Posts Tagged ‘body politic’

Trump v Clinton second Presidential debate

We were very taken with this quick comment by the Wall Street Journal on the Presidential debate just gone: “marking as it did the nadir of the bitter partisanship and personal rancour that has steadily grown like weeds over the edifice of American government.”

Bitter partisanship and personal rancour that has steadily grown like weeds over the edifice of American government. Yes, indeed. Well said, that man.

American democracy has been in trouble for quite some time. Let’s just look from, say, the turn of the 1960s onwards.

The death of two Kennedys, and Martin Luther King, three tragic events driven by visceral hatred. The mental exhaustion of LBJ. The ascension of the criminal (and traitorous) Nixon. The standstill of Gerald Ford and the essentially neutered failure of Jimmy Carter – the latter a man who was too good to be in that role. The Reagan era, so terminally tainted by Iran-Contra and adventurism in Central America that cost the lives of hundreds of thousands. George H Bush who famously promised “No New Taxes” (and promptly despatched his friend and rival Bob Dole) only to turn round and increase taxes and produce a notably weak economic performance. (His evisceration of Dukakis was also the beginning of modern “hate” politics.) Then we had the economic and policy-wonk success of Bill Clinton hopelessly over-shadowed by his mangling of the truth and his appalling personal behaviour. Of George W Bush and his off-sider Dick Cheney only one thing needs to be said: 500,000 Iraqi dead, over oil, and the comprehensive attempt to confuse people into believing it was about something else. Oh, and, “The great Recession”, or “GFC”, depending on where you live in the world. And then, of course, Barrack Obama, who after raising the watchword “Hope” has delivered a stuttering economic revival but only at the expense of a massive increase in Federal debt, and who has presided uneasily over a fractious Congress and a series of foreign policy mis-steps.

It is a pretty sorry performance, overall, to be sure.

But even after that list is chewed over and considered and debated, this debate was, very possibly, the most unedifying spectacle in modern American political history.

trump-v-clinton

There was no nobility. There was no soaring vision. There was no wit. Precious little wisdom. No humility. There was just the contrasting styles of two deeply unpopular candidates knowing that they are buried up to their knees in mud in their trenches and there is no longer an opportunity for either of them to climb out.

There was no courtesy. No mutual respect. There was bullying. There was disturbing body language, especially from Trump, who prowled around behind Clinton in an aggressive and frankly disturbing manner. The bulk of the debate was taken up with discussions that should properly take place in front of a psychological counsellor, not a worldwide TV audience.

It was, frankly, embarrassing. It was ugly to watch. It was cringe-worthy.

In our view, Trump avoided a complete implosion, battered a too-meek Clinton in a way that will play well with his core supporters, but probably no one else. If he made one glaring mis-step it was in publicly disagreeing with his Vice-Presidential running mate on Syria, who he said he had not discussed the conflict with. That admission is truly bizarre, given how significant that conflict currently is.

Clinton appeared poised, and steely calm, and confident. But history may judge she could and should have gone for the jugular more effectively. Certainly Trump’s jibe that “she’d be in jail” under his Presidency hit home, and she was less than convincing on the ever-running emails saga.

As a friend opined to us, in all probability, not one Democrat-leaning voter would have moved towards Trump, not one Republican-leaning voter would have moved to Clinton, and anyone genuinely undecided probably became yet more depressed an unenthusiastic.

According to CNN’s poll of debate watchers (a poll they say tends to skew towards the Democrats because their supporters are more likely to watch), Clinton did well – but almost a quarter of the audience were expecting her to do better.

Who was the winner?
Clinton 57%, Trump 34%

How did Donald Trump perform?
Better than expected 63%, worse 21%

How did Hillary Clinton perform?
Better than expected 39%, worse 26%

(If that’s the case, by about Wednesday or Thursday Clinton will have a lock on the race with about a 6-7% lead, possibly as high as 10%, higher in the battleground states, lower in the centre and the South.)

But taking everything into account, “depressing is right”. This is, unquestionably, the most significant Presidential election in a generation. A titanic struggle of ideas should be going on. Yet this election may yet turn out to have one of the worst turnouts, too. As for America’s image overseas, it is being trashed. The “Great Democratic Experiment” is doing a very poor job of recommending itself to the world, just at the moment. How, for example, can liberal democracy recommend itself to, for example, parts of South America, large swathes of Africa, the Middle East – most pressingly – and large parts of Asia including obviously China – when this is how low it can sink.

America can – MUST – do better.

America, you’re not just letting yourselves down. You’re letting us down, too.

A few oddities – Trump was still sniffing audibly and often, two weeks later. Most curious.

