Friday, November 09, 2012

US vote:  where left isn't right

A British conservative website captured the story of the United States election.  ''Disastrous for the Republicans or simply disappointing?''  The result was closer to the former for anyone committed to economic freedom and private enterprise.

On a scale 1 to 10, with 1 being the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 10 being the election of Franklin Roosevelt in 1932, the re-election of President Barack Obama is an 8.3.

It's hard to disagree with Salon, the journal of the American left:  ''President Obama's re-election represents a victory for the Democratic ideal of activist government and a mandate for more of it.''

The trouble is that activist government doesn't actually work.  The US unemployment rate of nearly 8 per cent proves activist government doesn't work in the short term.  Europe proves activist government doesn't work in the long term.

Conservatives may talk about the popular vote being close, and the Republicans holding a comfortable majority in the House of Representatives and so on, but when it comes to the presidential race, a loss is a loss.

Obama may have had 131 campaign offices in Ohio compared with Romney's 40.  And a hurricane may have stalled Romney's momentum.  However, none of this overcomes the reality of a failing economy that should have handed victory to the Republicans.

Much has been made of the demographics of the youth, women, African-Americans and Latinos favouring the Democrats.  That's true.  However, a lot of white males still voted for Obama.  The President easily won New Hampshire.  As that state's most famous resident, commentator Mark Steyn, put it:  ''But New Hampshire is overwhelmingly white — and the GOP [Grand Old Party] still blew it.  The fact is a lot of pasty, Caucasian, non-immigrant Americans have 'shifted', and are very comfortable with big government, entitlements, micro-regulation, ObamaCare and all the rest — and not much concerned with how or if it's paid for.''

There's a paradox about the political left of the 21st century.  Its members claim they care deeply about future generations when it comes to the environment.  Yet when it comes to government spending, the left has no qualms about future generations paying for the demands of the current generation of voters.  British historian Niall Ferguson was right.  ''If young Americans knew what was good for them, they'd all be in the Tea Party.''

It's hard to disagree with Steyn.  ''I wish we'd at least had a big picture election — the motto of the British SAS is 'who dares wins','' he says.  ''The Republicans chose a different path.  A play it safe, don't frighten the horses strategy may have had a certain logic, but it's unworthy of the times.''

Prime Minister Julia Gillard will be a lot happier with the US election result than Opposition Leader Tony Abbott.  If Obama won, Gillard can.

Our PM will have learned three things from Obama's victory.  The first is that politicians who pass unpopular taxes for which they have no mandate can still get re-elected.  Obama had ObamaCare.  Gillard has the carbon tax.  The second is that relentlessly negative advertising works.  Romney allowed his opponents to define his public image as a multi-millionaire leveraged buyout merchant.  Abbott is at risk of being defined as a woman-hater.  The third point is related to the second.  The Democrats claimed the Republicans would launch a ''war on women''.  Whether true or not, the claim helped swing female voters to Obama.  Gillard has already played the gender card, and she'll keep on playing it.

For Abbott the worry is that maybe voters in Western liberal democracies have stopped worrying about where the money is coming from.  If Americans don't seem concerned by their national debt of more than 70 per cent of gross domestic product (twice the level it was five years ago) it's difficult to believe Australians would be any different, particularly as we face a comparable debt figure of less than 10 per cent.

With the Gillard government promising to create a national disability insurance scheme and more funding for schools and dental care, it comes across as mean-spirited to ask where the money is coming from.  And the pressure will be on the Coalition to match whatever Labor pledges — because more government spending is what people say they want.

After Obama's re-election, William Voegeli, one of the US's leading conservative writers, said:  ''In our system, the people are sovereign.  That does not mean they're infallible.''

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