An echo from the decade of the teenage mutant ninja turtle

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.

Goldwater stated his principles clearly and went to the electorate with a plan that was clearly different to that of his opponent Lyndon Johnson. Johnson won in a landslide.

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Ken Parish
Ken Parish
14 years ago

But Rudd’s slogan is a post-modern caricature of the Goldwater statement. Rudd really IS presenting an echo rather than an alternative or choice, but by pre-emptively asserting the contrary he reduces his opponent’s space to label him as such. Howard did exactly the same thing by beating Rudd to the punch and accusing Rudd pre-emptively of “me-too-ism”. To every bit as great an extent as Rudd, Howard has been busily engaging in focus group-driven “me too-ism” for the last 12 months or so, on global warming policy, “no disadvantage” test for WorkChoices, GP superclinics and so on i.e. every area where Textor’s focus groups tell him there’s an advantage in stealing the other side’s policies. But by attaching the label first, he denies Rudd the opportunity of labelling him as a policy thief without being seen to be guilty of infinite regression in emulation – “me-too-ism” about “me-too-ism”.

Robert
Robert
14 years ago

It is precisely this lack of true leadership – lack of true principle – from the current government which has created the environment wherein “me too” actually has purchase. In many ways, Howard has been saying those words to the electorate, in message, throughout his tenure. He’s been desperate to play in the big league (even while there), desperate to have been seen to do so, with those things being a driving force more than other more principled reasons for doing so. He’s a me-too kinda guy.

Distilled, Howard’s message to the electorate now threatening to close off his participation is a childlike plaintive “I wanna play”. There is no reason greater for him wanting to be there, other than wanting to be there.

Imagine any other PM in living memory who strived for this, in office. Name them, and then think of how a “me too” policy would be shot down. The words “me too” wouldn’t come into it. In every case – keen to be corrected here if this is wrong – the political bullets would be signed by some sort of principle.

What are Howard’s principles in this election?

This me too thing is Howard’s doing. I’d hazard the more the “me too” words get used, the smoother Rudd slides into power. Voters surely are tired of the term: what it points to, subtly or not. It signals very definitely a lack of principle, or an environment of that, and whether it’s consciously acknowledged or not, it stinks nonetheless.

Garret was dead right, for mine. If or when Rudd gets into power, the sheep’s clothing will come off, and he’ll piss people off in better than good time for what he isn’t. Just like Howard.

Howard re-engineered the way into power, and if the above is about right, will have engineered his way out just as brilliantly. Invisible, in effect, in the end.

Doctor Patient
Doctor Patient
14 years ago

It does appear as though Johnboy and Kruddie are stalking each other. They both can lay claim to the ‘me too’ label.

Vee
Vee
14 years ago

Principles don’t win elections.

I refuse to call it “me too” unless for the purposes of a cartoon comic. I’ll call it by its original name – “small target strategy.”

Robert
Robert
14 years ago

It’s a woeful term, Vee, indeed. Picking up your point, would it be fair to say the “me too” term – used here for the purposes of identifying changes to where our country is at, not because it’s welcome – is different in ways from the “small target strategy”?

I’d submit that for the term “me too” to have purchase, there is a reflection upon the other’s policy implying opportunism. A small target strategy doesn’t carry that, in that way.

Robert
Robert
14 years ago

Let me provide a converse, which is of concern. If a policy is of value, has been belted out through the media, or even provides a hint that it could be, to end up as being born and bedded in something the country clearly, thankfully, needs – would it be heralded as a “me too” policy if agreed upon by other parties? The term “me too” wouldn’t be used. The very phrase speaks of non-essential value to the country, yet essential value to the politicans’ immediate needs – even personally so.

That’s largely where we are at.

phil@vvb
14 years ago

The cognescenti and wannabe cognescenti – and all of us in the blogatariat are in one of those two groups – talking to each other.

I reckon all this stuff just slides by the the majority – who may, or may not, be silent.

Greg
14 years ago
Rebecca Copas
14 years ago

the homeopathic “proving”(list of symptoms which can be induced by poisoning), of the medicinal preparation of the Belladonna Lilly, includes the symptom of having hallucinations of giant green turtles

oddly enough homeopaths often find that the medicine is beneficial for four year old boys, (for prevention of being overly agressive in a specific type of person); even to the extent that many homeopaths had wondered if the cartoonists were reading the homeopathy text books

Don Arthur
Don Arthur
14 years ago

Greg – DFW references are encouraged at Troppo.

Rebecca – Large turtles? That’s certainly something I didn’t know.