Trump claimed the moderators were biased against him. But by our estimation by halfway through the debate he had hogged at least 2/3rds of the available time, and we will see what the final figure looks like when someone works it out.

You may also like to read Dan Rather’s analysis of the debate on Facebook. He pretty much agrees with us.

Anyhow, the full WSJ article is below: we agree with it, and politely recommend it to you.

A Memorable, Riveting, Nasty Debate – but Will It Change the Direction of the Race?

This was one of the most memorable debates in history. It was perhaps the debate that American politics has been cultivating for a quarter of a century, marking as it did the nadir of the bitter partisanship and personal rancour that has steadily grown like weeds over the edifice of American government.

It featured two of the most disliked candidates in modern history taking lumps out of each other – with accusations of sexual assault and defending rape and repeated allegations of deceit and mendacity.

And yet, will it change the contours of the race after an astonishing few days?

The initial exchange of fire in the wake of the release of Mr. Trump’s crudely offensive remarks captured on videotape on Friday, followed by a moment in which Mr. Trump apparently threatened to try to put Mrs. Clinton in jail if he is elected (a threat that, as some have commented, looks like something close to an unprecedented authoritarian turn in American politics) were as electrifying as anything in a presidential debate.

Once that dust had settled, though, Mr. Trump succeeded, much better than he did in the first debate, in hitting Mrs Clinton on key policy issues of health care, immigration and foreign policy. He was sharper on his feet and had some of the most memorable lines of the night. His lampooning of her calling Abraham Lincoln in defence of her Wall Street speeches won spontaneous applause and laughter from many sides of the hall.

The two somehow managed to end with a kind word (just one really) for each other and the handshake that they had denied each other at the start.

But this was raw and angry politics as blood sport and served perhaps only to underscore even more how unappetising political debate has become.

Nope. Same old crap.

Nope. Same old same old.

I have written at length in the past on the essential tragic flaw in the on-going circus that is Kevin Rudd, which is basically, in my view, that he has a much higher opinion of himself than other people do.

With good contacts inside the Labor Party, I think the kindest thing I have ever heard said about him is “megalomaniac”.

The general public finds it difficult to appreciate that he is genuinely detested by many people whose support he needs – detested as too clever by half, too full of himself, and utterly selfish, not to mention seemingly devoid of the little personal courtesies that make up so much of what is required in leading any organisation, and a political party in particular, stacked full, as they are, with people who desperately want to be loved.

So what is the ultimate outcome of yesterday’s ALP chaos? Well, there are a number.

Greater love hath no man than he give up his friends for his life. – Jeremy Thorpe

Firstly, it is hard to over-estimate the level of betrayal and distress felt by those who campaigned for, publicly supported, and organised a ballot for Rudd to stand for the leadership. They report being “gutted” by his backdown.

The point about Crean publicly calling for a ballot for a man who he so publicly repudiated just a year ago was to allow Rudd to get past his previous commitment not to challenge a sitting leader. Let there be no doubt about this; Crean’s sudden exocet-like intervention in Labor’s leadership crisis was carefully co-ordinated with key Rudd backers, and obviously with Rudd’s knowledge, and implicit in the move was the assumption that Crean’s switch from Gillard would bring four or five votes with him, making the difference between just losing and victory for Rudd, especially as a couple of locked-in Rudd votes were overseas. This thing was on a knife-edge.

When it transpired that those votes possibly wouldn’t follow Crean – despite his desperately courageous intervention which was made, in his eyes, to prevent a debacle in September for the party he loves – Rudd was left looking at a small loss to Gillard.

And at that moment, with history watching, Rudd “bottled it”.

Despite not quite having the numbers he could (and perhaps should, depending on your point of view) have wounded Gillard fatally, and another ballot (in as little as a week, or ten days) would have delivered the leadership to him by acclamation, especially once his people had time to organise more thoroughly. In a Labor Party where the ferment rivals that of a good barrel of real ale left too long to bubble, no leader with Gillard’s poll ratings could possibly hold on with a majority of just a handful in caucus. Despite her famed Welsh stubborn-ness, events would have overtaken her.

A current Twitter tend is #SimonCreaned. How are the mighty fallen.

A current Twitter tend is #SimonCreaned. How are the mighty fallen.

But Rudd chose, instead, (and instead, specifically, of facing the ego-bruising experience of being rejected by his caucus colleagues for a second time, albeit temporarily), to wrap himself in the fallacious argument that he wouldn’t stand again for leader unless backed by an overwhelming majority of the party room. That was never going to happen, of course, he knew it in advance. It was merely a feeble excuse for a crucial loss of nerve. With the smell of blood in the air and alarums various all around, Rudd exited the battlefield, leaving his allies to be slaughtered in his stead.

