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Fidel Castro celebrated his 90th birthday a few days ago. During the public celebration of his milestone he sat in a specialised wheel chair between his brother Raul and Nicolas Maduro, president of Venezuela. He is physically frail but his mind is still sharp, as evidenced in a (rather self-serving) editorial he wrote in which he praised his revolution and denounced US president Obama and the thawing of relations between the US and Cuba (which his brother, now president of Cuba after Fidel’s abdication due to illness, helped engineer). As part of the month long celebrations of his birth, he is being gifted a 90 meter long cigar, a world record for “puros” of any type. Bill Clinton should be so lucky.
Yet, I felt sadness and some pity at watching Fidel in his autumn years. Like Garcia Marquez’s Colonel, he is a man of the past wrapped in memories of what could have been. A man who once was an icon of the Latin American Left, worthy successor to Jose Marti, comrade-in-arms of Che Guevara, patron of the Angolan and Mozambiquian revolutions, inspiration to insurrectionists world-wide, cunning adversary of the US for over five decades and arguably the best poker player the world after he bluffed the US into thinking that he would rather be incinerated rather than relent to US demands during the Cuban Missile Crisis (the USSR eventually agreed to withdraw its missiles from Cuba over Castro’s objections in exchange for a US withdrawal of surface to surface missile batteries in Turkey).
But rather than the imposing physical specimen that towered over so many of his emulators both in height and intellect and who attracted the attention of the rich, famous and powerful during his heyday, here sat a stooped, gaunt, hollow faced elder with visible hand tremors and a certifiable fool sitting on his left side. In fact, if Fidel represented the best hopes and aspirations of a previous generation of revolutionaries, Nicolas Maduro represents the terminal decline of the contemporary “Pink Tide” of elected neo-socialists that emerged during the 2000s and who, with few exceptions like the Frente Amplio governments of Uruguay, have been proven to be no less authoritarian, no less corrupt, and equally if not more incompetent than their capitalist predecessors. In some cases, these Pink Tide regimes were not so much socialist as they were kleptocratic, populist-corporatist or sold-out to the corporate interests they ostensibly opposed. And like Fidel, they have fallen on hard times.
Other than Maduro, no foreign leaders of note attended Fidel’s birthday party (even the Sandinista government of Nicaragua, a country in which many Cubans spilled blood in the overthrow of Somoza and defense of the Sandinista Revolution, did not send a high level delegation). The rich and powerful were absent. In a sense, Fidel’s decline mirrors the struggles of the Cuban Revolution after the USSR withdrew its economic support for it. More tellingly, it symbolises the squandered opportunity of the Pink Tide.
The emergence of elected Left regimes in Latin America during the 2000s was a moment of great hope for progressives in the hemisphere. It followed a wave of so-called neoliberal, market-friendly economic reforms undertaken by a variety of right and populist regimes such as those of Menem in Argentina and Fujimori in Peru during the previous decades. As the negative consequences of neoliberalism began to impact on basic social indicators such as income inequality and child poverty, and could no longer be hidden by creative accounting and statistical manipulation, a window of ideological opportunity opened for the Latin American Left. They were the earliest and fiercest critics of the so-called “Washington Consensus” behind the adoption of neo-liberal reforms. They were the academics, activists, organisers and politicians who marshalled protests, demonstrations and other forms of passive and active resistance to the implementation of market-driven edicts. They were the outlets through which the dislocating effects and social impact of the “more market” approaches were highlighted. And they had one more thing: structural opportunity in the form of a global commodities boom.
With the rise of China as an economic powerhouse in competition and/or concert with other established and new powers (e.g. the US, India), the late 1990s and early 2000s saw the demand for commodities–primary goods, raw materials and especially minerals, metals and fossil fuels–skyrocket. As prices soared on the back of increased demand previously unexploited regions became the subjects of concerted interest by Chinese and other investors. What already existed in terms of commodities–oil in Venezuela and Ecuador, natural gas and oil in Brazil, copper in Chile, even soy, maize and beef in Argentina and Uruguay–saw redoubled investment in extractive export industries. A boom time ensued.
At the turn of the century Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Uruguay and Venezuela elected or re-elected neo-socialist governments (El Salvador, Honduras, Paraguay and Peru did as well but their tenures were short-lived). Every one of these countries benefited from the commodities boom. The question was not so much how to generate public money surpluses but in what measure and how to make use of them. But, just like Soviet subsidies gave Fidel’s Cuba an unnatural sense of comfort and inflated standard of living, the commodities boom was a temporary boost rather than a long term panacea for the region’s problems, depending on what was done with the surpluses generated by the golden moment.
With the exceptions of Chile and Uruguay, pretty much everywhere else the preferred combination was public spending on popular projects mixed with epic corruption, graft and theft. To be sure, health, education, welfare and housing services improved in the early years of these regimes and social indicators improved relative to the neo-liberal baselines. Income redistribution downwards was accomplished via generous benefits packages provided to the lower classes. Public services such as transport, electricity and gas were heavily subsidised by the State. So were basic food staples. Public works schemes generated employment. But after a while the money provided for such projects began to run out as the demand for commodities stabilised and prices began to drop.
Worse yet, what most of these regimes did not do was invest constructively in long-term productive capacity and infrastructure. Instead, they threw money at popular short term projects and grandiose schemes such as building sports arenas and stadiums. They pushed increased export commodity dependency rather than diversification of the productive apparatus. In parallel, they siphoned off millions in public funds to friends, cronies and family of government officials, when not to themselves. The combination was one of immediate gain (for them and their supporters) at the expense of long-term sustainability, and now those chickens have come home to roost.
In places like Argentina under Cristina Fernandez de Kichner, corruption was elevated to an art form (in a country where it was already a highly developed practice). In places like Brazil and Ecuador corruption was an integral part of the public-private nexus in construction and fossil fuel exploration. But it is in Venezuela where the full depths of the decline are seen. Even before Hugo Chavez died, his “revolution” had turned into a feeding trough for the Boliviarian elites. Billions of dollars were provided to creating anti-imperialist alliances such as ALBA, the anti-capitalist trading bloc that was supposed to counter MERCOSUR and which never got off the ground. Billions in subsidised oil was sent to Cuba to prop up the Castro regime as a form of anti-US solidarity. After Chavez died, under Maduro, Venezuela has become an economic basket case where shortages of basic staples and power outages are the norm and where both government services and private industry have nearly ground to a halt (in a country with one of the world’s largest oil reserves). In Venezuela and elsewhere there was a conspicuous lack of foresight or public planning. Few sovereign wealth funds were created to save during times of plenty for the inevitable lean times that come with the boom and bust cycles of the commodities trade. Once the lean times came, the response of the neo-socialist Left was to blame anyone but themselves and to grab as much of the dwindling public reserves for their own benefit.
In some cases, the actions of disloyal oppositions and foreign powers hastened the authoritarian response and increased self-enrichment of Leftist leaders. This was very much true in Venezuela. In other cases the sheer weight of historical patterns of political patronage and private nepotism wore down the resolve of Left politicians to resist the temptation to do things “as usual.” That was and is the case of Brazil. In Chile the strength of the military-business network has impeded anything but incremental reform by the most determined Left governments. In some cases (Bolivia and Ecuador) long tenures in power slowly insulated Left governments from the masses and allowed for the development of cultures of impunity in which public officials were no longer responsive to the commonweal and instead focused on maintaining themselves in power. In virtually all cases, again with the exceptions of Chile and Uruguay, public officials treated national treasuries as individual and collective ATMs.
