Archives For obama

Obama to the Right

January 12, 2009

Via Larvatus Prodeo an interesting piece from The Monthly Review placing Obama to the right in a world sense with this nifty graph.


Money quote:

“In other words, Barack Obama does represent change from the era of the Bush administration. He is the limited change that’s possible within the logic of the current system.”

More at the Monthly Review here.

The 2008 US Presidential election is getting unprecedented coverage in Australia. The Presidential debates were covered live here on major stations, and our television news, online news, radio and newspaper news is giving the elections serious coverage.

But how do the two sides compare in an Australian sense? Not everyone in Australia is following the news, and the depth of understanding in probably weaker again.

Traditionally Australian political parties have affiliations to American parties (often formal), for example the Liberal Party of Australia (our conservative party) has ties to the Republicans, the Labor Party to the Democrats. This split is reflected amongst newspaper columnists as well, for example Andrew Bolt is fiercely pro-Republican, anti-Democrat, but the divide has never made sense to me, because the policy divide isn’t anywhere similar to the Australian picture.

My wife recently told my mother to think of the two sides this way: The Democrats are the Liberal Party, and the Republicans Family First, because both are to the right in an Australian sense, but one is clearly more religious. It’s a generalization to be sure, but lets test it.

How Obama compares to the last Howard Government (and where applicable the Rudd Government)

I’m a former Howard Government staffer, as was my wife, so I’ve got some grounding in what the Liberal Party did in office. These points may generalize a little bit, but they are accurate without always referencing every fine detail.


Howard: supported universal healthcare through the Australian Medicare system. Offered tax incentives to those who took private cover

Obama: doesn’t favor state sanctioned universal healthcare, but is looking at a fallback option outside of the private system, an affordable health care pool

Result: Obama to the right of Howard

Defence (or Defense in US English)

Howard: troops in Iraq (and generally supported Bush), but most Australian troops in Afghanistan. Pro ANZUS

Obama: favors pulling out Iraq, increasing troops in Afghanistan. Pro Anzus

Rudd: favors pulling out Iraq, has kept troops Afghanistan. Pro Anzus

Result: Obama is to the left of Howard only on Iraq. May be more interventionist then Rudd

Industry policy

Howard: spent billions on propping up car industry, subsidising other industries. Reduced tariffs but didn’t remove them all.

Obama: talks about investing in industry, retooling car industry.

Result: about the same

Free Trade

Howard: started signing free trade agreements later into his term, previously more a unilateralist. Generally free trade, although conceded may conditions in various FTA’s.

Obama: wants conditional FTA’s. Regarded as anti-free trade, but hasn’t ruled them out

Result: hard. Obama wants different conditions in FTAs, but Howard regularly had conditions as well, so Howard wasn’t a pure free trader either. Obama slightly to the left, but not by a lot.

Farm policy

Howard: unprecedented socialist on farm policy, billions in subsidies.

Obama: not clear. Farm subsidies aren’t talked about much because generally both sides in the US support them.

Result: about the same.


Howard: cracked down on unemployment benefits, but didn’t abolish them. Number of disability pensioners ballooned. Australia still has a generous social welfare system

Obama: wants the state to look after people more, but hasn’t proposed Australian style system.

Result: Obama to the right.


Howard: soft on global warming, but backed clean coal and some alternative industries.

Obama: strong on global warming, talks about investing billions in green energy.

Rudd: talks strong on global warming, but hasn’t done much yet.

Result: the environment isn’t necessarily a left/ right divide anymore, but Obama to the left

Taxation policy

Howard: cut taxes at all levels while in power. Did offer tax cuts to middle class only at times. Didn’t offer relief in Fringe Benefits Tax but some Capital Gains Tax relief

Obama: will cut tax for middle class, increase for wealthy, but rates are still much lower then Australia

Result: actually about the same. Howard did target tax cuts for the middle class, and the wealthy still pay tax at higher rates.


Local/ State issue in both countries at some levels.

Howard: increased funding in education, talked about choice and standards. Tax help for early childhood education/ daycare.

Obama: wants to increase funding in education, supports “charter schools.” Wants to target early childhood education.

Result: about the same. Obama more to the right on some things, left on others.

Higher Education

Howard: supported HECS/ HELP, the system where University students don’t pay upfront, but pay back the Government when they earn, although increased fees significantly. Government still major backer of University system

Obama: wants to make College more affordable. Is not proposing a HECs style scheme from what I’ve read. College in the US primarily private or nonprofit run.

Result: Obama is a shift to the left from Bush, but is still way to the right compared to Howard.

