The great delusion about the great lie

If I never hear another Labor “strategist” claim that the ALP lost because of Howard’s “great interest rate lie” it will be too soon. As Paul Kelly pointed out on the ABC TV Insiders program this morning, the real reason Labor lost so badly was because most of the polls showed that voters simply believed the Coalition were better economic managers to the tune of as much as 30 percentage points. In dangerous but prosperous times, that makes the “devil you know” decision a no-brainer.

The irony is that Howard’s reputation as a good economic manager is at the very least dubious and extremely vulnerable to attack.

Update – (Monday 11 October) this SMH article by Tom Allard and Mark Metherell provides a good summary of many of the shortcomings of Labor’s campaign, and makes some of the same points as my post.

Apart from the GST and initial “first wave” IR policies, Howard has tackled little in the way of meaningful economic reform during his 8 years in power, contenting himself with piggybacking on the economic reform hard yards previously gained by Hawke and Keating. He’s allowed dangerously high private debt levels and a distorting housing “price bubble” to develop; done nothing to prevent manufacturing industry from stagnating; and failed to foster education, training, industry R & D or capital investment, or productive public infrastructure (except the Darwin-Alice Springs railway). Meanwhile, Howard spent up big during the election campaign on an orgy of cynical, wasteful, economically stupid pork-barrelling promises. Yet Latham made little or no attempt to dent Howard’s unjustified reputation as a good economic manager, either before the campaign or during it.

As Kelly argued, unless and until the Coalition stuffs up and presides over a recession, Labor isn’t going to win government solely on its health, education and environment policies, not even (or perhaps especially not) with a strategy of labelling Howard as a “lying rodent”. Australians generally assume that all politicians are lying rodents, and the fact that both sides spend much of the time accusing each other of telling porkies merely confirms our cynical judgment.

There’s a strong argument, as Kelly also said, that Latham’s decision to jump into bed with Bob Brown and the Greens made things worse for Labor on the mainland as well as Tasmania. The ALP was seen as selling out the workers as well as cosying up to the extreme leftie Greens. I suspect that this was the main reason why Labor lost by a larger margin than 2001 instead of the somewhat smaller margin I was expecting (and predicted – although I succumbed to a bit of cautious wishful thinking in the last day or so before the election).

In the medium term, however, Labor’s prospects aren’t as bad as they may seem. The Coalition gaining effective control of the Senate might actually be a blessing in disguise for the ALP, because it will tempt Howard to implement a range of more divisive, unpopular reforms including selling Telstra, sucking up to Murdoch and Packer and scrapping cross-media ownership rules, and implementing next generation IR reforms. Moreover, the lack of previous meaningful economic reforms, dangerous private debt levels and irresponsible spending promises will all have their adverse consequences. I suspect Howard (or perhaps Costello) will fairly soon be presented with the invidous choice of either breaking a swag of election promises or presiding over a recession we don’t have to have. It’s eerily similar to the situation Keating found himself in after the 1993 election and, like Labor under Keating, the Coalition may eventually find itself terminally “on the nose” whichever choice it makes.

Labor needs to avoid panic or public recrimination. But they should also avoid self-deluding assessments like believing they lost because of Howard’s “great interest rate lie”. I tend to think Latham should remain leader. He performed creditably, even impressively. Labor’s losses flowed from strategic and tactical miscalculations for which the whole leadership team was responsible. Despite being initially much less than impressed by the ALP’s choice of Latham as leader, I now think I was wrong. Latham remains a better choice as leader than any other available option.

But he must avoid jumping into bed with the Greens again, and concentrate on carving out a coherent, credible economic and industry policy stance over the next term instead of succumbing yet again to the delusion that a small target strategy with policies being released in a last-minute confused orgy during the election campaign is somehow a great masterpiece of political planning. Labor’s done that twice in a row now, and it’s failed dismally both times. It’s Time for a change, in more ways than one.

PS – I predicted a Coalition victory here, here and here. I succumbed to wishful thinking early on election morning, commenting that “the contest almost certainly remains neck and neck. Latham might just do it.” But I did so because Newspoll had the parties at 50/50 and Morgan at 51-49 for Labor. I assumed that ACNeilsen, which had the Coalition massively in front at 54-46, must be just plain wrong. In fact the Neilsen poll, along with Galaxy, both got the result close to spot-on (although Neilsen overstated the Coalition’s primary vote, and therefore the two-party preferred figure, by a couple of percentage points). Galaxy actually got remarkably close, showing a 2PP result of 52-48 (which is exactly right), a Coalition primary vote of 45% (actual 46.6) and Labor at 39% (actual 38.2).

And, as Bryan Palmer observes, Morgan has been drastically wrong at the last two elections in a row. Something is badly wrong, and serious political analysts should simply ignore Morgan until they prove that they’ve got their house in order. Morgan is a totally unreliable, discredited guide. If we’d simply discounted Morgan and relied solely on Newspoll and ACNeilsen (and Galaxy), it would have been abundantly clear that Howard was heading for a clear victory. Certainly Newspoll’s flagship election eve poll got the overall picture wrong at 50/50, but their marginal seats poll had shown the Coalition solidly leading in all 12 of the most marginal seats.

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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gjw
gjw
2022 years ago

I’m not entirely sure that Labor should ignore the Greens – I think public distrust of the Greens is overestimated. It’s probably limited to a few small pockets of Labor supporters – the exact kind who switched to Liberal in Tasmania, for instance. Afterall, the Greens are pulling a greater national vote than the National Party, and there’s never a backlash against the Liberals for selling out to rural interests. And clearly, Labor’s dash to the right hasn’t won them any votes in the last two elections.

Bryan Palmer
2022 years ago

Ken,

The big news story is the Senate. For over 20 years, regardless of the Government in power, we have become accustomed to the restraining hand of the Senate.

The handbrake is about to be taken off. From 1 July 2005 it looks like the Government will have an absolute majority of one and then a buffer of two largely supportive Family First Senators.

Buckle up Dorothy, this is going to be an interesting ride.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Bryan

I wasn’t meaning to minimise the significance of the governing party controlling the Senate. As you say, the absence of the restraining hand of the Senate is something we haven’t experienced for more than a generation. But after four successive election victories, this one especially decisive, democratic principle is consistent with giving the Coalition the opportunity to implement its policy agenda.

