There’s an interesting contrast between the way personal smear negative campaign tactics work in the US and their relative lack of success in Australia. As Scott Wickstein pointed out in a comment to my previous post, the Bush memo fiasco and Swift Boat Veterans nonsense are not only smears, but attempts to divert public attention from the disastrous course of the war in Iraq and a variety of other far more crucial issues at home and abroad. Why Kerry allowed his followers to engage in such stupidity is beyond my comprehension, because it would surely have been in his interest to keep the focus on those genuinely crucial issues where Bush is vulnerable.
From Bush’s viewpoint, however, it’s all manna from heaven. Both stunts have been spectacularly successful in diverting public attention, judging by the number of column centimetres they continue to generate in both the mainstream media and the blogosphere.
Compare that with the attempted campaign smears by Labor and the Coalition to date. Leaving aside the Scrafton affair, which just preceded the campaign proper, both parties’ attempts at personal smear so far have failed dismally. Labor’s “Howard’s 27 lies” smear (which I see has now expanded to 35) has been rightly and comprehensively ignored by mainstream media and blogosphere alike, as has the Coalition’s attempt to dredge up Latham’s record as Mayor of Liverpoool a decade ago. Of course, the latter may have something to do with the fact that charges of financial mismanagement have no substance whatever:
Professor Daly, the man appointed to investigate Liverpool Council, has stated unequivocally that he “could find no evidence of imprudent financial management” during Mark Latham’s time as mayor of Liverpool.
Earlier this year John Walker, a Liberal councillor in Woollahra, strongly endorsed the Latham record at Liverpool. Mr Walker, who was general manager of Liverpool Council in the Latham years, said of Latham: “He is strategically brilliant, the agenda that he created [at Liverpool] was the best I’d seen in my career in local government.
Moreover, Liverpool Council’s strategy of debt reduction by keeping rate rises above the inflation rate is a very familiar one for local councils, and widely regarded as prudent. It’s precisely the strategy that Darwin City Council has been pursuing for over a decade now, and it’s been dominated by CLP cronies throughout that time.
But maybe the ALP and Coalition smears have fallen in a heap partly because Australians have a bit more nouse and commonsense about those sorts of things than Americans. I’d like to think so anyway, because these pseudo-scientific smear and wedge tactics have a real potential to fatally undermine the integrity of our political system. Not only might such odious practices alienate citizens completely from the political process, but they might also deter decent, well-qualified candidates from standing for elected office if doing so feels for all the world like permanently showering in excreta.