Retirement/ pensions

Howard: free market superannuation where savings are invested with fund managers. However, increased the compulsory rate employers must contribute to super.

Obama: anti-free market 401ks, but isn’t proposing compulsory employer contributions from what I can read

Result: about the same. Howard increased taxes on employers and forced them to contribute more to retirement savings, yet was to the right on where the money should go.

On September 8 I wrote a post observing a noticeable difference in Australian politics of late: that voters were sick and tired of negative politics, are were looking for positives, and this showed in recent election results. I put the question to the American test, noting that Obama was running a far more positive campaign than McCain, asking “Have voters in Western democracies had enough of the politics of old?”

The ultimate judge of that will be the November US Presidential election, but along the way, something interesting is happening.

After watching the first US Presidential debate live (I still find it amazing that these are being showed live here…on more than one channel…although naturally I streamed it) I called the debate for McCain by a nose on the grounds that he, in my opinion, delivered key points more decisively, and that after the debate I could recall more of McCain’s key points than Obama’s. Obama spoke less in sound bites, and spoke in more depth about the issues, and he presented a more positive take on what he’d do, vs McCain’s preference towards negatives. I recall someone on FriendFeed saying that Obama came across like a Professor, and that Americans don’t vote for intellectuals.

Everything I’ve learnt from years in politics, both as a two (and a bit) times staffer, a one time campaign manager, and serving numerous other times on campaign committees, writing propaganda and the occasional speech, along with some reasonable experience in marketing (including a degree in the subject) told me that McCain won that debate.

I was wrong. Every poll showed that Obama won. It was a triumph of substance over style, of a positive message trumping a more negative one.

Today we had the VP debate. Anything other than Sarah Palin breaking down and blubbering Alaska Alaksa for an hour was going to be a positive for a candidate who a growing chorus of pundits on both sides of politics have labeled unfit for the role. She did good. In fact, in terms of establishing herself as not being completely clueless it was a good win.

Some are arguing that Palin won the debate. The right is arguing that she connected with voters, that her key messages struck home, and that her “folksy” appeal defined her as someone people could connect with, even if her grasp of the English language is at times lacking.

Biden on the other hand came over as solid, articulate, and perhaps at times too academic. His delivery of key points was at times great, but at other times he let the finer points get in the way, and some of his arguments were too academic for the audience. If Obama looked like a Professor, Biden looked like the 90 year old Dean of the University.

This debate I called for Biden. If it had been held 3 months ago, I would have called it the other way.

The polls, Fox aside, support the notion.

The electorate is changing.

At a time of economic crisis, and with wars on several fronts, the American people are looking past the politics of old, the politics of negative spin and sound bites, and want something more. It can be the only explanation for Obama and Biden winning both debates among swinging/ undecided voters in particular. Intelligence and a deep understanding of the issues are less of a crime in 2008.

There’s also the defeat of narrative + negativity over positives and intellect. Notice how McCain in the first debate referred to his experience in Vietnam, and how Palin said that only McCain knows how to fight and win. Being in a POW camp deserves respect, but it doesn’t give you a special ability to run the free world over your opponent. Notice Palin’s constant references to Alaska, and hockey moms, and her disabled child, having 5 children, running a small community etc etc…great narrative that may connect on some levels, but it’s no longer a vote winner over what you are capable of delivering and what your policies are.

Change starts from the ground up. If the polls continue, and Obama wins in a landslide (or something close to it), the people of the United States will join others in Australia and the United Kingdom in finally rejecting the negative politics that became the defining factor of all three in the late 90s and into the first decade of the 21st century. We’ll only know in November.

Brilliant Politics

September 25, 2008

So your poll numbers are tanking so badly that even FoxNews gives Obama a 9pt lead. Your strategy of hiding Caribou Barbie from the evil liberal press has backfired by taking her out of the spotlight, resulting in the positive buzz shifting away from her. You’ve got a serious case of foot in mouth, making one mistake after another. Things are looking grim, and as the economic crisis continues, Obama looks more the man, so what do you do?

You suspend your campaign, and you spin it as a being a statesman like decision for the good of the country, days out from the first debate. You then call on your opponent to do the same, shifting the spotlight back on him, and hope that if he refuses, you look like you’re putting your country before the election.

Brilliant politics.

The only question now though is will voters buy it? McCain had to try something, and this is a bold gambit. If it works the way they hope it’s going to work, Obama looks bad and McCain gets a boost.

However….people might see through the ploy in a campaign that has been thick with lies and deception. But then again, while some might see through it, it’s the swinging voters in battleground states that count. Only time will tell.