I take a long term, cyclical, fatalistic view of it. If the Coalition over-reaches (as I think it will) as a result of controlling the Senate and introduces reforms that prove divisive and unpopular, that will feed into a public mood for change next time (or the time after). In the meantime, the differences between Labor and the Coalition are not so extreme as to result in a society that will be dramatically worse than now (at least for most people).

Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
2022 years ago

I have said elsewhere that those of us who should know better ought to have put a housing bubble together with ultra strong credit growth to get a lot of people vulnerable to even a tiny rise in interest rates.

also the ALP did not confront the government on what causes interest rates to rise or fall and it aint budget deficits.
They might also have looked at productivity levels and contrasted EBA record with AWAs.

I still feel this is a 93 election given that rates will rise , the budget will go into deficit with a minor slowdown and given that we haven’t had a recession for 14 odd years one is due particlarly given the highly geared housing market.

Lastly this is the first time in an election campaign Howard has increased the Liberal vote so give him credit.

Some Dude
Some Dude
2022 years ago

If interest rates did not factor into it then the coalition would not have hammered the point specifically about interest rates so much. IR? Interest rates. Economic policy? Interest rates. Tmessage on the lecturn they used was “Keeping interest rates down”. You are correct in pointing out that more Australian’s believe that the coalition are better economic managers but how you can split that away from the coalition specifically linking everything to interest rates surprises me.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Some Dude

The public perception of the Coalition as superior economic managers well and truly preceded the election campaign. It was reinforced by:
(a) Howard’s interest rate scare;
(b) Latham jumping into bed with the Greens on forest policy (which was sound in policy terms but electorally stupid);
(c) Latham’s failure to carve out his own credible economic policy stance in the election leadup; and
(d) Latham’s failure to make any attempt to assail Howard’s somewhat unjustified reputation as a good economic manager.

I’m not saying that Howard’s interest rate theme was utterly irrelevant. All of these factors reinforced each other. That’s why I’m saying that the Labor strategists who are blaming “Howard’s great interest rate lie” are engaging in self-deluding protective rationalisation.

Jason Stokes
2022 years ago

If I never hear another Labor “strategist” claim that the ALP lost because of Howard’s “great interest rate lie” it will be too soon. As Paul Kelly pointed out on the ABC TV Insiders program this morning, the real reason Labor lost so badly was because most of the polls showed that voters simply believed the Coalition were better economic managers to the tune of as much as 30 percentage points.

This is an embarrassingly stupid paragraph. Obviously, one of reasons why Labor was rated poorer economic managers than the Coalition “to the tune of as much as 30 percentage points” was precisely because of the interest rates scare campaign. So the second proposition does nothing to refute the first!

To argue otherwise is to argue the Coalition doesn’t know what side its bread its buttered on, that when it spends millions hammering home the same point on interest rates over and over again it isn’t meant to influence the voters!

You’ve actually reinforced the point: Labor lost because it lost the propaganda war. Of course, if you actually believe the line that interest rates “will always be higher under a Labor government” you could argue Labor lost on the “facts” as well. Since this isn’t what you’re arguing, and since no credible economist believes, on the basis of Labor’s proposals, that it is true, we shall pass over it in silence.

Patty
Patty
2022 years ago

Jason, I think you need to read Ken’s post again. And then email him and ask him nicely to quietly delete your comment.

Mark U
Mark U
2022 years ago

Jason

I do not think Ken’s paragraph is at all stupid. The Coalition, rightly or wrongly, has been regarded by the electorate as better economic managers for the last decade and they realised this was the best area to fight the election. They successfully built on this strong base during the election campaign and Labor failed to adequately counter the Coalition “propaganda”.

The high interest rates of the late 1980s remain in many people’s memories and with many home buyers currently over-committed the Coalition found it easy to play on people’s concerns (fears) about a change of government. Ken’s point seemed to be that this was not a “big lie” by the Coalition and if the Labor party continues to run campaigns only on the basis that Howard lies, they will remain in opposition for a long time.

BTW, after this result I would be looking for good bookmaker’s odds on Howard being around as leader at the next election.

True RWDB
True RWDB
2022 years ago

Ken your Galaxy link suggests that poll was on 2/3 October, several days before the final Neilsen, Newspoll and Morgan polls, which I think were conducted mid-week. Last weekend was the Labour Day holiday in NSW (I’m not sure about other States) and would be a very difficult time to conduct a poll given people’s different behaviors (going away etc) from normal weekends. The latest 2PP figure I saw last night before going drunkenly to bed was 52.7-47.3, quite close to the Neilsen 54-46, far better than Newspoll and of course Morgan.

Poll sampling must be getting very complex given the lack of uniformity in swings in recent elections. Last night, for example, there were pronounced swings to the ALP in the established middle-class (ie North of the Harbour) seats in Sydney and the reverse in the aspirational outer Western, North-Western and Central Coast Liberal seats. I don’t know what that says about voter motivation but I’m sure there’ll be plenty of theories.

I see we’ve just wrapped up the Test. Surely ’tis a glorious day begorrah. Even with a deep hangover!!!!!!!

Jason Stokes
2022 years ago

Patty:

Jason, I think you need to read Ken’s post again. And then email him and ask him nicely to quietly delete your comment.

Mark

I do not think Ken’s paragraph is at all stupid. The Coalition, rightly or wrongly, has been regarded by the electorate as better economic managers for the last decade and they realised this was the best area to fight the election.

Hi Mark and Patty

The paragraph is indeed “stupid”, though I’m sorry for being so undiplomatic. (I’ve been in an intemperate mood the past few days.) I actually like the Troppo blog. But if I made an argument this silly, I’d expect to be called on it too.

The fact is that Ken Parish “refuted” the idea that the interest rate scare campaign bit by offering as evidence the “real” reason: that most of the polls during the election showed that the public rated the Coalition as better economic managers than Labor. Of course if the interest rates campaign was making an impact than this is precisely what we’d expect to happen!.

Now it’s possible to try to help this argument along by arguing that the poor economic management meme was already pre-existing. In fact that’s indisputably true. But that isn’t what Ken was arguing, and wouldn’t prove that the campaign didn’t bite in any case. To do that you’d have to establish that the interest rates scare had no effect on raising either the number of people with the perception that Labor are poor economic managers and that it didn’t raise the salience of interest rates as an issue in the campaign. As I pointed out before, that’s patently false, and would mean arguing that the Coalition doesn’t know what side its bread is buttered on.