In some countries Left governments have been electorally replaced by Right ones (Argentina and Peru). In Brazil the Left PT government has crumbled under the weight of corruption scandals and succumbed to what amounted to a constitutional coup carried out by no less corrupt right-wingers. In several others such as Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela, the Left continues to rule, however sclerotically and increasingly autocratically. In Chile the Concertacion government of Michelle Bachelet that preceded and replaced the one-term Right government of Sebastian Pinera is more establishment-friendly centrist than anything else (because it has to be in order to keep the coup plotters at bay). Only in Uruguay has the Left, in the form of the Frente Amplio governments of Tabare Vazquez and Jose Mujica, been true to its socialist and democratic principles.
This is just an broad overview. The extent of mismanagement, incompetence, ineptitude and outright criminality undertaken by the neo-socialist Left when governing in Latin American during the last decade and a half has been astounding. The hard truth is that the Latin American Left had its golden windows of opportunity in the 2000s and with some notable exceptions squandered it all.
In a sense, that is a fate they share with Fidel. Had he passed from the scene in the 80s or even 90s he would still be revered in many progressive circles. But he has lingered too long, well after the contradictions and frailty of his revolution have been exposed. In fact, an entire generation of Cubans have been raised in the “special times” of austerity and deprivation that have marked the last 25 years of Communist rule in Cuba and which has forced his brother to open the national economy and seek rapprochement with the US. This has made that generation much less committed to revolutionary ideals and much more committed to materially improving themselves. As an old friend said to me upon returning from Cuba: “Ideology goes out the window when you are hungry.”
Worse yet, it now appears true that Fidel was less a committed revolutionary as he was a Cuban nationalist who used the context of the Cold War to bolster his rule and burnish his credentials as a committed internationalist. Mutatis mutandis, that is a trait shared by many neo-socialists of the Pink Tide: they were and are socialists more in name than in deed, and are more interested in enshrining their rule than in truly re-making their countries into viable socialist (or social democratic) societies in which political power is exercised by the people for the people. Revolutionary rhetoric is no substitute for revolutionary praxis and is a poor cover for political and economic mismanagement.
I say this with much regret. One never expects the Latin American Right (or pretty much any Right) to do anything other than enrich themselves and their cronies. But one certainly expects that self-professed socialists will behave differently, especially more fairly and less venally, when in power. Many people, myself included, wanted to believe in the promise of the Pink Tide just as we previously wanted to believe in the transformational impact of the Cuban Revolution. And yet, like the neo-liberals before them, the majority of Pink Tide neo-socialists have been exposed as charlatans, thieves and frauds.
On those grounds Fidel has one thing over them. He may not have accomplished all of the things that he promised that he would, and his “revolution” may have been much less than he promised and more dependent than he admits, but at least he has remained true to himself in his declining years. That cannot be said for the likes of the Boliviarians and their erstwhile regional comrades.
That is why I felt sadness when I watched his birthday celebrations. In the autumn of his life, el Comandante is condemned to the unique solitude that goes with being the last of his kind.
PS: Looks like I am not the only one who thinks that the Pink Tide failed to deliver on its promise (although this author puts a more positive and hopeful spin on things).
I did little this weekend except walk on the beach, watch the roller derby and surf the interwebs, where I found…
After bagging New Zealand’s political media last week about low budget reporting (specifically Stacey Kirk’s article about Labour/Greens being “neck and neck” with National in the latest polls) and previously for similar bland and mediocre work (in that case Tracy Watkins for reporting on Winston Peters) I was pleasantly surprised to see that both reporters had filed rather good pieces over the weekend (here and here).
Now my inflated ego would love to think that this was due to the persuasive words in my posts about their work stinging them to produce better but the reality is that they simply turned in good work, because they are professional journalists after all, and would not know me (or my rants online) from Adam.
So in that case praise where praise is due for both of them turning in sharp and interesting articles on the current situation in Labour (you would think Labour would try to build off their recent jump in poll results but noooooo).
And for those who might wonder if I am simply trolling Stuff for all my political reportage I link this piece from Gordon Campbell (previously from the most excellent Scoop but now on his own site, Werewolf) who I consider the gold standard to which I strive in my blogging but rarely achieve.
Campbell is always incisive and on point and his recent post on the China situation where he describes Todd McClay as “the sock puppet otherwise known as the New Zealand Minister of Trade” is a fabulous combination of scathing political commentary and actual grim truth (given how McClay took the bullet meant for Key on China’s dodgy behavior) as he relates the latest on and then compares the National Governments response to that of a PR firm fronting for China.
Finally I watched this rather excellent video of Jon Stewart talking with David Axelrod (yes that David Axelrod!) about the US elections and wondered, like many others, what great work he would have made from things this time given how he covered the last round of clown politics in 2012 (my all-time favorite being the Dope Diamond).
Have a good week.
So the US has agreed to send a ship to the RNZN 75th anniversary celebrations in November. That means that it has accepted New Zealand’s non-nuclear policy and will send a ship that is neither nuclear armed or propelled. It may have taken 33 years for it to finally loosen up on its “neither confirm or deny” policy when it comes to nukes on board, but the US realises that the geopolitical and strategic environment in which that policy was adopted is long gone and has been replaced by another in which continuing to adhere to it is a matter of hubris that is both churlish and counterproductive. Given the pressing realities of Chinese strategic competition in the Western Pacific and elsewhere, the US needs to consolidate its alliance commitments in the region. If acknowledging New Zealand’s non-nuclear stance is one way of doing so, than any loss of face is well worth it.
Pundits on the NZ Left and Right have claimed that NZ has “won” in its dispute with the US and that it is a great “victory” for the anti-nuclear movement that took to the waters of the Waitemata Harbour three decades ago. Quite frankly, I find the crowing about victory to be infantile because there were many other factors at play and decisions such as this are not a simple matter of win or lose. Moreover, with the Wellington and Washington agreements and RNZN participation in the annual US-led RIMPAC naval exercises, the bilateral military relationship between New Zealand and the US is pretty much back to first-tier partner status regardless of the symbolic stand-off about nukes. Add to that the fact that US nuclear submarines regularly patrol around (and some suggest in) NZ territorial waters, and the reality is that NZ’s non-nuclear status does not impede US naval operations near its shores regardless of what is said in public.
The issue of the US “relenting” is all about context. First off, the strategic environment has changed considerably. It is well known that US surface ships, with the exception of carriers, are all diesel power and as of 1991 have not carried tactical nuclear munitions. Even if resurgent, Russia no longer poses the global nuclear threat to the US that it once did, and although China has emerged as the giant’s rival in the last two decades, it still has limited capacity to project blue water force deep into the Pacific in a measure that would constitute a direct challenge to US maritime interests. However, the Chinese are working hard to address that imbalance, evident in their land reclamation projects in the South China Sea and their overtures to South Pacific island states with regard to naval port visits and fishing rights, something that the US views with concern and which in part motivates Vice President Biden’s whirlwind tour of the region this week. Likewise, the re-establishment of the Russian Pacific Fleet also signals that the era of US maritime supremacy is now subject to contestation, so the US well understands that it needs all of its military allies working off of the same page when it comes to these new challenges. Recognizing the RNZN on its anniversary is one small way of doing so.
