The second lesson of Romney's defeat

The early signs are that the Republican Party is ripping itself to pieces following the US election. They're infuriated by the fact that women, young voters and major non-white ethnic groups got the guy they wanted – Barack Obama – rather than the guy they ought to have wanted, Mitt Romney.

How dare they. Democracy was never supposed to be like this.

The Grand Old Party is being rent asunder by far-right Tea Party ideologues pulling one direction, and pinko liberal types digging in the heels of their sandals and pulling in the other. (Romney has never really been sure which end of the rope to join.)

"America is not demanding a second liberal party," stormed Reagan era Republican big shot Gary L. Bauer in The New York Times.

But he's wrong. The exit polls clearly showed that the Obama presidency, warts and all, is exactly what young/female/minority groups wanted.

Last week I teased out one of the lessons for the coalition in Australia – the tendency among some conservatives to see any Labor win as a massive con on the people, hurts not Labor, but the Coalition itself.

It's an old tradition. As former Hawke minister, and member of the dismissed Whitlam government Barry Cohen wrote in The Australian yesterday, "Conventional wisdom had it [at the time of the dismissal] that conservative governments were the natural order of things and Labor was only elected when things got really bad. Then it was back to the conservatives."

That was in 1975, but all the signs in parliament are that the view persists. Take, for instance, shadow immigration minister Scott Morrison saying a few months back that even if Labor adopted all the coaltion's immigration policies, his side of politics wouldn't support Labor implementing them.

Then there's Tony Abbott's frequent assertion that Labor has "no legitimacy", augmented by the idea that the voters of Dobell, Craig Thomson's seat, don't have a democratic right to be represented by him and his "tainted vote" on the floor of the House of Reps.

One can only hope that Labor remembers all this and resolves, next time it's in opposition, not to so blatantly scoff at the rules of democracy so carefully refined since federation. We need one set of rules, applied consistently to all.

But enough on the 'Labor is a con' meme. There are other lessons flowing from the Republican punch-up.

The second big one is that the left-right battles of the mid-to-late 20th century are over – governance in liberal democracies has moved on. In the broad sweep of 20th century history, we went from a shocking new thesis (the gross failures of post-WWII socialism) to a heady explosion of the antithesis – now remembered as the era of Gordon Gekko's Wall Street and the unchecked 'financial capitalism' that brought on the GFC.

Voters do not need a PhD in economics to realise that neither of these ideological frameworks delivered what they promised. For my money, the Obama win was a historic referendum on a simple choice – ideology vs pragmatism.

Am I dumbing down political-economy? You bet. And a few policy wonks probably should too.

Big government doesn't work (The death knell of social democracy, August 9). Big capitalism, by itself doesn't, work. And ideologues who pore over economic studies to prove that one or other of these propositions is untrue, are leading their parties away from a pragmatic centre where if one mode of economic production/distribution fails, we try the other.

In typically inflammatory style, Malcolm Turnbull made the same point last week by arguing, of the Liberal Party, that "We are always a party that is focused on the centre, on the sensible centre".

Well he knows that's not true. In December 2009 that party hurriedly organised a coup to remove him as leader, and steer the party away from that centre – the issue was climate change policy, and we ended up in a bizarre world where a conservative party has spent two years arguing against using a market-based carbon pricing scheme to lower emissions.

As I have argued before (Pain will follow the carbon fantasy, July 3) if the coalition wanted to offer a less centrist approach, there was plenty of scope to push for a more 'pure' market based scheme, without all the distortions and subsidies that the Turnbull-Rudd ETS entailed, and the Gillard 'carbon tax' carries with it. That would be both pragmatic (differentiating themselves from Labor), and yet retain some of the flavour voters expect from Liberals.

Back in the US, the Obama win has re-opened the file on carbon pricing. The Obama-proposed cap-and-trade scheme chased out of the House of Representatives in 2010, might now be replaced by a carbon tax – a move that would have the added benefit of easing the shocking fiscal bind in which the US finds itself.

Yesterday's editorial in The Washington Post (yes, those old hippies) pleaded: " ... if there were just some policy that would reduce carbon emissions and raise federal revenue... A tax on carbon, of course, is that policy, and lawmakers and the president should be discussing it.

"This is the best plan lawmakers can take off the shelf to fight global warming. As an added benefit, it would reduce dependence on imported oil.

"The federal government needs new, economically efficient streams of revenue, to fund priorities such as scientific research and to narrow the deficit. A carbon tax should be atop the list."

Nobody wants to see our main parties go into the 2013 election with the same suite of policies – product differentiation is as important as ever. But if any local conservatives think Romney's mistake was not veering hard-right, they are hard-wrong.

The Abbott agenda, when fully revealed, must contain different policies, but not extreme policies, to avoid the Romney mistake.