In refusing at the last hurdle, Rudd reveals himself to this writer, at least, as a rather prissy and self-absorbed egoist without the guts to pursue high office with adequate determination. As those around Caesar tried to plunge in their gladius’s, Rudd tip-toed away rather than get splashed with gore.

Fulminating on the sidelines, smirking quietly to himself as others thrash around, yes, he is up for that. But when a return to power genuinely beckoned, and with it the opportunity to at least ameliorate certain disaster for Labor at the next election, he fatally let down his supporters, many of whose careers are now publicly trashed and seriously damaged, perhaps terminally.

In this loss of nerve, one can see clearly the little boy Rudd, the “Well, if they won’t all play with me the way I want then I shall take my bat and ball and go home” Rudd. The hurt child that never quite grew up.

So the first outcome is this: Rudd supporters will not forgive him in a hurry, if ever. That obvious fact (and one can only imagine the recriminations afterwards) may be behind today’s prompt statement from Rudd that he will never stand for the leadership of the party again. Of course, no-one who has watched his behaviour over the years can give much credence to such an assurance. If the seals of office were waved under his nose again some nonsense about “the good of the party and the nation” would be cobbled together to allow him an intellectual excuse for running again. But in the meantime, brand Kevin is so tarnished as to be virtually un-burnishable. As Yoda would say, “Easy, it is, to give up the thing that no one wants to give you.”

So what the hell do we all do now?

More critically, the Australian people will be utterly dismayed. For reasons which are quite obvious – the fact that his original fall from power was seen by many as unnecessary and very poor form on behalf of the conspirators – and the fact that he clearly is clever and has a sense of purpose, curious though that sense may be – but most of all simply because he isn’t the fatally un-likeable Julia Gillard – Rudd retained the affection of many Labor supporters and non-aligned voters, and even some Liberals, especially those who dislike the rightward drift of their party. He straddles the centre ground of Australian politics in a manner which is always popular in this essentially small-c conservative nation.

Now he has betrayed not only his own supporters but all those in the country who are desperately distressed at the collapse of Labor as a viable vehicle for their aspirations and which is supposed to protect them from what looks like a highly ideologically-driven and – many suspect – brutally insensitive incoming Liberal-led Coalition.

Oh Lord, please help me keep my big mouth shut until September 15th. Amen.

If Howard was bad, they feel implicitly, then Abbott will be worse.

Despite his attempt to present a small target and to curb his wilder side, they perceive that he is Howard without the gravitas or the common touch, a nasty, gnashing, dyed-in-the-wool mis-truster of Government and the common people.

They see savage cuts coming, a return to workplace warfare, social conservatism, and all the baggage of class warfare resurrected again and aimed at those least able to defend themselves.

And above all, they know Gillard can’t beat him – after all, she’s failed to do so once already.

And against this prospect, Rudd chose to preserve his own sniffy dignity rather than chuck his hat into the ring after twelve months of making it perfectly clear to Blind Freddie he still believed in belonged in there.

Well, Kevin, Australians are not sophisticated political observers in the main – life is too wonderful, generally, to waste too much time pondering the goings on of the chattering political classes – but they can smell bullshit with dung-detectors that are as finely attuned as any in the democratic world. And they don’t like wimps.

The national character is, ferociously, to stand up for what you believe, even if you’re going to get a thumping. (One reason that Malcom Turnbull is so widely respected.)

Overnight, therefore, Rudd will have ruined his public standing, and again, probably, terminally. I expect to see that reflected in opinion polls within a day or so.

Goodbye, Labor, it was nice knowing you. At least sometimes.

The last and most obvious result from the non-ballot yesterday is that Labor has revealed it would much rather lose the next election, even catastrophically, and retreat to the Opposition benches than hold its collective nose and re-install Rudd. The ultimate conclusion to be drawn by observing the inwardly-focused bubble that is most of the ALP caucus is that they, too, lost courage at precisely the moment they needed to find some, and returned, instead, to their predilection for childish in-fighting and sophistry.

Such holier-than-though Kamikaze behaviour is more common on the left than it is on the right, which tends to be more focused on power and concomitantly less concerned with the close niceties of policy. (The recent furore over carbon trading that saw Turnbull axed was an aberration and more to do with factional infighting than anything else.)

Parties on the left often seem to emulate the suicidal tendencies of the People’s Front For Judea in the movie “Life of Brian”, where the ultimate goal is to dramatically eviscerate oneself as a noble gesture.