More importantly, from the moment President Obama stepped into the Oval Office he made de-nuclearization a cornerstone of his foreign policy. The Iran nuclear deal, the increased sanctions levied on North Korea, the slowing of advanced weapons sales to Pakistan, the repeated attempts to engage in bilateral strategic ballistic missile reductions with Russia–all of these efforts were undertaken as part of Obama’s vision of a safer world. It is therefore completely logical given his commitment to a world without (or at least with lesser amounts of) nuclear weapons, that under his administration the US would relent on the issue of NZ’s non-nuclear policy. In fact, it can be argued that the Obama administration wants to highlight its agreement with the principled commitment to a non-nuclear stance by authorising a US ship visit on a ceremonial occasion with symbolic significance given that several other nuclear powers will be among the 30 odd nations sending naval vessels to the celebrations–including its new competitors.
I have publicly suggested that the US send the USS Mercy, a hospital ship home ported at Pearl Harbour. It would symbolise the humanitarian aspects of naval deployments that the RNZN claims as one of its core missions and would defuse the grounds for opposition of protesters who see US warships as imperialist death platforms. Surprisingly, this suggestion has been ridiculed by some (most on the Right) who say that a ship without guns is not “exciting” and is not a real naval vessel. Given that navies around the world have tenders, tankers, tugs, intelligence collection vessels and assorted other non-combat ships, it strikes me as strange that some people think that the US decision to send a navy ship is a victory for NZ and yet that victory must be confirmed with a warship visit as opposed to something with a non-combat purpose. Given that the NZDF spends much time publicising its non-combat, peacekeeping and humanitarian roles, I would have thought that a visit by a US naval vessel whose purpose was something other than kinetic operations would be perfectly suited for the occasion.
In the end the decision by the US to accept the invitation to send a ship to the RNZN anniversary celebrations was a triumph of good sense over bureaucratic intransigence within the US defense establishment, pushed as much by the president’s commitment to a nuclear weapons-free world as it is by the evolving strategic realities in the Western Pacific Rim that require the US to consolidate its military alliance commitments in the region. Some in NZ may think that it “won” and the US lost with its change of posture, but a simple glance at geopolitical realities suggests that it was not the NZ non-nuclear movement that forced the change so much as it is the influence of much broader factors in a context when haggling about nukes on board is about as relevant to modern naval warfare as is arguing about the relative merits of spinnakers and mainsails.
I had half of this in the works when the latest results came out so it was a simple case of plugging them into what I was already working on. Apologies for the wonky layout on the stats, I tried, I really did.
Is anyone else slightly amazed at the astounding 10% in Nationals polling from 43% to 53% in one month via Roy Morgan?
Personally I am calling BS on this one right now.
I admit that I might be slightly bias in my opinion of National (see my previous posts where I have referred to them as criminal scumbags et al) but I don’t think even my bias would blind me to the fact that in our current clime of political ineptitude (housing crisis, diary failure, immigration concerns, housing crisis, possible trade wars, water concerns, housing crisis and the repellent and nauseating image of either Clinton or Trump in the Whitehouse) the mood of the nation would suddenly shift 250,000 people to the political right in the space of one month!
And the idea that 10% of the electorate just suddenly jumping to the right seems even more dubious when you look at these numbers:
NAT 53% (+10%)
LAB 25% (-2.5%)
GRN 11.5% (-3.0%)
NZF 7.0% (-2.0%)
MAR 0.5% (1.5%)
UNF 0.0% (Nc)
ACT 1.0% (+0.5%)
MAN 0.5% (-0.5%)
CON 0.5% (-0.5%)
What stands out is not just the stupendous surge in popularity with National but the large losses to the Greens, Labour and New Zealand First. I could imagine that some NZ First voters might jump ship (being relative neighbors on the political spectrum) but -3% from the Greens?
But Roy Morgan is just one of the three main thermometers (the other two being Colmar Brunton (TV1) and Reid Research (TV3)) taking the rectal temperature of our nation (sorry Fairfax and Digipol you don’t count).
So let’s compare the polling figures for all three from the last month before quarter of a million kiwis decided that National is the way to go (thanks to Curia Market Research for their handy blog which provides and updated blog on all three).
Colmar(TV1) Roy Reid(TV3)
NAT 48% (-2%) 43% (-2.5) 47% (+0.3%)
LAB 29% (+1%) 28% (-1.5%) 31.3% (-1.0%)
GRN 12% (+2%) 14.5% (+2.5%) 11.1% (+0.9%)
NZF 9% (nc) 9.0% (+1%) 7.8% (+0.3%)
MAR 0.7% (-0.4%) 1.0% (+1%) 1% (-0.3%)
UNF 0.0% (nc) 0.0% (nc) 0.0 (nc)
ACT 0.3% (-0.4%) 0.5% (+0.5%) 0.4% (-0.4%)
MAN 0.0% (nc) 1% (+1%) 0.0% (nc)
CON 0.7% (+0.4%) 1.0 (+0.5%) 0.0% (-0.7%)
METHOD Rnd Phone Rnd Phone Rnd Phone
SAMPLE 1509/1245 868/820 1000
UNDECIDED 15% 5.5% Unknown
SUBSCRIBE Yes No Yes
MARGIN +/- 2.5% n/a +/- 1.9%
What one gets from last month’s polling is that while National was polling higher for the Colmar Brunton and Reid polls (%48 and 47% respectively) the Roy Morgan poll was down at 43% just 30 days ago the movement of National from previous months was down on two out of the three and the third (+0.3%) was well within the margin of error.
Further the average for National from all three polls was just 45%.
And Roy Morgan’s own data from previous months shows National in gentle decline from its previous high of 50% in April last year
This shows that National was either holding steady or declining under the ongoing pressure of current events and its own limp reactions.
David Farrer, who runs Curia, posts about this on KiwiBlog where he breaks the numbers down a bit more and concludes that while probably not a 10% jump the rise, is probably genuine.
Now I know better than to argue stats with anyone interested in stats, as being a stat freak myself (military stats rather than the more usual Kiwi field of sports stats), but they are only as good as their method of collection and the method of processing, and with all due respect to David (and his statistical probabilities of the data being correct), I am just not convinced that National has increased at all.
As David himself notes on Kiwiblog, it’s been a month of “relentless negativity” for the government after previous months of doom and gloom also. So where is the positive direction coming from? Where is the love for Key and his scaly minions hailing? It can’t be the media, the Reserve Bank or the general public.
And what statements or announcements from the Lizard King himself or any announced policy (Nationals weak willed attempt at dealing with the housing crisis?) could be driving this? Where is the momentum for 10% of those being polled to shift to National at the expense of all other parties?
Farrer again has his own take on this calling Roy Morgan a “yo-yo poll” which sounds like a polite way for statisticians to put each other’s work down.
But before we dive into that lets have a bit more of a look at political polling in Godzone.
Firstly two of the big three polls have to confirm to the New Zealand Political Polling Code by being members of the Research Association of New Zealand (RANZ). Guess which poll is not a member? Hint it’s not Colmar or Reid. This is probably because Roy Morgan is based in Australia.
The code is reasonably robust with prescriptions for conducting, reporting and publishing the data covering the sampling, the collection method, the weighting, the margin of error and results. It does have a few grey areas like excluding unlikely voters from the sample but in general is sound and if followed should lead to consistent and accurate results and transparent reporting.
