I suppose there's no point getting all misty-eyed about Saturday night. Pretty early in the piece we decided to switch off the volume and sit down to dinner and cheap wine instead of anticipating that sudden swing to Labor. The fact that the bookies were paying $4.50 to see Labor get up was a good indication that Latham's gamble hadn't paid off.
All I really need say is that considering the loss of the Senate to the conservatives, any old-style Lefties or modern liberals better brace themselves for a wave of reform designed to cement Howard's view of reality. God forbid that Israel and the US ever take umbrage with Iran over the latter's willingness to build nukes, because there will be Australians there fighting out of American bases in Iraq.
Newspapers here, and 'right' blogs all over the interweb are crowing about the 'greatness' of Little Johnny and the new Australia that's to come, so if that's your disposition there's plenty around to satiate your need for self-congratulation (as there would be on the left had Labor carried it). There's also plenty of wariness amongst those preparing to be once and for all marginalized from mortgage-belt middle class politicking.
In other words if you're gay, black, Asian, poor, a single parent or non-Christian and currently have a stable income/lifestyle, don't make any sudden moves until you suss out the political winds of change. John "The Leveller" Howard is about to begin a new 'social consensus' around a solidly conservative benchmark.
The one alarming development of the election that has numerous commentators raising eyebrows is the rise of the Family First Party. Although they constantly denied their links to the Assembly of God, an evangelical church, no one really thinks they're anything but a front for religious conservatives and their values. Fortunately or perhaps more accurately, hopefully, what they don't represent is a form of religious orthodoxy or fundamentalism. Again, hopefully. The truth be told, no one I've listened to is sure, but as they say, "actions" and "words".
What Saturday has been represented as is a triumph of conservative 'good economic management', and the inability of Labor to capture the middle ground of ‘prudent spending’. In reality, the Coalition spending spree and simultaneous scare campaign on interest rates in a very heavily indebted Australia is more likely to have been the winner on the day.
This representation of economic managers as good governors is a very dangerous furphy, because while economic management won the election, the implementation of a little debated social agenda is going to be the outcome.
To be honest, this is what really scares me. If the past few years have been any indication, the ability of Howard to sideline a democratic mainstay called dissent in favour of his own personal projection of Australian society and social issues will only be cemented with the support of Family First. Pundits are already talking about the apparent mandate the public has given him, though the win was through another set of issues altogether. Maybe the suburbs voted for the economy, but homogeneity and xenophobia are in that Trojan Horse.
‘Sure’, I hear you say, ‘make a big fuss, but wasn't Tasmanian Brian Harradine pushing a similar conservative agenda in the Senate a few years back?’ I would answer, without doubt. But. Harradine wasn't operating in an atmosphere of slowly growing hysteria and fear. An example is a guy called Andrew Bolt.
If you can picture David Irving writing for a major metropolitan newspaper, you have a glimpse of many of Bolt's columns in the Herald Sun. I really dislike this guy. Even though his opinions can at times be incisive, the fact that it's filtered through rabid conservativism makes it somewhat jaded.
For example, on a commentary show post election Bolt used a phrase that went something like "Labor will be conducting a jihad over blah blah blah...". Now this is drawing a fairly long bow, but isn't the correct word crusade? Personally, I'm of the opinion people like Bolt use these oblique references to deliberately draw emotional responses from their insecure audience.
In this environment of fear it is becoming increasingly easy for people of Bolt's ilk to depict thinkers and commentators on 'the left' as ideologues and 'utopian' compared to 'right' pragmatism and 'common-sense'. A current example is bloggers talking about the death of Derrida. Right-wingers I’ve spoken to in the past who crap with criticism of artsy-fartsy philosophies like post-modernism or deconstruction often don’t understand them.
All I have to say is this, the truly great theories are really, really, hard to understand. Once upon a time there were only two people in the world who understood the theory of relativity. Einstein, and some smart-arse.
These days everybody knows that if you send a clock into space at the speed of light when it gets back to Earth it’s only advanced five minutes while society has advanced a billion years. Or something.
Which makes me think that conservative philosophy must be in a space-ship right now.
Truth be told, much of the right-leaning theories I’ve read in the past few years often boil down to “fuck or fight”, such as the increasingly-popular ‘clash of civilisations’. And a quick browse of right-leaning webogs is a good indication of the kind of hairy-chested hysteria used on that side of the spectrum.
What I worry about is that the left will have to outbid the right with even greater fear to win elections, instead of trying to use rationality.
Iraq is a good example. There's little point in harping on about the justifications provided to nail Saddam, but what the media campaign can be reduced to is a battle between reason and belief. Did you know Saddam had WMDs, or did you believe what you were told?
This type of cleave between left and right has to become increasingly important as the post-911 world develops.
In the context of the Australian election, I’m trying not to lose my objectivity when I state that deliberately generating fear in consumer-culture middle-class Australia took the place of explaining policies. Sure those who follow politics closely know what the Coalition’s agenda is on social policy, but I watched this election closely, and the Coalition was not selling their ideas to the public, only scaring them off Latham and Labor while simultaneously offering ‘incentives’.
The threat then is that the voters have effectively given a ‘mandate’ to Howard to enact some pretty nasty policy, but think that what they have chosen is a good economy. The case of the logging union that reacted to Latham’s bungled forestry plan is a good example. What are these guys going to do when the trees are milled for pulp and gone? Who will they come bitching to about their lack of employability? Already the Coalition is getting ready to bring in some sweeping industrial relations reforms. Bye bye union.
Again, short-sightedness and ‘belief’ wins out over rationality and thinking.