As America entered the 1990s, Republican speaker Newt Gingrich was busy making plans for the nation’s future. "I keep reminding my friends we’ve entered the decade of the teenage mutant ninja turtle," he wrote. His plans for the decade of the TMNT included "transforming the United States from a welfare state into an opportunity society". It was also a decade that ushered in the presidency of pizza-loving Democrat, Bill Clinton and the end of Gingrich’s political career.
As it turned out, Democrat control of the White House was no obstacle for Gingrich’s favourite phrases. As John Pitney writes in Reason Magazine, much of Clinton’s rhetoric looks like it has been cribbed directly from the Gingrich phrase book. And it didn’t end there. In 2004 Tony Blair’s speech writers rediscovered the “opportunity society” and suggested that it might replace the "traditional welfare state." And just yesterday we heard it again from John Howard. In a speech to the Institute of Public Affairs the Prime Minister spoke about "the transition of Australia from a Welfare State to an Opportunity Society."
Labor Party figures and journalists like Peter Hartcher and Matt Wade have been quick to spot the recycling but so far no one really seems to care. After all, everyone seems to be doing it. Last month Coalition frontbencher Tony Abbott pointed out that Kevin Rudd’s phrase "An alternative, not an echo" is itself an echo of Barry Goldwater’s catch phrase "a choice not an echo." When running for president in 1964, Goldwater said:
I was once asked what kind of Republican I was. I replied that I was not a "me-too" Republican. That still holds. I will not change my beliefs to win votes. I will offer a choice, not an echo. This will not be an engagement of personalities. It will be in engagement of principles.