Second have a look at the sample size, Morgans is by far the smallest at 820. Now I know that for polling you don’t need to poll all people to get a representative sample (usually above 1000 is considered acceptable) but I do know that polling at such small levels can magnify small shifts in the data (my own undergrad study in Pol Sci was relentlessly American in technique, which as anyone taught under that system knows is very heavy on data collection and analysis over theory or analysis).
Then there is the margin of error (MOE) and the undecided portion of the polling. Roy Morgan does not have a margin of error that I could find but did have a 5.5% rate of undecided voters. This is not as high as Colmar’s 15% for +/-2.5% margin from a sample of over 1500 people but in a poll of just over 860 people a nearly 50 person hole in the data is problematic to say the least. Also Reids data does not even include the number of people undecided so we only know that it was less than 1000 listed.
Now I’m not linking these two inextricably but in such polls the MOE and percentage of those undecided are key measures for how reliable your data is and not being bound by the Polling Code or having a MOE leaves me concerned at this result, yo-yo poll or not.
Of course Colmar’s 15% hole in the data and Reid’s undeclared undecided are also problems but at least there is a margin of error to give some guarantee and I will be surprised if their new data shows such shifts.
With all three polls there are deeper issues with the data, one of which is the method of polling (calls to households with landlines). Current data from Stats NZ has landlines in NZ at 85% which means that any house without a landline is automatically excluded.
The standard “wisdom” for this is that any household without a landline would be extremely low income and not likely to vote anyway. The issue is that I myself have a cell phone and an internet connection in my house but not a landline and many people I know don’t have one either being that mobile and internet can cover all the bases in modern life better than a landline can AND we are all politically active (ie we vote!). But that does not appear to register for the pollsters.
So the assumption that no landline equals no political participation is dubious at best and flawed at worst. I do acknowledge that the high rate of non participation in politics in NZ, which is reflected in only 76% of eligible voters voting in the last election, may have some correlation with economic well being and possibly not having a landline but as far as I know there is nothing to show exactly what those numbers are. Buts that’s an issue for another day.
So back to the question, where is National supposedly getting this 10% surge in votes from? Probably, as Farrer noted, there is likely some statistical error or readjustment (ie they were too low so the previous results were out of whack so this month’s result is more a readjustment than a surge in votes. That theory I can accept but I remain dubious of any increase in popularity for National at all given the current pressure they are under.
But apart from my grumbles about Key and Co there is a lot of other interesting data that can be taken from all three polls.
The first is that United Future is 0.0% across the board and with no change from previous polls. Add to this that Dunne currently holds less than a 2% majority in his one and only electorate and it’s not hard to imagine what’s going on in both Peter Dunne’s and the other parties minds as they consider the coming election and any electorates which might be up for Grabs.
Another is that the Maori Party, United Future and ACT are all one seat parties and all living well within the margin of error. Loose that seat and its goodbye baby. In the case of Act and the Maori Party both hold comfortable majorities (12% and over 20% respectively) but as noted above United Future is the straggling calf in the herd of political Wildebeest and the predators are circling.
Another interesting statistic is that if you add Mana and The Conservatives to the above three then five out of the nine parties in the poll are functioning non entities politically (ie no real representation in NZ). All live within the margin of error and all are political equivalent of the living dead if not actually dead (Mana and the Conservatives). The fact that all these zombie political parties, barring Mana, are or would assemble under the banner of National cements John Keys status as the Necromancer king of New Zealand politics.
But the most telling statistics of them all is that no matter how much National is up or down in the polls no combination of Labour and the Greens has enough to beat National at this time. They come close, ironically, in the Roy Morgan poll of last month, but nowhere can they actually get enough in the numbers to beat any poll result national has.
And if you’re thinking like I am thinking then you already know what those results are really saying, which has been said before by myself and many others, which is that the balance of power in all of this remains the MP for Northland, Winston Peters!
But with the current Roy Morgan results not even Winston can help the Greens and Labour but as I have been saying I do not believe the results to be that high and such polling always gets closer come election time as minds are made up and campaigning has an effect.
And why did Labour go down in the polls after announcing its own policy on housing which is streets ahead of Nationals own tepid response? There had been cautious indicators that the Labour/Greens MOU had helped build both brands and raise both in the polls but the current stats would have us believe that both have suffered for it and for actually proposing a solution to the housing circus.
So what has happened here? Did National pay someone at Roy Morgan to fudge the results? I would not put it past them but let’s assume no for the moment.
But the message, if echoed by the other two polls results (soon to be out), could have a chilling effect on any momentum the two parties have been building up the last months as they keep the pressure on the government through an ongoing barrage of criticism AND alternate solutions.
Political polling is the barometer of modern politics with its desperate reliance on unstable voter bases and shiftless ideologies. But as I use the barometer in my kitchen to give me an idea of the what the next 24 hours weather will be I also take those results with a grain of salt as the local and immediate reality can and does differ.
Most of the time we take political polls as gospel and never question their results, they are the life giving air that inflates or deflates party fortunes in western democracies far more than anywhere else in the world but they are, at the end of the day, just statistics and while a useful tool and just measure of past performance are not, in the quantum storm that is politics, always a good indicator of things to come.
I remain dubious of the 10% jump in preference as well as National having any uptake in the current round of political polling but I will have to respect the data if they all come in with the same conclusion. The question I would then ask is why? This is something that the stats and statistical data can never really answer.
Posted on 12:55, July 5th, 2016 by E.A.
I’m a gambling man so I will happily take odds on this one. All bets payable next Monday morning.
I see that Andrew Little has announced Labour’s new policy on fixing the housing crisis but will drop the actual details on the weekend (link here).
Somehow I don’t think the fact that he announced it days after National wheeled out its own policy for solving the housing crisis was a coincidence.
For Little this is a big opportunity, National have dropped the ball in regards to housing time and again and, as many have said, “mucked around the edges” rather than do anything concrete to fix a situation that shows no sign of fixing itself.
If Labours new policy has some genuine fixes to the situation and is not just another policy gimmick then expect this to be a game changer in the coming election because if you don’t think housing will be an issue in voters’ minds in 2017 then you might as well click off this page, shut the computer down and take a walk round your ultra-palatial, multimillion dollar, property because you are probably the only person in New Zealand that thinks so.
Housing has been a running theme for several years now but the magnitude of the problem is no longer able to be ignored or swept under the rug. If normally hands off National has been forced to wheel out some sort of “policy response” to address the growing concern then you know it’s a growing issue.
As Chris Trotter noted in today’s paper, National has nothing less than the removal of the state from the housing market in NZ as its stated goal and anything they do is not going to change that. Its new policy sounds less like a fix, as other commentators have already pointed out, and more like a desperate illusion of a government out of ideas and unwilling to upset its backers who profit from the current housing crisis.
And John Key knows this as his warning to party faithful at the recent party conference in Christchurch last weekend (just down the road from my house) was all about not being complacent and expecting to breeze into a fourth term.
Perhaps it was also an understanding that Brand Key has lost some of its gloss and simply relying on a series of public relations spin and plastering his face on billboards won’t fix things (unless someone is going to build houses out of those billboards).
So National has played its cards on the housing crisis and Andrew Little and Labour (scrappy rebels that they are) have seen an opening and decided to take it by announcing their own solution to the housing crisis.
This is the “stealing the narrative oxygen” strategy I noted a few weeks back and the potential to make big political capital off this is not to be sneezed at.
But as always the proof is in the pudding and we will have to wait until the weekend to find out.
The media has already done some speculation on what’s coming up (by linking it to Labours Kiwibuild policy) and Little himself has hinted some more by noting that whatever else the policy will do it will get houses prices to “a figure that’s affordable”.