And even then, it wouldn’t prove the “scare campaign” didn’t have an impact, since the Coalition has run the interest rates line constantly since it took office. It’s been mentioned in parliament about 15 million times. In fact you can look at the Coalition’s endless citing of the late eighties figure as one big eight year long scare campaign designed to portray a peak figure as typical. Which is, as you might have noticed, another stupid argument.

Alan Green
2022 years ago

I think you are right, but overstate your case. Everybody I spoke to that was planning to vote Liberal mentioned both interest rates and Latham’s inexperience as their reasons, so the coalition’s ads made at least some impact. Nobody talked about a strong economy as such, but maybe that’s because it’s now assumed that the economy is basically OK.

The Liberal’s negative messages may or may not have put them across the line, but they certainly increased the overall Liberal vote. I was amazed at the meagre rebuttals from the Labor camp.

Even so, with 47.5% of the two party preferred vote, Labor still has an important part to play in Australian politics.

Lotharsson
Lotharsson
2022 years ago

The SMH on Saturday reported that their(?) polling showed at the start of the campaign that health and education were the most important issues, and at the end of the campaign the economy was.

It may be drawing too long a bow to attribute the change purely to the interest rate scare campaign – but I personally reckon it had a large effect and it would be hard to argue it had no significant effect.

It gets harder to determine whether that change affected the balance of power. I don’t know, but given the magnitude of the change in issue importance – correlating roughly to the magnitude of the polling changes in approval rates over the course of the campaign, it looks at least plausible.

As to whether it was a “big lie” or not – it most certainly was, IMHO. The meme about average mortgages going up $960 under Labour? Poppycock, as pointed out by every economist who rendered an opinion, and by the inverted curve for fixed vs variable mortgage rates. Another 2% and there will be foreclosures everywhere, which will more than achieve the aims that are in mind when interest rates are increased.

The meme that interest rates are always higher under Labour? Also poppycock, although pointed out by fewer of those economists.

The meme that (Labour will always run into) a deficit (that) causes interest rates to rise – the claimed cause and effect are poppycock as reported by many economists, and Howard’s commitments get him a lot closer to deficit than Latham’s.

And as for Jason’s opinion of the first paragraph, I’m with him. The paragraph states an effect and a potential cause, and then asserts that they are unrelated with no evidence to back that up. It may well be correct, but it fails to make the stated case – and neither does the rest of the article. Nevertheless, good food for thought in the article.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Jason (and others)

As you might have noted from my earlier comment, I wasn’t arguing that Howard’s “interest rate lie” was irrelevant or unimportant, merely that it wasn’t the only or even the dominant factor. It’s a somewhat similar interpretation to one Tim Dunlop advanced against the prevailing interpretation that Howard won the 2001 election because he tapped into, exploited and exacerbated Australians’ racist fears with his Tampa/children overboard meme. Tim wasn’t arguing that this was an irrelevant or unimportant factor in 2001, just that it was a gross oversimplification that overlooked the fact that Tampa etc was only a part of the picture and in some respects just a symptom of a much wider issue.

One of the problems with fixing on a specific lie by your opponent and blaming that for all your troubles is that (a) it’s labelling the electorate as stupid; and (b) it’s absolving your own party and its strategists of responsibility for their decisions and actions: “What could we do? That Howard is such an unprincipled, lying bastard and the people are too stupid to realise it!”

My hypothesis (and Paul Kelly’s) examines matters rather more broadly, seeks to identify deficiencies in Labor’s strategies and tactics and to chart a path forward. Of course, Kelly and I (and Tim Dunlop and Rob Schaap) might all be stupid as Jason thinks. It really might all be fully explained by the “Howard is an unassailably brilliant liar” excuse, but somehow I doubt it.

Niall
Niall
2022 years ago

Labor needs the Greens like the Liberal Party needs the Nationals. Neither one contributes much to the respective master, but both have found, or will find, in Labor’s case, that their alliances with the smaller elements in Australian are going to become more and more important. Especially if the Australian voters continue to look to the lesser parties as a means of lodging a protest, which is increasingly likely.

Jason Stokes
2022 years ago

Hi Ken,

Ok, first of all my apologies. I realize I’ve been too harsh on you, and that we probably agree more than we disagree.

Nonetheless I don’t think the piece, or any of your comments, establish that anybody is wrong to cite the interest rate scare campaign as a major factor for Labor’s defeat.

It would be true that if Labor hacks were citing the scare campaign as a rationalization in order to ignore wider reasons they lost you would be correct. However, I see no evidence that it is the case. It’s a nice sound-bite intended for public consumption which has the added advantage of being containing an essential truth.

The essential truth being that Labor did nothing serious to counter the Liberal’s negative tactics until it was much too late. Howard won the “debate” on the economy by default.

This isn’t premised on the idea that Howard is a brilliant liar. It’s premised on the idea that Howard and his team are average liars who have been given far too much latitude to peddle their lies to the public.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Ken, Greg Combet on Insiders was also interesting. He argued that Labor ought to have engaged on the economy – highlighting the looming problems in terms of the debt bubble, disinvestment in education, research and skills development and the fact that unless urgent action is taken, the business cycle is about to give Australia a very severe reality check.

I didn’t get the sense that he was engaging in positioning or an “I told you” thing. I think Labor’s problem was their policy platform was predicated on the social benefit of a healthy economy. The argument they didn’t make was that the Howard government has been asleep at the wheel on macro-economic policy, and that we’re living in a fantasy land if we think the consumption/debt/housing led boom will continue, as well as going backwards in a massive way in most areas that we need to concentrate on to ensure that Australia remains a first world economy (it’s not assured in the medium to long term, in my opinion).

Of course, the good thing about the election is that Howard and/or his heir/s will be around to reap what they have sown. The bad news is that there will be a lot of pain for a lot of people in the process.