Some time back this mindset saw the demise of the Australian Democrats, and thus the inevitable rise of the much more “deep green” Greens, which has had a profound effect on the Australian body politic. Lord knows what the impact of this decision on the ALP itself may be in the long run, but some form of realignment on the left and centre is certain not beyond the bounds of possibility, especially give the ossified nature of the ALP organisation and its falling membership, and the lurch to the right of the Liberals in particular.

Actively mistrusted, even hated. I have never, in 35 years, heard it expressed so vehemently.

Let us call a spade a f****** shovel: in more than thirty five years of active involvement in left-centre politics, either as a participant or a writer, I have never experienced a mood in a country more toxic for the leadership of the Parliament than I now do with Gillard and Swan and their immediate coterie.

Ironically, it is not just the memory of the original Rudd knifing, unpopular as that was, nor is it the stumbling from embarrassing gaffe to gaffe that has characterised so much of this hamstrung Government, that has caused the complete loss of faith.

In fact, ” ordinary people” know the Government has tried to do some good things.

But there has been a comprehensive failure to sell those initiatives to the public.

And past all the spin doctors, the advisers, the apparatchiks and the offsiders, the ultimate responsibility lies with Gillard and Swan themselves, and especially with Gillard.

It is not enough to have advisers. One has to take their advice. Way back in the days of Gillard v Abbott Mk 1 we saw this uneasy arrangement with the apparent dumping of presentational advice that wasn’t working and the hilarious emergence of “real Julia”. Someone told her that was a good idea. Really.

To my eyes, Gillard has never really recovered from that moment onwards. Apparently untrusting of whatever advice is on offer (at least, by observing her behaviour), she has consistently refused to moderate her tedious, lecturing, uninspiring and downright boring delivery of everything she has to say, both inside and outside the Parliament.

Hers is a failure in many areas and at many levels: a failure to control her own party, a failure to see beyond her own intellectual priorities to respond to the desires of the country, instead choosing to do things she knows need doing, (and, yes, good on her), but then failing to understand that the country needs to be taken with her.

That’s why most of all hers is a failure to recognise that the Government’s primary weakness was and is her inability to articulate in an easy and engaging manner what she was trying to achieve.

having teeth pulled without anaesthetic.

For anything other than complete political junkies, this is the enterainment equivalent of having teeth pulled without anaesthetic.

I have watched pubs and living rooms erupt into bile every time she comes on the TV screen – “God I hate the way she talks”, “F***, she’s so boring!”, “What is she droning on about this time?”

And the trend has got steadily worse. When she finally allowed some genuine passion to show throw – over Abbott’s misogyny – she saw an immediate lift in her polling, and even murmurs of approval.

She became, momentarily, ” Prime Ministerial”.

But then she promptly returned to the tones of exactly what she is underneath whatever gloss her minders try and put on her, an overly self-confident lawyer trained to couch everything in terms stripped of any passion or colour, and delivered in a manner so downbeat one often wonders if someone should check her pulse.

Even Margaret Thatcher, unquestionably the most transformative post-war politician in any major Western democracy whatever one thought of her policies, took note of the image consultants, the voice trainers, and those who taught her the pace, tone, and mannerisms to deliver powerful public oratory. Gillard has never paused to do this, never lowered herself to that level, and she has led her party to the slaughterhouse as a result.

Ultimately, in failing to improve herself, Gillard has shown a fatal inability to lead.

Now, as the nominal head of a caucus stripped of key talents, a caucus half of whom now publicly believe she is the wrong person to do the job – all talk of “no opposition” and a decisive result is, of course, just so much cant – without a credible candidate to oppose her to take the party into the election, with a slavering Opposition dissolving into delight at the mess in front of them, with a public in disbelief at the antics of the last 48 hours, let us be in no doubt. Barring a miracle which no one expects, Labor is looking down the barrel of a massively awful election result.

How curious it must be, for those MPs sitting in seats with anything under about a 10% margin, to contemplate the near certainty of their defeat in September. How they will be scrambling for diplomatic postings, something nice at the UN of WHO, perhaps, a decent visiting Professorship at a reputable University, or a sinecure in some quasi-Government or policy job just beyond the clutches of the incoming Coalition.

Will they be focusing on their jobs as constituency MPs or Parliamentary officers between now and September? Will they hell. The rats aren’t just deserting a sinking ship, they’ve been off it and swimming to shore for some time. And everyone knows it.

The point.

For democracy to function, it requires at least two parties operating with vibrancy and determination, a genuine “contest of ideas”.

Even non-Labor people must look at the overall state of our body politic and wonder, sadly, “How the hell did it ever come to this?”

Because that is  the ultimate wash-up of the ballot-that-never-was. How the hell did our democracy ever become so dysfunctional and incompetent?

And that, Dear Reader, should concern everyone.