But what is “affordable”? Is it around $500,000 as Little seems to think? And if we take his anti-speculator comments as real then these questions become even more pertinent as where is the line between owning a house and speculation? Is it when you own more than one house? Is it when the average property is around $500,000 (as opposed to the $1,000,000 it is now for a house in Auckland)? Where does it lie?
What policy prescriptions will be given that will do anything to stop a bubble housing market from getting bigger, or worse reducing the damage from when the bubble bursts? The answer to this looming bubble of doom and gloom is likely to be, say it with me, STATE INTERVENTION, as leaving the market to continue on as it has been will clearly do nothing and there is no alternate other than state intervention to address a clear market imbalance (if readers have any other suggestions please feel free to add them in the comments).
Don’t think Labour won’t go down this road? Afraid that the Labour of the past three decades will rear its ugly head and roll over for the market? Well you may be right but in the climate of New Zealand’s housing crisis as well as the international mood of growing dissatisfaction with the Status quo means Little and Labour would be mad to not a) propose a vote winning solution to New Zealand number one issue; and b) tap into the growing dissent around the same old same olds of politics in Aotearoa.
The alternates are not pretty, especially now that Labour in the UK has effectively decided that outright public squabbling is the way to go and the recent results at the ballot box in Oz show that voters can’t make up their minds either.
And Andrew Little will have been watching his counterparts in the UK and OZ and doing the math in his head. He knows, as do many many others, that his position is only as secure as the support he has in cabinet, public perception of him and the ability of the Party to counter the current government in policy prescription.
So wheeling out more of the same is not likely to gain support of the public or the party and this is not a crisis that will just go away especially when the Reserve Bank, fronted by Graeme Wheeler is warning of a “sharp correction” in the housing market.
So in my mind the die has been cast, Little and Labour are going to announce a new housing policy which will be in effect ‘State Houses part II’. It makes sense and it would address the problem. It also is a clear distinction with National which is going to be key to winning the next election.
The opportunity here is prime and for a limited time only. The effect on the situation if Labour announced a sure and dedicated expansion in affordable public housing would be immense and tap into so many strands of concern that exists today (increasing homelessness, price speculation, the housing shortage etc).
If Labour don’t have anything which is a real solution AND catches the public’s imagination then expect a long and painful 16 months until the next election. We have the next five days to speculate. Go!
Still cant finish writing about Peter Dunne, thankfully we live in interesting times.
So the UK is leaving the EU. I can’t say I was surprised with the outcome but I have been with the post vote situation.
Either way it was a doom and gloom scenario for some people. If the vote was Leave then the UK sinks beneath the waves in an orgy of chaos and anarchy. If it was Stay then the UK is flooded with refugees and all semblance of English culture is washed away.
What has been interesting is that, much like the US and other democracies around the world, the established political order is being split along lines which have little to do with the prevailing political orthodoxy and more to do with the economic realities of their respective countries.
But it was the post vote grumbling that first got my attention as it appears that many of those who did not (and in some cases did) vote in the referendum have now decided that they don’t like the outcome and want another referendum so they can vote (a petition has been circulating) or demanding a weighting system for voters based on their age (so that the younger voters get more weight to any vote over the older). Both of these are the political equivalents of science fiction.
While democracy is a complex and often flawed beast it works the best at expressing the will of the people and usually only needs a majority to get a decision or change enacted and in the UK it appears that the older voters got out more than the young in an referendum with approximately 75% of the able population casting a vote. So while a close result (51% to 49%) there is not likely to be any going back because imagine the precedent such an action would set.
Don’t like the first outcome of an election or referendum? Have another and keep on until you get the outcome you desire (if such a thing is possible) while allowing the rest of the population to get the outcome they want. No, not going to happen! No government (much less a democratic one) in its right mind is going to let such a plant take root and flower as the fruits are surely chaos and civil war.
Meanwhile David Cameron has decided to step down after staking his reputation on the country remaining in the EU, which seems like a good outcome for those which don’t like Cameron and what he represents but few have seemed to consider who, or what, will fill his shoes and already the talk has turned to things like snap elections and “reaffirming the mandate”.
Possibly it will be Boris Johnson, ex-mayor of London and Tory MP who at least appears to have a sense of humor if his quotes are to be believed* but appears to be too controversial a figure to the more conservative members of the party to get the top job, but in these volatile times strange things can happen.
And in “possibly related” circumstances Jeremy Corbyn is facing down mass insurrection in his shadow cabinet over his failure to mobilize the populace to vote no to leaving with 35 MPs walking and Labours London youth wing spitting the dummy.
It’s been interesting to watch the degrees of reporting in the various totally not partisan English media about this but for me Corbyn has had the last word, at least for now, by tweeting that he was “elected as the Labour Party’s leader to redistribute wealth and power” as he retains the support of the actual party and the unions and that should be enough (for now).
Which makes sense if the argument that the voting in the brexit was along financial (and class) lines with those who were doing well and living in London arguing to stay while those who were not so well off and/or not living in London voting to leave (including a fair selection of recent immigrants to the UK if reports are to be believed).
It seems that Labour UK has finally reached the point where the contradictions inherent in the party have brought the situation to the point of crisis. It had been simmering away for some time since Corbyns rise to become party leader but perhaps the Champagne socialists in party needed an excuse to revolt and this looks to be it.
And between pondering what (or how many) knives Corbyn will soon be picking out of his back or what shambling horror will replace Cameron my thoughts briefly turned to Andrew Little and John Key here in safe, clean and neat New Zealand and how their situations would turn out if there was a vote for NZ to amalgamate with OZ or the South Island to split from the North (say goodbye to hydro power north island!).
But the most mind blowing of the things to come out of this post vote dust storm is the fact that Nigel Farage and UKIP have in effect backed away from
Farage played rather loose on TV by claiming that it was not him but “the party” which had made this decision and I was left wondering if the two halves of his brain were actually connected as rarely has a politician so blatantly, rapidly and publicly reneged on a campaign promise (and survived!).
So it would be probably fair to say that the UK is in a little bit of turmoil at the moment
*- “My chances of being PM are about as good as the chances of finding Elvis on Mars, or my being reincarnated as an olive.”
“The dreadful truth is that when people come to see their MP they have run out of better ideas.”
This one bubbled up after a three week run of in depth work. I blame my subconscious.
One of the fun parts of being at university was attending lectures for subjects I was not actually enrolled in. One of these was economics. I was doing Political Economics in POLS but the un-enrolled course I was sitting in on was hard core, perfectly pure, Chicago School dogma being drummed into eager young acolytes all ready to get out there and be part of the machine.
It was interesting stuff and while I soon found it to 20% sound theory and 80% minute social mechanics and psychology BS packaged as truth but I continued to attend lectures for the rest of the year, sitting up the back, smugly standing out by my dress, hair length and general demeanour as not one of the true believers.
They knew I was an infiltrator because they didn’t see me at tutorials and I was not of the general mold of Economics students but since I could hold a conversation on general concepts, was up with market play and kept turning up no one ratted me out, to which I was thankful.
And one of the interesting things I learnt attending that course was the concept of externalities, which in general is when a business excludes a particular costs from a product or process from its cost calculations.
For example a factory using chemicals in its production process will not factor in the cost of the toxic waste it produces, that is dumped into the water, sky or environment, if it does not have to, thereby making the product cheaper and generating more profit for the business.