I’m also inclined to agree that it’s a good thing for democracy to let Howard implement his ‘reform’ agenda unconstrained by the Senate. Bob McMullan was right, I think, to say that the Howardians’ position in the Senate would lead to a lot of people having some very rude shocks over the next few years. Hugh Morgan also made it pretty clear this morning that there would be no excuses accepted, and was salivating over the prospect of slashing corporate taxes. Bring it on! Let the Libs take responsibility for pandering to their only real consituency – big business – and see what happens in 2007.

mark2
mark2
2022 years ago

I think its right that looking simply at the interest rate scare is an oversimplification. Not sure if i’m 100% right but NSW appears to have been a generally better performer for the ALP despite generally higher mortgages although that would itself be an oversimplified analysis.

To look for a reason behind the unexpectedly strong Liberal performance dont overlook the major issue of the last few days which was the Tassie forests. I suspect Howard was on a winner here and not just in Tassie but with the suburban ‘battlers’ and in other regional electorates who identified with the issue and saw it as a sellout even if they weren’t directly affected.

I live in regional Queensland and i suspect this issue would have bitten with the ‘workers’/ ‘battlers’ in Hinkler (Bundaberg) and and Herbert (Townsville)which the ALP needed to win and performed surprisingly poorly. Again not THE issue but it only needed to sway some undecideds and deliver half a percent or so to have a big impact.

The outspoken ALP member for Lyons (who survived)certainly had a big spray on the Sunday program on 9 this morning against policy determined by interests in Sydney/Melbourne and these issues impact accross all regions.

James J. Dominguez
James J. Dominguez
2022 years ago

I feel physically sick. Sure, Howard will probably push his idiotic conservative agenda to preposterous lengths and get himself kicked out next election (providing we have any kind of independent media by then – ABC funding? What ABC funding? Cross-media ownership laws? What cross-media ownership laws?) but we are facing three very long and very depressing years. I mean, they don’t just have control of both houses, but getting the votes they need in the Senate will require sucking up to a dangerously radical fundamentalist Christian party. Remember Harradine…

I’m not kidding – I feel physically sick.

True RWDB
True RWDB
2022 years ago

“ABC funding? What ABC funding”

Close enough to three-quarters of a BILLION dollars, James.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

James, Harradine was probably a bit of a kitten compared to FF. A former Whitlam supporter on the ALP National Executive and Tasmanian Labor Council Secretary, he was to the left of “Modern” Labor on economic policy – don’t forget his anti-GST speech in 98. FF, in my opinion, are a very disturbing mob, but as I said above, I think it’s a good thing for democracy in a way for the Libs to have control of the Senate – let those who voted for the Howardians finally see what the consequences of supporting a narrowly based party in hock to big business are.

true patriot
2022 years ago

RWDB, not by the end of July 2 2005.

thersites
thersites
2022 years ago

A narrowly based party in hock to big business? As opposed to what? An ALP metrolopitan centric party of unionists, party hacks, public servants & skool teachers?

Ah, Bahnisch, now i understand why that evil fascist Howard has always supported the big business newsagent monopolists and the drug peddling pharmacists against small businesses like woolies & coles. Now I understand why modern economic thinkers like Bob Katter laud Howard as one of the few who understands them on these issues.

Ah those evil big businesses who hoodwinked a cuckolded Howard deeply in hock to their interests so that he reduced their corporate tax rate to 30% (a reform achieved on a revenue neutral basis and entirely overlooked by a business illiterate media & blogosphere in their commentary on the lack of any Howard government reform achievements). Result as commented on by Hugh Morgan (in the interview referred to by Mark Bahnisch above but conveniently ignored) an increase in 4 years from $28 billion to $40 billion in corporate tax. Lets have more of that kind of tax reform!!!

Yes folks this is the highest taxing government ever but biggest proportionate increase under Howard is from his narrow corporate constituency? But lets never let facts get in the way of a great story hey !!

Lotharsson
Lotharsson
2022 years ago

One of the problems with fixing on a specific lie by your opponent and blaming that for all your troubles is that (a) it’s labelling the electorate as stupid; and (b) it’s absolving your own party and its strategists of responsibility for their decisions and actions: “What could we do? That Howard is such an unprincipled, lying bastard and the people are too stupid to realise it!”

I disagree with both (a) and (b). Other explanations for (a) include:
– the explanation of the lie did not reach the electorate
– or it did but they didn’t trust the credentials of the explainer
– or it did but they didn’t see the lie as significant
– or the electorate doesn’t care (which might mean they believe the lie, or they find the lie comforting and would rather not examine it too closely)
I’m sure there are others.

For (b), it can also be used to motivate your party or strategists to improve countering such lies. (Unfortunately, directly negating a lie rarely works, especially when you are outspent.) Having a look at iterated game theory and the Tit-For-Tat strategy might be a worthwhile response, although specific mechanisms to implement that strategy still need to be identified and competently executed.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

“Unfortunately, directly negating a lie rarely works”

Quite right. Which is precisely why Labor needed, long before the election campaign proper, both to expose the fact that Howard and Costello have been asleep at the wheel on economic reform and management for the last 4 or 5 years, and to develop and sell its own credible, coherent economic and industry etc policies.

The Coalition’s attack ads on Labor’s interest rate record, Latham’s Liverpool Council history and the general “L for learner Latham” stuff were all entirely predictable. They could have been largely pre-emptively negatived had Labor not pursued a small target strategy yet again (albeit with meaningless twiddly bits like reading to children to give an illusion of policy activity).

As Mark Bahnisch observed above, I’m hardly alone in drawing these sorts of conclusions. The ACTU’s Greg Combet made similar comments this morning. Moreover, I’ve been saying these things for some considerable time, as regular readers of this blog will know. I’m not suggesting I’m any sort of political guru, I also got lots of stuff wrong. But this point about the need for Labor simultaneously to establish its own credible economic and idustry policy positions and degrade Howard’s unjustified good economic reputation over the next 3 years starting tomorrow, is so central and critical IMO that it needs to be drummed into the heads of the feeble excuse-makers, and tattooed on their foreheads just as Bill Clinton once pinned “it’s the economy stupid” on the Oval Office wall.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Lotharsson’s comments also seem to contain a tacit assumption that Howard’s Liverpool Council and interest rate attack ads against Labor were somehow democratically illegitimate; that it means the Coalition has stolen government or something. But politics isn’t conducted under Queensbury Rules. As Richo once famously put it, you do “whatever it takes”. Both parties spin the facts outrageously to paint their opponents in the worst possible light and themselves in the best.

