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Posted by wmmbb in Australian Politics, US Politics.

The theory and practice of democracy are two different things. We are often advised to be practical and admire the practitioners, those who get things done often in the face of public opinion.

Noam Chomsky has said many things, including the following:

The most effective way to restrict democracy is to transfer decision making from the public arena to unaccountable institutions: kings and princes, priestly castes, military juntas,party dictatorships or modern corporations.

Richard Denniss, the executive director of the Australia Institute, a left wing think tank based in Canberra, argues that Julia Gillard might be compared favourably to John Howard as prime minister who gets things done. He writes:

Julia Gillard has a lot in common with John Howard, who was not loved but who implemented major changes. The left side of politics needs to get over its obsession with vision and leadership. While it may be hard for some on the left to admit it, it is pretty clear that John Howard was a radical, transformative and long-lived prime minister. He was never lauded, even by his own party, as visionary. But he was. Indeed, a large part of his success was due to other people denying he was achieving anything.

Those on the left who yearn for fine words and clear statements of vision should reflect on that.In the realms of health, education, industrial relations, retirement income, indigenous affairs and national identity Howard drove major changes that have lasted well after he lost office.This is not a defence of the direction of his vision, nor of the way he went about achieving it. It is simply an admission of the obvious. Howard delivered more change than he promised, was more visionary than those who could not even see what he was doing, and was playing a much longer-term game than the internal and external opponents he saw off.

And he wasn’t poll-driven. The GST, the war in Iraq and Work Choices were not popular. John Howard spent his political capital driving the changes he believed in most. He spent his popularity on his vision, he did not crave it. I opposed most of the big reforms that Howard succeeded in implementing. So did the ALP, the Greens, the unions and large slabs of civil society. But that didn’t stop him. He was good at the job of making things happen in the face of opposition. And he was good at the job of staying elected.

John Howard was true to his reactionary, conservative calling which formed his political project. One suspect with Julia Gillard that her accomplishments reflect her lack of vision, and that purposes other than philosophy govern her political behavior. The ALP is in principle not supposed to be a conservative party, unless you are disposed to believe that it has achieved all the intended social and democratic objectives, and so now the primary purpose it to hold onto them.

Dr Denniss concludes with the pragmatism of Gillard Labor in power, and note these matters are not compromises in which nonetheless principles are maintained:

This week the ALP caucus members showed that they were not poll-driven. In overwhelmingly endorsing Gillard they showed that they are willing to make hard decisions, take risks, and stand up to the mob. I hope this approach will soon become evident in their willingness to stand up to mining magnates who have tantrums and big business people feigning fear at all of the ”uncertainty” they face.

Gillard has made mistakes, all people do. Howard’s first term was rocky, to say the least, with minister after minister resigning as a result of his Ministerial Code of Conduct. He dumped that. While Gillard will not thank me for saying it, she is far more like Howard than Rudd ever was. While she is clearly not highly popular, she has been effective in getting her agenda through.

As elsewhere, the assumption that in an effective two-party monopoly system there is nowhere else to go, without considering why it is that the always limited choices on offer have shifted toward one end of the spectrum rather than the other. I suspect the electorate liked Kevin Rudd for his ideas and his inspiration. Most of us do not, I imagine, vote for our representatives to elect an autocrat.

Thom Hartmann interviews Corey Robin concerning the reactionary mind. Part One:

Part Two:

En Passant observes without analysis:

Labor in power has capitulated to them. It governs for the one percent.

The Minerals Resource Rent Tax sell out comes to mind. It was a complete backdown to the mining magnates. Who led this retreat? Wayne Swan of course.

This talk by Swan and Labor of rich vested interests is a smokescreen to give the impression of defending the fair go while overseeing an historic shift of income and wealth to capital from labour, to the rich from the poor and working class.

3 Quarks Daily points to research suggesting that lack of knowledge, but more importantly cognitive limitations create a democratic deficit, which implicitly have to overcome by those who know better. The question then goes to the values and motivations of the few enlightened ones, who would be lucky to be elected without acting dumber than they are, suggesting what we have always gleaned that they are manipulative personalities, or at least we had better suspect they are. (There has got to be something wrong with this argument.)


At The Drum, Graham Young is not impressed with the appointment of Bob Carr as Senator and Foreign Minister. He mentions Bob Carr lucrative appointment with Macquarie Bank, but fails to note that Kevin Rudd’s aspirations have probably being forestalled.



1. Michael Caruana (@mikeyc7m) - March 6, 2012

Although I agree wit the thrust of the article, two things disturb me. Howard was able to win elections whereas Gillard looks vulnerable. Ignoring the role of the media, what was it about Howard that kept him in office? Surely he had some vision, some plan, some connection to the people. And he kind of did through the “howard battlers” tag, of leadership through aspirational politics, the idea that even though his policies specifically were invisibly detrimental to the average aussie (and those worse off) that he was creating a better future if they could rise up to meet it – that their social and/or economic personal successes (although in the future and unlikely) would allow them to participate in his policy benefits. By contrast, Gillard has yet to connect with this aspirational mindset, speaking only in vague terms about working families working harder and doing the job right and moving forward and stuff, whatever it all means. She’s not cutting through like Howard did.

The other troubling aspect is that Howard’s success came from division, lies and other distortions that created fear in the electorate and drove them back to him. Tampa and children overboard, WMDs, deficits & surpluses, interest rates… all fake crises engineered to win elections. Is this the approach Gillard needs to take as well?

wmmbb - March 6, 2012

Michael, I think you are correct about John Howard’s record, and I have his Machiavellian devices, which in part were learnt from the hard electoral lessons inflicted by the ALP and borrowed methods employed in the US. For example, triangulation, taking the middle ground, is a kind of unprincipled stance, often believed necessary to hold onto social conservative voters.

Julia Gillard skills as a public media figure, as distinct from, from for example, as parliamentary performer and a Cabinet leader, can be seen in contrast to the impact of Kevin Rudd. “Persona”, as an aside, was the mask worn by actors in ancient Greek theatre.

Then we might attribute an inherent media bias, their view of the world as it is and should be (often the same) or a voting public that desires to be relaxed and comfortable? There may be evidence to confirm such an attribution.

Looking at the underlying dynamic, I am inclined to consider that the deindustrialization of society – Wollongong would be a good example – and its’ “finanlization” (if that’s a word) may explain the observed rightward shift in the political spectrum.

Something like Tampa should have been John Howard’s undoing. I don’t have the explanation. I suppose it is easy and effective to demonize and dehumanize “the other”, whatever group that might be.

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