But the concept does not stop there and I remember being fascinated as the lecturer expounded further on whether the decision to exclude was deliberate or due to incomplete information and if it was deliberate how such deliberations played out in the cost/benefit calculations.
It was, as he calmly noted (like a Mongol warlord ordering a pile of heads to be built form the population of a conquered city), not something that any aspect of morality should have influence on and at the end of the day the decision was to be deliberately amoral, made on pure cost calculation alone (in the Mongol case a simple calculation that fear would weaken the enemy and make victory come easier). And when he presented within the frame work of the economic theory (which at the end of the day boils down to “how to make the most profit”) it made perfect sense.
Such theories are clear, clean and crystalline in their perfection and inside their own particular paradigm make perfect sense, all the part fit together and the machine functions smoothly (my favorite example of such a theory at the time was John Rawls Theory of Justice but I have mellowed in my age).
Of course unexpected or unwanted things do occur and no functional theory can simply exclude them if it wants to pass peer review but often the mechanism to enable this is to simply treat the rouge data as a black box effect (ie X goes in, we don’t know what goes on in there, and Y comes out) or to set it up as having minimal impact (an externality) and the results of such styles of thinking is to either run very quickly into dogma (as economics has done) when confronted with a more holistic situation than its mechanistic process can handle or fall before the new and more complete picture.
And the process goes something like this: Ignore, ridicule then accept but acceptance only occurs after the current adherents of a theory pass on or give up or when the truth is so absolute that it cannot be denied.
Of course logic itself can easily become as much of a dogma as any crack-pot theory or religion (I always laugh when I go to people’s houses and they have the oh so trendy “Thou shall not commit logical fallacies” wall chart in their toilet) and the purpose of this post is not to wade of into the realm of abstract philosophical concepts but to look at the idea (such as externalities) and examples of such in real life (something all good philosophies should be doing).
And it’s here where we start to swing this post back towards the title of this blog, Kiwi (ie New Zealand) politics. But before people turn off thinking I am on another one of my rogernomics rants I beg a moment to show that I am not and am in fact looking at something far more relevant and current, poverty in New Zealand.
There is a reason why social safety nets exist. There is a reason why NZ built state housing in the 30s. There is a reason why states have laws to regulate economic and other activities and those reasons are, while possibly not absolute, due to a clear and obvious acceptance of most if not all related costs (to the state as well as groups and individuals), or to put it in other terms, refusal to allow externalities.
Now before someone accuses me of Keynesian leanings, that’s John Maynard Keynes not John Moneymarket Key for those not in the know, it’s worth pointing out that I am not advocating any solution which is can be simply boiled down to “make the state pay for it” any more than our PM is advocating “let the market take care of it” (although that is what he is doing).
Oh no it’s not that simple, but then again holistic theories never are. Reality is, often a messy beast that will not only track dirt into the house but also trail dirty paw/foot prints all over the rug, hide a nasty little surprise behind (or under the couch) and generally make you wish you never owned/spawned a cat/dog/children.
But back to poverty in NZ; right now, without going too far into media histrionics, the questions are: Do we have poverty in NZ, is it widespread, is it growing and (most importantly) what can we do about it?
Currently we have media reports of families sleeping in cars and garages, the government (mostly though ultra-hypocrite Paula Bennett, a previous receiver of state support and funding for education and living but also our beloved PM doing his best to put his “thinking serious face” on when confronted by the media) suggesting they live in motels or just go online and fill in some forms, beggars on the streets of the major cities and state housing stock (and the attendant social capital that it creates) being sold off to let the market take care of things but are these things sufficient to say we have a poverty problem in NZ?
For me the answer/bellwether of the answer to this question was not the media (because they rarely drive events or discussion they just respond to them) or looking out my window (I live in a resolutely blue collar neighborhood) but to the tone of those who support the current government and that tone is starting to change.
A good spike in the data to me was when erstwhile columnist now turned committed blatherer, Jane Bowron, used one of her columns to criticize John Key and the current government and it was poverty in NZ which was the switch she used to cut some strips on our kava swilling PMs backside (I’m hoping Pablo will be wading into the PMs Fiji Visit).
Now Mz Bowron may be a dyed in the wool Green voter in private for all I know but her column is resolutely mainstream and a rather noxious mix of folksy reminiscences, cut rate platitudes and dull day to day observations which are nothing if not well in touch with the main herd and its group consensus but also safely espousing/reinforcing the herds view.
And when one of the herd starts up on topics of such nature and unloads a double barrel of criticism on the current government you know a line has been crossed.
And it’s not just her, the fact that the mainstream media has finally picked up on what is not exactly a new problem (those families sleeping in cars were out where they were a long time before the TV news crews came a calling) and there seem to be subtle changes in the ongoing narrative around the poor, the unemployed and the homeless is enough to trigger a consciousness shift*.
John Key, National, Labour and much of the electorate have treated these issues as externalities for a long long time while not realising the grim flipside to dismantling the welfare state and its only now as that beloved kiwi dream, that of the quarter acre pavalova paradise, is now slipping out of reach of more than just a few poor buggers at the bottom that its beginning to register.
It’s not that home ownership is the main issue, because it’s not, but it’s that home ownership is a core plank in any welfare reform program from all budding peasant revolutionaries’ promises of land for the people to the sub-prime crisis in the US. Its integral to any welfare program and sits low down on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
So when you have families living in cars, government departments housing homeless in motels (at a cost they have to pay back) increasing people on the streets AND general house and living costs racing out of reach of average pay packets and entering the realm of market speculation AND middle ground opinion starting to show a growing intolerance with the situation you have a slow but gradual rejection of political, social and economic externalities of poverty in NZ (and the attendant economic and political theories) and the beginning of a more holistic, more realistic view of NZ (complete with acknowledging the value of the market but also the worth of the people that actually compose it).
But if it’s not to plainly spelt out enough at this time let me take it one step further.
Somewhere in the 19th century when Europe created the model of the welfare state and began to address the problems of the growing underclass (and all its associated problems) that capitalism (then in its unadulterated rapacious stage) was creating the choices were clear: take steps to address the problems created by unleashing mercantile greed and labour saving technology on a feudal and mostly rural population or face the consequences and after the 1840s and several socialist near misses the consequences would be more likely to be a return to the savagery of the French revolution (then still a recent memory for many) than anything else.
More than now their eyes were open and ignoring the externalities was not an option. Funny how having a good proportion of the ruling class executed in front of a blood thirsty mob can bring about clarity (sometimes if only for a split second before the blade drops) in those that survive.
And today the focus of the battle is between the ideology of externalities (economics) and the grim meat hook realities waiting if we continue to ignore what we know is happening (a forceful and deliberate realignment of our social and economic priorities or at minimum a bloody attempt to do so buy those most affected by the purposeful and deliberate decline in our nation’s social and living standards by a cabal of ideologically lead criminals that we call politicians and their patrons).
Does that mean we will have revolution in NZ? Maybe, maybe not. The Kiwi psyche seems ill adjusted to sing the hymns of Viva Revolution or Liberty, Fraternity and Equality! But it does seem well suited for the kind of passive aggressive resistance common of general populations living in totalitarian regimes. None the less I would find it hard to see any real loss if such a thing did occur and a selection of MPs, lawyers and accountants were put up against the well in order to ensure that the rest toe the line.
