in this context is a more complex issue than you appear to allow … although I grant you consistency, as you appear to support a Stalinist line here as well. All power to the authorities ay Ron?

Ron Mead
Ron Mead
2022 years ago

There’s nothing Stalinist in being concerned about truth-telling rather than leftist propaganda, Chris.

cs
cs
2022 years ago

Whatever Ron … do you find this repartee a little boring after a while?

I’d also question the RBA’s split-up – not just ‘cos it led straight to the APRA/HIH cock-up: the ALP made a similar supervisory error when it deregulated the banks in the first place – it seems to follow with a new regulator as sure as day follows night. Rather, the division has limited capital policy options, and was personally very sad for the staff. The RBA has a great tradition, and there had been frequent career pathways from the supervisory to the policy line. As well as taking away from the joint’s culture, I’d bet it’s led to lower quality supervisory workers, via brain drain.

Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
2022 years ago

firstly ken I have no trouble of you making fun of me afterall that why there a boneheads like me here.

On the politics of it I have arguedand will continue to argue that it makes no sense for Iron Mark to release the ALP economic policy until the Election proper.
That way He does not have to redraft his policy courtesy of the updated forward estimates assuming a later election and moe importantly Costello could not cal on Treasury to help him dismiss it. Only he and his staf could do that and as he showed last election they aren’t capable of it.

given that this would be the centre piece of their campaign it is nonsense to suggest it would not be rigously examined.

cs
cs
2022 years ago

I also think the RBA has been far too uncritical of Costello’s mad public borrowing policy … and meanwhile there are pretty steep imbalances in the capital and current accounts, so the final picture’s not completely clean, even on this front.

That’s the last one, I promise

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Homer, I don’t recall making fun of you. Maybe you’re being a trifle oversensitive. Mind you, many would say the same of my reaction to being called “M’Lud”, but at least that gave Chris Sheil an opportunity to have a bit of fun.

Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
2022 years ago

Actually Keeny baby(anyone remember the monty Python scene?)I was not compaining about being made fun of at all.

I odn’t believe upon reflection that Iron Mark has had a small target policy and indeed you give that away by complaining at policies he has stated such as the ban on junk food ads for kiddies.
nor did dick morris advocate a small target for wee bill.
Call Iron Mark all the things you wish to call him but being a small target is nonsense.

by the way what about an update on the N/T political scene for the political junkies down here. No polling means political heaven for us.

Norman
Norman
2022 years ago

Labor’s current policy approach strikes me as a variation on the small target theme. It involves throwing out numerous “fairy tale” targets which, as long as the journalists treat them reasonably kindly, help distract attention from the fact that meaningful targets haven’t yet emerged. They serve a similar role to the Allies’ use of ‘window’ during W.W. II, making it impossible for the enemy to know what was coming.
It waits to be seen whether Labor will have the sort of real policies which can prove as effective as were the real weapons the Allies were hiding behind ‘window’. In the meantime, however, it’s not unreasonable to decribe what’s happening, as a small target strategy.

Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
2022 years ago

not so Norman, Iron Mark has hit on policies that show to the punters he understands issues that Howard doesn’t ( and other learned people as well.)

These policies won’t win him the election but will enable him to have maximum attention when he launches the major policies in the Election.

which reminds me Howard and Costelllo remind me of Keating and Willis in 96 complaining of the lack of Opposition policies. Irony is delicious.