Labor’s “27 Howard lies” campaign theme (or 35 or however many they eventually racked up) consisted almost entirely of Howard lies and distortions of a mundane nature that both parties commit every day of the week. That isn’t to say that there aren’t (or at least shouldn’t be) limits to how far (and in what ways) politicians should distort the truth, and I think Howard has clearly overstepped the mark decisively on several occasions (as I’ve discussed at length before). But the Coalition’s Liverpool Council and interest rate attack ads certainly weren’t in that illegitimate class. They were just good, effective political advertising themes that Labor simply failed to deal with effectively.

Labor apologists can squeal all they like; the results are on the board and we all have to deal with the consequences (both positive and negative) for the next 3 years. I don’t see another Howard term as an unmitigated disaster by any means, although it will certainly have its mean, tricky, unfair aspects; and continued Howardian neglect and complacency on the economy are likely to do damage that will take some years to repair. But a Latham Labor government was hardly going to be unalloyed good news either.

mark
2022 years ago

I wouldn’t go that far, Ken: there must be rules, there must be standards. Look at what happened in America; it’s all very well to say “but the Republicans wanted it more” — true enough, but there are some depths not even politics should sink to.

If Labor take Beattie’s advice and look at Howard’s campaign as a giant “To-Do” list, that’s another nail in the coffin of the modicum of civility still left in Australian politics. And supposing Latham sinks to further depths, further lies, further pork-barelling and promise-breaking in a desperate attempt to outbid Howard, and in 2007 he wins? What, then, will the Liberals do in response, in 2010? And how will Labor react in 2013?

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Thersites, my response to your skepticism about Howard and big biz is very simple – Hugh Morgan’s smile on Insiders this morning. Who do you reckon paid for all the “L Plate” ads – ordinary citizens sending the Dear Leader their spare dollar?

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Mark (Gallagher)

In no sense did I deny the need for minimum standards of integrity in public life. That’s why I said:
“That isn’t to say that there aren’t (or at least shouldn’t be) limits to how far (and in what ways) politicians should distort the truth, and I think Howard has clearly overstepped the mark decisively on several occasions …”
My point was that the Liverpool Council, interest rate scare, and Latham L Plate ads were well within the boundaries of proper political campaign behaviour on any reasonable view. They were no worse or more dishonest than any other political ads of the last 30 years and more. I simply don’t accept that the Coalition’s 2004 campaign represents some sort of nadir of political dishonesty, although it was certainly very effective. Nor was the pork-barrelling any more blatant than the long-term Australian norm. Remember Roz Kelly’s whiteboard? Or maybe you don’t. Maybe you were too young at the time.

It’s certainly true that if Howard now proceeds to break lots of big spending promises and gets away with it (as with “non-core promises” after 1996), or if Latham adopts his strategy and wins and does likewise, that will represent an entrenchment of systemic political dishonesty as the norm of Australian politics. But I doubt that will happen. Australians aren’t stupid and democracy really does work in the long run. The Australian people cut Howard a lot of slack following 1996 because they had seen just how blatantly Keating had abused their trust in 1993 and following, and were prepared to believe that Keating might well have been shonky enough to leave a large unforeseen black hole that necessitated breaking all those “non-core” promises. But they’re not going to swallow any excuse Howard (or Costello or Abbott) now trots out to explain wholesale promise-breaking. If Latham can’t nail the Coalition and win in 2007 in the wake of a repetition of wholesale promise-breaking, he doesn’t deserve to be leader. Personally, I’m fairly confident Latham does have what it takes in that regard.

mark
2022 years ago

Fair enough, Ken. My fingers started to itch about “do what it takes” (the Republicans “do what it takes”, and look where that gets us all), and after that I was doomed — doomed — to post. It’s been a “post before you think” kinda night, really. Sorry ’bout that.

Having read your comment properly now (as in, all the way through), I actually agree with you. Over the last eight years Howard has lied too brazenly, too often, too arrogantly for my liking — but his election campaign was no worse than we should have expected from any politician, and more fool us for falling for it (and then there’s the media, for not calling him on it).

(I was too young to remember Roz Kelly’s whiteboard. Hell, I don’t even remember Roz Kelly.)

Jack Strocchi
2022 years ago

I WAS RIGHT
Let the The Mother of All Gloats Begin
I, in defiance of the Conventional Wisdom at the time, correctly predicted Howard’s 2004 power odyssey, both in:
policy: Howard has become more economically statist – “LITTLE JOHHNY” HOWARD: MACHIAVELLIAN ASIAN-LOVING SOCIALIST(June 11, 2003)
politics: Howard would win with an increased majority – SPECIAL C-FILES PREDICTION: HOWARD TO WIN IN 2004 (June 09, 2003)
All doubters and critics must now recant and bow down before my all-conquering wisdom.

Jack Strocchi
2022 years ago

I WAS RIGHT
Let the The Mother of All Gloats Begin
I, in defiance of the Conventional Wisdom at the time, correctly predicted Howard’s 2004 power odyssey, both in:
policy: Howard has become more economically statist – “LITTLE JOHHNY” HOWARD: MACHIAVELLIAN ASIAN-LOVING SOCIALIST(June 11, 2003)
politics: Howard would win with an increased majority – SPECIAL C-FILES PREDICTION: HOWARD TO WIN IN 2004 (June 09, 2003)
All doubters and critics must now recant and bow down before my all-conquering wisdom.

Jack Strocchi
2022 years ago

I WAS RIGHT
Let the The Mother of All Gloats Begin
I, in defiance of the Conventional Wisdom at the time, correctly predicted Howard’s 2004 power odyssey, both in:
policy: Howard has become more economically statist – “LITTLE JOHHNY” HOWARD: MACHIAVELLIAN ASIAN-LOVING SOCIALIST(June 11, 2003)
politics: Howard would win with an increased majority – SPECIAL C-FILES PREDICTION: HOWARD TO WIN IN 2004 (June 09, 2003)
All doubters and critics must now recant and bow down before my all-conquering wisdom.

Jack Strocchi
2022 years ago

Oops. sorry, my enter key succumbed to a the triumphalist frenzy.

Martin Pike
2022 years ago

Well, on the hustings, it was interest rates and interest rates. I’d agree that economic confidence was part of it, but the single issue of interest rates was clearly dominant, not a lie.