It’s the reason democracies have elections (ritualized revolutions) rather than actual revolutions complete with real bloodshed and the ruling class being executed or imprisoned. Perhaps that’s why John Key is currently hobnobbing with the “duly elected” PM of Fiji; he is getting some advice on how to stave off an uprising.
And while some families living in cars seems like a far cry from and all-star cast singing and dancing their way through the French revolution it’s the fact that the traditional supporters of externalizing the costs of turning NZ into a free market bastion are starting to grumble that makes me wonder as one of the key tenents of counter revolutionary theory is that if you leave it until there are armed bands roaming the hills your chances of fixing it are almost nil.
It has to be caught before it gets to that point, when there are no obvious, flaming symbols of resistance and it often relies on more subtle readings of the situation than any crystalline theory can predict or is willing to acknowledge. And while it may not be the poor and miserable doing the leading, it will sure as be some motivated individual who is willing to say what the mob wants to hear that will be at the front.
In the US, the right has fallen prey to demagoguery while the left seeks to suppress through modulated pacification and assimilation of key themes while keeping the status quo in place.
In NZ the climate for 2017 is ripe for messages and possibly actions. At first it was dildos and mud but for how long?
*- The fact that Chris Trotter has been going on about this for ages is beside the point as he is an identified dyed in the wool socialist and the medias resident dispenser of left opinion.
Things are getting interesting on the Democratic side of the US presidential primaries. Although Hillary Clinton is on pace to win the nomination, Bernie Sanders continues to dog her steps with wins that keep him, if not within striking distance of securing the nomination himself, close enough in delegate count and popular support to narrow the gap between them to the point that she cannot claim a decisive mandate as the nominee. That is important because if the trend continues, and especially if he can stay close or win in California in early June, he can arrive at the convention armed with demands that will have to be met if he is to throw his support behind her in the general election. There is already talk of him running as an independent (which is what he was until he entered the Democratic primary). That would prove disastrous for the Clinton campaign and could turn the presidential race into a mirror image of two divided major parties having candidates from within their ranks running as spoilers against their convention nominees.
Let us be very clear on one thing: Bernie is right when he says that the Democratic nomination process is stacked against him. Between interest group super delegates whose loyalty is pledged to Clinton regardless of primary results to the closed primary process itself, there has been concerted effort by Democratic party bosses to keep his numbers down by denying independents the right to vote and counter-balancing the popular vote with super delegate selections. He has, quite frankly, been cheated on more than one occasion and that does not even take into account the more underhanded tactics used against him by the Democratic National Committee.
This spilled over recently in the Nevada Democratic convention, where a pro-Clinton state party chairperson overruled Sanders supporter’s motions and sat Clinton delegates rather than those pledged to Bernie. The convention descended into chaos and the chairperson, a woman, was inundated with vicious misogynistic physical threats mainly from the so-called “Bernie Bros,” presumably angry young men. Although Sanders issued a one line sentence condemning violence in a three paragraph statement about that convention, the bulk of it was dedicated to highlighting the underhanded moves made by the chairperson and her minions. He followed that with a victory speech after the Oregon primary (which he won handily) in which he remained defiant, belligerent and determined to take his campaign to the convention. He does not appear to be in the mood for reconciliation with Ms. Clinton.
Needless to say, Democratic Party leaders, Clinton supporters and many liberals are freaking out over this. They see Sanders as a sore loser given that he knew what he was getting into when he joined the party last year in order to run for the nomination. They see his candidacy as interfering with the streamlined selection process that was supposed to result in a unified consensus backing Clinton. More importantly, they see his intransigence and talk of a third party run as handing the keys to the Oval Office to Donald Trump, especially given that some Republican Party luminaries are lining up behind the Orange Crush as a matter of partisan duty regardless of what the consequences may be should he become president. In fact, however reluctantly, the Clinton haters within the GOP and their media surrogates appear to be coalescing behind Trump at the same time that the fractures within the Democratic Party are getting more pronounced. No wonder Democrats are freaking.
I am less concerned than my liberal US friends about this because I think that Sanders is playing his cards correctly. The reason is because I think that what he is playing is a variant of the “moderate-militant” strategy. A moderate-militant strategy is one where a militant objective is announced as a first negotiating point and pursued until an opposing actor makes moderate concessions to the militant. Rather than the militant goals, the real intent is to secure moderate gains. The militant starting point is just a negotiating ploy designed to force the opposing side to move towards it in the hope of securing an agreement.
In the Sanders version, the strategy is to run his campaign on “socialist” principles all the way to the convention. By playing hardball and not wavering before it, he forces the Clinton camp to accept the fact that without him they cannot win and with his supporters opposed they will certainly lose the general election. If Sanders arrives at the convention armed with a strong contingent of delegates in spite of all the manoeuvres against him, he can threaten to tell his supporters to either not vote or cast their ballots against her in the general election. In that case it is very likely that Clinton will concede on important issues and incorporate them into her policy platform before she is declared the nominee. This decision will be made easier by the GOP partisan consolidation around Trump, which brings closer to reality the heretofore unimaginable prospect of his presidency. Given her own negatives, she can no longer rely on loathing of Trump as a guarantee of a defensive vote turnout against him. She needs Bernie more than he needs her, and his playing tough all the way to the convention is a way of underscoring that point.
The worst thing that Sanders can do is concede or pull out of the race before the convention. Were he to do so he would lose any bargaining position he might have had at the convention because for the militant-moderate strategy to work it must be held steadfast until the other side makes a conciliatory move. Given their differences, including opposing views on whether to embrace corporate reform and accept special interest political financing among many other things (such as the US position on Israel-Palestine), it would be a waste of all the time, resources and effort he and his supporters have put into his campaign to abandon it before they have a chance to make their case at the common gathering. Instead, the best bet for his voice being heard strongly at the convention is to press on all the way to it, and then some.
Under no circumstances should Sanders accept Clinton’s assurances on key policy issues in return for his quitting the race and throwing his support to her. I would not trust the DNC and Clinton camp as far as I could throw them. Instead, he must make a condition of his support that the party write in the concessions to his policy demands into the presidential campaign platform adopted at the convention. It may not make for an airtight guarantee once she is elected but it will be much better than relying on her good faith that what was promised will be delivered come January 2017.
If the Clinton camp is smart they will realise that Sanders has brought something new into the party, which given the polarisation of the country and who they are running against, can be a key to their success in November. They must understand how he is playing the game and why he is doing so. They must understand that offering him a position in a Clinton administration is not what he is after and would not suffice to mollify his supporters in any event. They must study their positions in advance and see where they can concede readily and where negotiations on substantive issues will be harder. But what they must understand most is that the chances of a Clinton victory in November rest as much on gaining his support as they do on her own qualifications and experience.
If that is understood, the remaining primaries can be contested vigorously (if not honestly) with a mind towards clearly demonstrating the policy-based platforms of the Democratic candidates versus the empty rhetoric, simple-minded prescriptions and opportunistic bombast coming from the other side. Once that is done, the convention can become not only an arena of contestation between contending ideas about how to take the country forward, but also an opportunity to exchange concessions in order to present a unified front to the voting public. Therein lies the recipe for success in November.
One proven strategy for campaigns that have little substantive by the way of policy to offer and which are trailing in the polls is to drop any pretence of having a grounded policy platform and instead turn to populist demagoguery while casting slings and arrows at opponents. The most common is the “sky is falling” approach, whereby the social and political backdrop to the campaign is cast as one of doom and gloom, with armageddon-like results if the opposition wins. Those undertaking this strategy depict the struggle as a fight between good and evil, as a last chance to roll back the hounds of hell bent on devouring what is left of the good ole days and the traditional way of doing things. The key to the strategy is to divert public attention from core policy issues and towards incidental yet highly emotive areas of social exchange where purchase can be made of difference, uncertainty and fear.