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I think the reason for the failure of unchecked 'financial capitalism' can be found in the way that the US banks were able to use insane leverage to build up a ponzi scheme in debt, with an unhealthy dose of fraud. Its was more an issue of lack of proper control of the money supply (since the banks were essentially creating their own money) and lack of enforcement with regard to the fraud, than a failure of capitalism as such (The second lesson of Romney's defeat, November 13).
Rob, please don't continue the fiction that an ETS is a "market-based" scheme (The second lesson of Romney's defeat, November 13).
A true market-based scheme does not just have buyers and sellers; it also has price-elasticity of demand. However, a mandated ETS has a fixed demand, and that is its basic problem, as illustrated by the fiasco of the EU ETS scheme. Here the price varies (down), but the target remains constant, despite falling emissions.
We can be confident that the appropriate emissions reductions will be achieved by 2050; we just don't know how we will get to this point. If only we had a clear path to reduce carbon emissions, but we do not have one. It remains for the market to work this out.
Setting a FIXED TARGET will not get us to our final point, namely, a sustainable carbon emissions status. However, putting a FIXED PRICE on carbon will drive down carbon emissions to that point. Experience has already demonstrated that carbon emissions will drop faster than anyone could reasonably expect.
We could easily go to a phased-in fixed price on carbon emissions of around $40 tonne CO2e, provided it was implemented via a fully rebatable carbon levy.
In electricity generation, it would work like a carbon tax, but since it would be fully rebatable to electricity users it would not put up the price of electricity in short term. The price of electricity would rise gradually as new means of generation were adopted (if these new means were actually more expensive).
This is the kind of policy that conservative parties in both the US and Australia could adopt.
In addition, it would truly work as a market mechanism, driving down emissions as business do their best to avoid this charge. In the process, it would bring to the forefront the cheapest methods by which carbon emission reductions can be achieved.
To properly comprehend our situation we should re-examine an old myth, the one that finds the origin of democracy in the failed system of voting utilised by citizens in the slave state of Ancient Athens - a pearl of wisdom passed down through two thousand years via the rise of middle class culture. it is bosh - but we still teach it.
Democracy arose from the desperate conditions of the eighteenth century, then a pattern of slave empires in which black slavery in the colonies and a vicious trade in human misery found it's echo in the Enclosure of Common Land and the horrors of the Industrial Revolution. The anti slavery movement established the system of popular debate and action committees that were copied in the rising local movements that became the foundations of Socialism and Trade Unionism. These were the forces that pressurised elitist and unrepresentative Parliaments for social change, leading to demands for universal franchise and representative Government.
Democracy was not a Greek ideal - it is the product of an irresistible modern demand for Human Rights. Democracy historically has always been an extra Parliamentary movement. That is what our politicians need to grasp. Political Parties and Constitutions are not set in stone, brought down the mountain by a Messianic individual who sat at the feet of God. They are flawed temporary tools.
Neither the parties of Labour, nor the parties of Conservatism, really represent the people. As time has passed they have developed self interests, and a culture of self preservation, that has lost their role as tools of popular representation. Nothing could make that clearer than the present ICAC corruption investigations in NSW
Throughout the Western world the message is clear - political parties need to reinvent themselves, drawing closer to the people they purport to represent, and no longer fronting and promoting elites through the abuse of media and Parliament
That tea-party. at least, is over (The second lesson of Romney's defeat, November 13).
In only a couple of years we might be saying where did the Democrats go wrong. (The second lesson of Romney's defeat, November 13)
Just as the Democrats intervened to get more conservative candidates in 2006, the Republicans will just have to excise the loonier parts of the right to get more moderate candidates who can avoid embarassment when they stand.
Jeb Bush, Chris Christie and any of the governors who are repairing their State's finances are all credible moderate candidates.
Their only problem will be Hillary's popularity and chance to make history as well as the economy improving.
Thanks to Phil Clarke for another excellent polemic (November 13, 9:53 AM).
I would like to add that the latest phenomenon in the "democratic" political system has been the adoption of the cult of the leader from totalitarian political systems. (The second lesson of Romney's defeat, November 13)
This has in turn led to the media focus to be on the leader, not their "message" eg we can remember that Julia tripped over on a trip to India recently, but not why she was there.
This "Woman's Day" style of reporting is at the cost of policy analysis and discussion.
Bread and circuses indeed!
The big difference between Australia and the US is preferential voting. The Greens are only a force in Australia because voters know that if the Greens aren't elected, their preferences can be directed to the Labor candidate (or another candidate). (The second lesson of Romney's defeat, November 13)
If the US had preferential voting, then the Tea Party could be a separate entity and the Republicans could move to the centre, knowing that the Far Right votes would mostly flow to them.