Jack Strocchi
2022 years ago

OK commentariats and pundits – now listen up:
Howards Lower House gains can be explained by a prosperous political economy making voters go with their Hip Pocket Nerve:
Wealthfare: low interest rates
Welfare: high benefit hand-outs
What remains to be explained is Howards improvement in the Senate. The Upper House, for more than a generation, has voted in the Heart-On-The-Sleeve:
Counter-Balancing: Keept the Bastards Honest in the House of Review
Cultural Progressive: luvvies, wets etc
But the Big News is the improved performance of Cultural Conservatives in the Senate. This has not yet sunk in with all the blather about interest rates.
This election has seen the Senater representation of Centre and Centre-Left parties suffer a historic set-back. The Dems have been wiped out and the ALP has lost 5% of its representation. The Centre-left losses more than outweigh the gains of the Far-Left Greens.
The LN/P looks to have control of the Senate for the first time since 1981. This looks like the opportunity for Howard, Minchin, Abbott et al to settle alot of old scores.
So not only has the Senate shifted from Progressive to Conservative, it is gone from Keep the Bastards Honest to Put Your Trust In Me.
I warned Cultural Leftists not to go on with the episode of Howard-hating, as it would cost their side electorally. But they ignored me. Now they will pay the price.
The Cultural Left have utterly blown it for Economic Left. I have to say that I blame the luvvies for all the economic regression that will now occur.

Lotharsson
Lotharsson
2022 years ago

Ken, it’s not clear that the entirety of the interest rate scare was “legitimate”. The $960 figure was completely unsupportable – beyond spin and into “making sh*t up” territory, IMHO. The interest rate ads, taken on their own, may be acceptable but they are operating within the context of that $960 meme.

That said, my post wasn’t implying that the election was stolen. I was attempting to say that the negative campaigning should have been anticipated, and while I *personally* prefer positive campaigning the negative mode is usually more effective when measured across the entire electorate. Labour needs to learn how to counter some of the effects of negative campaigns (which is impossible to completely negate) and do some negative campaigning of its own (hence the reference Tit-for-Tat strategy in iterated game theory, although the theory is an imperfect model of elections).

One will note that the logical outcome of these strategic needs is a race to the bottom, or at least to the margin of acceptable negative campaigning…

I didn’t comment on the L plate/Liverpool council memes. I didn’t see those as clearly illegitimate.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Lotharsson

I’m not sure what you mean when referring to the “$960 figure”. Presumably such a figure was used in some of the Coalition advertising, but it certainly didn’t register with me, so I wonder how important that particular detail was. The critical message was a more general one – interest rates have been low under Howard, but reached 17% under Keating. Can you trust Latham not to run policies that would result in higher interest rates? It was a message without substance in the sense that no economist reckons Labor’s policies will put upward pressure on interest rates, and Keating’s high interest rates occurred because the Reserve Bank was still learning how to use the levers of monetary policy in an economy that Hawke and Keating had the guts to deregulate, something Howard and Fraser failed to do. But, although undoubtedly true, this message is much too complicated to encapsulate in a 10 second sound bite.

So I probably don’t disagree with you in substance. But such advertising isn’t “illegitimate” by longstanding Australian political standards. Howard’s scaring of the electorate over Keating’s 17% interest rates was no more illegitimate than many of the scare tactics Keating himself used to defeat Hewson’s GST and win the 1993 election.

It’s certainly true that negative campaigning has become more “scientific” since the adoption in the early 90s by the Coalition of strategies developed by the US Republicans in the late 80s, and in that sense I suppose one can argue that it’s a “race to the bottom”. At the moment, the Coalition does negative campaigning better than Labor at a federal level, largely thanks to the genius of Mark Textor (a Territory boy made good, if you can call it that). But in the latter years of the Hawke/Keating government, the pundits’ conventional wisdom was that Labor’s then longstanding federal dominance was partly because they were the masters of marginal seat strategies (including negative campaigning via direct mail), with the Coalition lagging behind. These things fluctuate over time.

I don’t know about your game theory argument. I don’t understand it well enough to comment meaningfully. But I doubt that this is an inexorable race to the bottom. The public are not infinitely gullible, and I’m sure negative campaigning (like most things) eventually reaches a point of diminishing returns. That was one reason IMO why Clare Martin won in the NT in 2001: you can only cry wolf so many times before the public realises that it’s bullshit.

Moreover, we shouldn’t ignore the point made by Hugh Mackay in this morning’s SMH:
Don’t hold your breath, but one day it will occur to political party strategists that elections are rarely won or lost during election campaigns. The journalists, commentators and spin doctors who have been obsessing about the fine details of the past six weeks simply need to get out more: voters do not change their minds, moment by moment, in response to the thrust and parry of an election campaign; they make quiet judgements in the months – or even years – that precede it.
In fact, the worst time to try to predict an election result is during the sound and fury of a campaign. The TV debate, so comprehensively “won” by Mark Latham? Irrelevant. This or that chance remark or gesture, or a particularly “telling blow” delivered in a policy speech? Irrelevant. A Labor backbencher questioning the fairness of the ALP’s tax proposals? Irrelevant. The millions of dollars squandered on raucous, negative TV commercials? Irrelevant. (If you doubt that, ask any commercial advertiser who understands the role of advertising.) …
So where was bedrock public opinion this time? In spite of the flurry of enthusiasm for Labor following Latham’s ascendancy to the leadership, the answer has been out there for a couple of years. In essence, this was always going to be an election about the economy and national security, and Labor never got on the community’s radar on either issue.
I don’t accept Mackay’s claim that campaign advertising etc is totally irrelevant, but it’s almost certainly rather less significant than most pundits seem to think. It certainly sways a few votes, and that could be crucial in tight marginal seats, but given the magnitude and uniformity of this outcome for the Coalition, it’s unlikely that it made a significant difference to this particular election outcome. I realise that all the telephone polls were recording a large undecided vote right up to election eve, which might suggest campaign events are critically important. But just because people said they were undecided doesn’t mean they really were. In most cases it probably just meant they hadn’t yet bothered to think about the election in any focused way, but once they did they already had fairly well-formed views not terribly susceptible to alteration by the minutiae of events during an election campaign. That sort of phenomenon emerges in the prolonged focus group qualitative polling in which Mackay specialises, but it’s almost impossible to detect clearly in mass quantitative polling, whether it’s done by telephone or in person. In a perverse way, the extraordinary volatility and contradictions of the various quantitative polls merely confirms Mackay’s point. Do we really believe voting intentions jump around so quickly and dramatically?