In the current US election campaign, that is precisely what the GOP candidates, Donald Trump in particular, have been doing. They frame the contest as if the US was staring at the abyss as a result of the Obama administration, with Hillary Clinton as the lead horsewoman of the apocalypse. This is designed to tap into American’s deep sense of insecurity and pessimism even if the reality of the US condition suggests that many of these concerns–which are held mostly but not exclusively by conservatives–are both exaggerated and unfounded.
The GOP version of the sky is falling approach has twist in that it invokes so-called “culture wars.” The notion that the US is in the midst of “culture wars” started out as an anti-political correctness theme among conservative politicians and media commentators. It has now morphed into an all-encompassing attack on so-called progressive and “secular humanist” socio-economic reform and social changes that may or may not have been pushed by political actors. It is resurrected by the media and political Right every election year. For example, conservatives today rail against the outsourcing of US jobs done supposedly in order to curry favour with foreign trading partners even though in the past they have no issue with the dynamics of globalized production. And yet it is has been advances in robotic technologies rather than politicians that have displaced blue collar shop floor jobs in the US, and the US is not the only place where this has happened. For this crowd abortion is not an individual choice but state-sanctioned murder, and scientific research that uses fetal tissue is part of a vast death machine targeted mainly at (potential) white christians. The so-called “War on Christmas” is really an attack on Christianity and the Judeo-Christian foundations of the Republic. In this appeal, the siren call is that it is time to make a stand and confront the usurpers of the traditional faith, however illusory they may be.
The same folk have reacted viscerally to the Black Lives Matter movement, reviving some unhappy ghosts of the past in doing so, by seeing it as a group of self-entitled freeloaders, enablers, opportunists (yes, Al Sharpton is there), plus assorted and occasionally organised thugs who seek to divert responsibility from their collective lack of values as well as the actions of people of colour who have brought lethal police attention upon themselves (in spite of the compelling evidence of epidemic-level police shootings of unarmed black men). They see in Muslims an insidious fifth column bent on imposing Sharia law and usurping the American dream from within. They consider gay marriage as an assault on the sanctity of straight marriage (in a country with a divorce rate of over 50 percent of straight marriages) and the incorporation of openly gay members in the military as a sign of its deliberate weakening. They see universal health care as the imposition of “socialism” and yet another assault on individual freedom of choice. The see attempts at tighter gun control as the antecedent to federal imposition of martial law. The see feminism as the beginning of the end for the traditional family. They take refuge in xenophobia and bigotry as bulwarks against “progressivism” and the inevitable national decline that they believe that it entails.
And, to put it mildly, many of these people see the current US president as representative of all of these maladies. His upcoming trip to Hiroshima encapsulates the view: despite the White House issuing a public statement saying that the president will not apologise for the nuclear attack on the city and will lay a wreath to pay his respects for the innocent civilian dead, conservatives are using this as further evidence of his plan to destroy America while invoking Pearl Harbour as a reason his apology is treasonous (ignoring the fact that senior Japanese government officials have laid wreaths at the Pearl Harbor memorial in the past).
These commentators see progressive brainwashing everywhere, from the “liberal” (yet somehow corporate) media to every level of the educational system. They see indolence and disrespect amongst their youth and expressions of non-Caucasian ethnic pride as the divisive product of political correctness. They basically see the US going to hell in a hand basket.
The entire premise of the sky is falling/cultural wars strategy is defensive. It is designed to prey on people’s fears of losing what they have and their insecurities about keeping or improving on what they have in an uncertain future marked by rapid demographic and social change in an age of global flux. It makes a dark possibility seem like an imminent reality. It is a push-back reaction rather than a forward-looking progression. It plays, ultimately, on ignorance, and in the US there is plenty of ignorance to go around.
The resort to such a strategy would be laughable except for one thing: it works. It diverts people’s attention away from difficult matters of national policy and on to things that have deeply personal resonance and which touch on primitive instincts and desires. Its appeal is unthinking and visceral rather than cerebral and critical. The more raw and emotional the appeal, the more likely the target audience will react spasmodically to it. In doing so, those who invoke that response are able to counter the policy prescriptions of their opponents without really engaging with them.
That is why I am puzzled by the Obama’s decision to push legal action to facilitate transgender use of toilet facilities based on self-identity, not physical traits. Actually, it is not the legal recognition of transgender rights that bothers me but the timing of the push for them. Why could this not have waited until the next presidential term, especially since Hillary looks to win and even Trump is not opposed to the move? Or is that why the initiative is being made now, as it can be seen as further dividing the GOP base from its presumptive presidential candidate?
If so, I think that it is an unnecessary and counterproductive ploy. By pushing for transgender rights at the particular time the White House has thrown a lifeline to the troglodyte Right, who in turn can pressure the GOP elite and Trump to wage war on such a cultural abomination. Already we hear the clamour about perverts lurking in little girl’s toilets, and The Donald’s penchant for flip flopping on issues is well known, so why on earth start up this particular culture war when a year from now passage of transgender rights legislation would have less electoral impact?
If I was a Democratic strategist I would urge the Party and its candidates to not be baited into culture war debates. That will only trap them in a no-win circular shouting match about science and daily practice grounded in “common” versus “good” sense based on different ideas about ethics and morality–but not intellectually honest or informed people but with aggregations of the mental equivalent of Trump’s Mexican built Wall.
Instead, I would urge them to laugh at sky is falling arguments and refute them with the facts. The country is getting more colour in its demographic, has become more tolerant of non-traditional lifestyles, has robust religious diversity, has innovative production and entrepreneurship and remains, regardless of what the GOP doomsayers claim, economically strong and relatively secure in spite (rather than because) of its foreign military adventures. It may not be utopia or even the mythological house on the hill, but it sure ain’t a bloated carcass of decadence floating towards oblivion (unless you are referring to the GOP itself, in which case the analogy applies).
The Democrats should focus on what Gramsci referred to as “touching the essential,” that is, the real state of the economy and national affairs, addressing the real problems of average people in proper perspective (and there are plenty to consider), and offer practical (and practicable) solutions to specific policy issues. That will leave the GOP to bark into the wind about girly men, safe spaces and serial adulterers. Because when the dust has settled on November 8, the sky will still be there and the cultural wars of the Right will have been lost yet again.
Apologies in advance for the terrible rhymes but after a week of absurdity in Parliament I had to comment.
Peter (Dunne), Peter (Dunne), Speed Repeater
Peter, Peter, Speed repeater
Knew the limit but couldn’t keep it
Broke the law twice in one day
Don’t do as he does, do as he says
Simple (David) Seymour
Simple Seymour saw a MP
Going up the stairs
Said Simple Seymour to the MP
“What bill do you have there?”
Said the MP unto Seymour
“Show me first your consistency”
Said Simple Seymour to the MP
“Indeed I have not any”
(Andrew) Little, Boy Red
Little boy red, come blow your horn
The Hotel is in Niue, the trust is offshore
Where is the boy who looks after the sheeple?
He’s away planning strategy at a weekend retreat.
Speaker, Speaker, go away
Come back to parliament another day
Little Johnny (Key) wants to play