Politics is no different to corporations. They swing from centralised control to decentralised control and Australia is rapidly moving down the path of centralisation ala socialism. That is what socialisism is and Australian's had better get used to it. The decline of capitalism in the USA and strong Government is a good indication of what is to come. The people are fighting to bring about change and have again ended up with a lame duck Government unable to and ineffective in implementing good Government. Similarly but in opposite direction is the rise of China where a centralised Government is cracking at the seams as the people want to be freed from the shakles of socialism. Japan has been going through a recession for two decades following decentralised control and is having difficulty turning around with minority and ineffective Governments. It has taken China and India about the same time to take a step the other way but still have some way to go. Unfortunately it takes many years to bring about the change and it is painfull going through the full cycle. At either end of the cycle it fails and the problems are similar but opposite in extreme. People left behind at either end rebel and bring about the change in direction. Despite its apparent benefits socialism doesn't work and it is the same people who suffer the most being unable to support themselves. Any Australian who believes that Australia cannot end up like most of Europe with the extreme being Greece had better think again. There is a fine line once broken takes a long time to rebuild (The second lesson of Romney's defeat, November 13).
Obama received the overwhelming bulk of the coloured,minority,and welfare vote.Perhaps the republicans need a suitable coloured candidate next time to overcome this imbalance. (The second lesson of Romney's defeat, November 13)
Labor similarly here receives the prison inmate,dole bludger, and union vote,this is a huge block of votes which will never vote for the conservatives, yet its the success of the conservatives which pays tax,creates the funds needed for their non-worked for benefits.
Has there ever been a substantial charitable donation from a union?,there has been plenty from commercial organisations and individuals, Twiggys donation of hundreds of accomodation units to the bush fire victims is an example.Don't say the unions do not have the funds, they of course have their own uses for those funds sometimes those uses do not bear close investigation.But if an investigation is necessary, it will be delayed, but should an inappropriate use of funds be revealed and charges seem likely to be leveled, those charges will take years to be processed, files will be lost,happens all the time,you start to wonder ' whats' the use? sell your business to someone who will in turn become disillusioned,buy some investments if you have anything left, or become another welfare receiver joining the "done nothing,will do nothing,but criticise all" delusional members of our community.
Good on you Phil Clarke! Conspicious by its absence in the list of things that "work" or do not "work" is a sense of duty and loyalty by the Government to the Australian Public (The second lesson of Romney's defeat, November 13).
This is because the ALP is the Political Wing of the Trade Unions who are unrepresentative, powerful and solvent and the ALP does its bidding.
The Asian century is not only about money and wealth, it is also about people and their well being,and about Governments that are responsible and do their duty by their people. Can we say say that our Government (which has squandered $250 billion of our money) is an example to be held up as a model for Asia?
I doubt it very much.
Malcolm Turnbull was kicked to the curb after he showed an astounding lack of judgement in the Godwin Grinch affair. Deservedly so. (The second lesson of Romney's defeat, November 13)
Rob thats exactly what the USA doesn't need with its economy on the ropes, another tax. Even if Obama wanted to do this it would not pass Congress.
I have an idea in Australia to lower business electricity costs instantly by 10%, and help businesses stay afloat. Cancel or postpone (more cleverly) the carbon tax until our economy is is stronger.
Those in touch with the electorate understand the pain of electricity prices and Fed Gov can reduce these at stroke of a pen by 10%.
When other competing economies introduce such a tax we can re-vist it (The second lesson of Romney's defeat, November 13).
In an Ideology vs. Pragmatism sense, where do you put Obama or Romney? They both straddled both, pandering to specific ideological audiences while making pragmatic accommodations on the fly. I watched the US Presidential election very closely and I am as confused about Obama's core self as I am about Romney's. The central American issue is beyond political style; it is a problem of maths and what happens when you under-tax and overspend for several generations (The second lesson of Romney's defeat, November 13).
Yes Rob, we already know you're a Labor/Greens supporter (The second lesson of Romney's defeat, November 13). Could you perhaps produce an article that isn't seen through the perspective of your political preferences? I don't really see the point of this article. Last time I checked we didn't have a massively growing minority demographic that'd undermine the Coalition voting base. Also, the Coalitions paid maternity leave scheme is more generous then Labor's or the Green's. This is in contrast to the Republicans' anti-women rants on "legitimate" rape. There is no evidence to suggest a link between the recent US result and the upcoming Australian election. How about we stick to analysis rather than idle speculation.
If some Gorbachev-style plain-talking prophet manages to blast his way through the hallowed oak doors and into the angry ears of the Grand Old Party, he would suggest that conservative middle-aged white guys now represent the minority, and tricks like sabotaging Obama's attempts to raise the debt ceiling back in June, to make Obama look bad, have the opposite effect.
Such arrogant Tea Party tactics are based on the notion that the Tea Party know better, the public aren't smart enough to figure out their methods, and those who are will secretly thank them for their wiser-than-thou motives.
Instead, their manipulative tactics are as plain as day to all voters. If they try it again with the fiscal cliff, they will be equally as shocked to see their approval ratings plummet further.
Hopefully this Gorbachev-style prophet can educate them into realising they need to start working WITH Obama. Only that kind of moderate change of behaviour will give the Republicans any chance of regrouping and becoming relevant again (The second lesson of Romney's defeat, November 13).
Look, if 20% of th population are supportive of a man from the same or similar ethnic origin and defend him strongly, and if voting is not compulsory, and if 35 % of eligible voters actually vote, then th ethnic vote has a remarkably good chance of getting up (The second lesson of Romney's defeat, November 13).
Re 'The second less of Romney's defeat' (November 13):
When all the razzle-dazzle, fury and fuss has ended in the U.S.of A. aren't you GLAD that we in Australia have a heriditary head of state who outshines both those candidates!
Long live The Queen and the ideals embodied in that wonderful institution!
Thankfully we only have to elect her Government and they appoint her prime-minister!