Graham
2022 years ago

Well, it’s not so much that the interest rates scare was a lie, that that it was unfalsifiable. You know, backed up by the same sort of double-headed justifications as favoured by astrologists and creationists.

There was no way for either Howard or Latham to disprove or prove what might happen in the future with interest rates. Latham’s promise, early on in the campaign, to keep a lid on them was pretty silly, actually.

But anyway, it’s Howard who’s left a lot of people extremely vulnerable to a rate rise, so he might yet get hoist on his own petard.

Graham
2022 years ago

Oh yeah, and I forgot to add that stances on national security are even more unfalsifiable, and thus are always going to favour the incumbent government.

If an attack doesn’t happen, the response is “we have kept you safe from terrorism.”
If an attack does happen, the response is “only we have the fortitude to fight terrorism.”

Col
Col
2022 years ago

Jack Strocchi’s comments about the senate completely ignore the culpable role played by the ALP and Democrats in giving the Conservatives the senate by preferencing Family First before the Greens. This means that, in Victoria, with a quarter of the first preference votes that the Greens got, FF is likely to get a senate seat. Face it, the Greens nationally got more than four times the votes of FF, so let’s not think that Australia has gone all loony religious right all of a sudden. It’s just bad electoral strategy from people who should have known better that gave the Conservatives the Senate.
The biggest problem with the ALP, as it has been for years, is that its leaders don’t believe in developing a set of policies based on its principles and actually going out and explaining them. Even this morning on the radio I heard the failed ALP candidate for Kooyong saying that the Liberals are successful because they give the electorate what they want, and the ALP needs to do more of that – which, of course, is a recipe for the ALP becoming more like the Liberal party than it already is. And it also explains why the Liberals keep winning elections – because they are able to persuade the electorate that what the Liberals are offering is what the electorate wants or needs. The ALP could try to point out how little of what the Liberals offer is actually in the electorate’s interests (eg. the intensification of the exploitation of labour by destroying industrial relations protections for workers; destroying public education and health), and the ALP could start to believe that it’s job is to persuade the electorate that – shock, horror – many Australian voters are wrong about a number of things (eg. interest rates, the state of the economy, that truth in government is not important, that locking up refugee children is a good thing). As a first step the ALP should sack all its opinion pollers and spin doctors and employ some policy makers and people of principle.

Shannon
Shannon
2022 years ago

Posters above are making the Great Mistake ™ — believing that the other side is stupid.

Why, when he has shown absolutely no sign of doing it so far, would Howard introduce anything that he thought was unpopular? Let me be clear that I don’t mean unpopular at your house.

What if (oh my god how “unthinkable”) the sale of Telstra meant the large amount of ex-public-service dead wood that exists in that organisation was chopped out, making it leaner, faster, more customer focused? That’s certainly what a large percentage of the population thinks will happen…

What if whacking those unproductive wharfies (I mean, really, we all heard the stories of the rorts there) proves popular again, with a different target? C’mon, the ALP was obviously too “gutless” to fix the problem…

Every reknowned commentator on war, on catching crims, on winning grand finals says the same thing:

Your opponents are not stupid. Believing this to be so proves someone’s stupidity beyond doubt.

Comments above about the inadvisability of the “lying rodent” idea are spot on. That’s the kind of tar’n’feathering that only succeeds in getting tar and feathers everywhere…

Lotharsson
Lotharsson
2022 years ago

The “$960” figure was (as far as I know) not used in ads, but in media interviews, where it was claimed that under Labour, based on historical rates, the average mortgage repayments would increase by $960 a month. While not used in the ads directly, a lot of people viewing it would have connected the two in their head (consciously or subconsciously).

When I say “race to the bottom”, I mean to the point of diminishing returns, with occasional fluctuations beyond that. Wasn’t clear enough in my previous post.

I disagree that advertising as as irrelevant as you think, but that is also a difficult proposition to falsify.

I suggest reading “How Customers Think” by Zaltman. This talks about how buying decisions are made using amongst other things recent developments in neuroscience. (The same techniques are being applied to politics – including real-time neurological imaging to assess the effectiveness of different political advertising). The totality of the “brand” message does matter, although not in the way most people would think. It’s far more subconscious and involves mental maps of characteristics imputed to the brand, that dovetail into personal values and qualities.
That means that your point about elections not being decided in the last few weeks is true for many people, but also that brand characteristics can be modified in people’s heads by appropriately constructed advertising.

Col
Col
2022 years ago

Shannon’s comments are symptomatic of what is so wrong with Australian democracy: the belief that everything is relative, there is no particular truth, that because something appears to be popular it must be right (not even Howard believes that).
Shannon conveniently ignored the examples I used, bringing up ones (telstra, the wharves) that were barely or not at all mentioned in this election, and providing completely unsubstantiated opinions to back his arguments which are entirely ideological. That, of course, has been the great victory of the right during the Howard years, the ability to present completely ideological positions as “common sense” and “mainstream”. I don’t mind people having particular ideological barrows to push, as I have; just don’t pretend that it is the only position that is available and that it can’t be tested by reasoned debate and contrary evidence and accept that it might actually be wrong.

The interests rate thing is a great example. No-one with any expertise on the issue believes the Howard line, yet by simply pushing it to an electorate without the expertise and without the interest in having their preconceptions questioned, and without an opposition willing to make a real effort to counter it, it gets accepted.

I never said that my opponents are stupid. I said that they are wrong on a number of things, and this is demonstrably the case, taking interest rates for a start. Are we no longer able to say that people can be wrong (especially if they vote Liberal?) If someone voted Liberal on the strength of Children overboard last election, wasn’t he/she wrong? – not just a non-member of the “elites” or “chattering classes” but actually wrong.

This takes us to the issue of lying rodents. This is where I fundamentally differ with Shannon and the pragmatists in the ALP. If it is true, as some commentators have suggested, that the issue of Howard’s honesty doesn’t resonate with the electorate because they think that all politicians lie, then we might as well pack up and give it all away. No democracy can truly call itself a democracy unless the principle that politicians should be honest with their constituents is respected. And the people abdicate their democratic duties if they don’t demand honesty from their representatives. Rather than calling people stupid, I argue that in many cases and over many issues they have been deceived. This is not a criticism of their credulity; given the forces ranged behind the lies that have been told to Australians recently, it is understandable that people can be deceived. The issue of Howard’s honesty goes to the heart of our democracy. If this is not a relevant issue for an election, or if people think that because the economy is sound it doesn’t matter if the PM lies, then we’re on a very slippery slope.

Jack Strocchi
2022 years ago

The FF have won one seat through preference misadventure. But the big primary vote swing was against the Centre-Left in the Senate.
At least six Senate Seats have changed hands, five have switched from (Cultural) Far-Left/Centre-Left to (Cultural) Far-Right/Centre-Right. Now the Govt has the numbers in the House of Review.
This contrasts with previous elections where the Senate has a counter-balancing role to the HoR. And the Senate typically carried a higher than average cargo of wets, luvvies, Cultural Progressives. Not any more.
Obsessive Howard-hating, by Ken Parish, John Quiggin, Tim Dunlop, Margo Kingston et al, has caused a right wing Reaction (yes, thats why they call it a Reaction) in the Senate.
So now instead of a Progressive House of Review we have a Conservative Rubber Stamp.
Congratulations Howard-haters! You have shot yourselves and your movement in the foot.

Col
Col
2022 years ago

So let me get this right, Jack – if we had said that John Howard was a great bloke, people would have voted against him?
Interesting idea…

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2022 years ago

“If it is true, as some commentators have suggested, that the issue of Howard’s honesty doesn’t resonate with the electorate because they think that all politicians lie, then we might as well pack up and give it all away.”

Start packing Col. It’s not possible to practice politics unless you are prepared to pragmatically de-emphasise the negatives and ramp up the positives. To be able to identify the silver lining in a passing bank of cumulostratus is much more effective a talent than announcing the presence of dark clouds. And long generations of Australian voters have known this to be incontrovertibly so and have made their judgments accordingly. A politician who spoke nothing but the bald unvarnished truth would not be a politician for long and indeed, human society would probably rapidly disintegrate were we to proceed on the basis of always telling everyone what we truly knew and believed. Where “lying” is ultimately identified within this nexus depends on your [politically partisan] point of view.

I don’t believe that the vision of Howard as the dark, demonic fount of all political untruth is broadly sellable electorally. There’s a curious irony here in the light of post-election Monday.
Some months back, Latham lost it with Howard in a bravura performance in the House of Representatives. Howard had accused Latham of making his home by December policy up on the run. And indeed he had. It was an act of political ineptitude that locked the ALP into what was ultimately a no win position. Latham excoriated Howard as a ‘disgraceful little man’ for daring to suggest such a thing. The policy had been decided by the Shadow Cabinet and he had Minutes to prove it. He didn’t. He had Minutes of Shadow Cabinet relating to a call to halt the pre-deployment of the ADF before the invasion began. His defence was demonstrably ‘a lie.’ Latham never consulted Shadow Cabinet before telling Mike Carlton that the troops would be home by Xmas. At the time however Latham was adjudged by the Gallery to have “won” the exchange on theatrical quality and resonance.

Was it legitimate of Latham to have so proceeded? I’d say yes in short-term strategic terms (it backfired badly downtrack but that’s another story). But it wasn’t a momentary victory built on ‘the truth’ no matter how you construct it.

I think voters have a pretty good idea of what’s acceptable and what’s not from politicians and, in the main, they don’t feel the lying exceptionalism from Howard that his opponents constantly identify. In fact, I suspect that the constant refrain of “liar! Liar!” has simply merged into an easily ignored background noise of ‘they would say that, wouldn’t they?’ expectation.

mark
2022 years ago

Not exactly, Graham. One lie — the interests rates — is not directly falsifiable, but we can determine that Howard is telling porkies, simply because he contradicts himself.

Interest rates will only go up under Labor, and only because Labor are teh sux0rz. But, after being told — by every single fucking expert around — that they’ll be going up anyway, he says “that’s because of good Liberal economic management”.

And then, a week later, he repeats the lie about rates going up iff Labor are elected. What a guy!

Lotharsson
Lotharsson
2022 years ago

Ah Jack, you’re drawing that very long bow again when you look into the entrails and declare that:

Obsessive Howard-hating, by Ken Parish, John Quiggin, Tim Dunlop, Margo Kingston et al, has caused a right wing Reaction…

How many voters did you poll to make this determination? And how many say they would have voted against Howard if there wasn’t any “Obsessive Howard-hating” by those listed above? And on what basis do you believe them?

And who gets to say when something is obsessive or not? Were there any questions about non-obsessive Howard hating affecting voters’ actions?

Col
Col
2022 years ago

Surely, Geoff, there is a difference between emphasising positives and lying.

How is it “a different story” that Latham’s lie came back to bite him later on? Surely the problem with lying is often that in the short term you seem to have achieved something, but you only create longer term problems. The press gallery’s propensity to see things in terms of a game between two sides is, of course, another of the great problems in Australia. Does it matter to the press gallery that one side or other lied or was wrong? No, as long they “win” the immediate contest.

The Latham example is not a very good one anyway, because the lie was not about the substance of the policy but about how he arrived at it. I would argue that Latham was wrong to lie as he did, but he didn’t lie about the policy itself, because he was not talking about an empirically testable event. Howard lying about children overboard, interest rates etc is a distinctly different issue. It also has nothing to do with “emphasising positives”.

One final point. I’ve just about had enough of the catch-all evasion of reasoned debate that is represented by the line: ‘they would say that, wouldn’t they?’ I’m not saying that you think that way, Geoff, and you are right to identify it as a common response these days. But it is not a legitimate response, and to avoid pointing out when Howard or anyone else lies because it doesn’t appear that the average voter cares would be to abandon political the field of political discourse to the cynical pragmatists.
To let Howard off the hook is to reduce the political discourse to the level espoused by Deanne Kelly (it was her, wasn’t it?) with her “doddering dacquiri diplomat” line, which appears to have been generally accepted as an adequate response to a serious intervention in political debate.

I must say I find it rather amusing that the real postmodernists all seem to be on the conservative side of politics these days!