…..with links,picture and video inserted by ANV.
Common ground for Rudd and Obama: the opponents are surging
February 20, 2010
The opposition says that the leader is all talk and no action. It takes an aggressive stance of confronting him on just about everything, giving him nothing. His spending is out of control and he loves bureaucracy and big government, it cries.
It opposes all his main initiatives, attacking his stimulus spending, his climate change plan and his moves towards health reform.
This describes the approach Tony Abbott's opposition is taking to Kevin Rudd. It also captures perfectly the Republican Party's assault on Barack Obama in the United States.
And it has worked like a charm for the Republicans. Obama's approval rating has been torn to shreds over the past year. Will the same strategy work against Rudd?
Abbott's angry confrontationalism moved a US commentator, Norm Ornstein of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, to quip that "We may have a place for Tony Abbott here".
The similarities between the Australian Prime Minister and the US President have often been noted. Politically, Kevin Rudd and Barack Obama are new leaders from the progressive side.
Geopolitically, they are in agreement on the big issues of our time - winding back the effort in Iraq, intensifying the campaign in Afghanistan, responding to the global economic crisis, dealing with climate change.
Personally, they are younger-generation leaders - Rudd is 52 and Obama 48 - just as their respective predecessors, John Howard, now 70, and George Bush, 63, are of the same generation.
And Obama and Rudd just happen to click. As the Obama administration's top Asia policy official in the State Department, Kurt Campbell, told me in August: "One of the most interesting things to observe is which leaders - philosophically and in terms of temperament and approach to issues - bond initially with American presidents over the years. At the top of the list right now is Prime Minister Rudd.''
“And Obama and Rudd just happen to click. As the Obama administration's top Asia policy official in the State Department, Kurt Campbell, told me in August: "One of the most interesting things to observe is which leaders - philosophically and in terms of temperament and approach to issues - bond initially with American presidents over the years. At the top of the list right now is Prime Minister Rudd.''
Who is Hussein Obama,and what is Beijing’s man on the ground in Australia,Australian PM Lu Kewen aka. “Kevin 07” Rudd so attracted to,in the Hussein Obama persona ?
And now the convergence of Australian and US politics is extending beyond the leaders to embrace their oppositions, too.
Tony Abbott has shot new testosterone into the Australian opposition. Its every muscle and nerve-ending twitches with intensified tension and hostility. Where Malcolm Turnbull was prepared to work with the government in several areas, Abbott would much rather confront it.
So where Turnbull negotiated a compromise with Rudd on climate change, Abbott tore it up angrily and accused Rudd of wanting to put "a great big new tax on everything".
Where Turnbull was content to go quiet on industrial relations and allow Rudd his way, Abbott has this week brought on a new fight. Abbott even refused to honour the Coalition's commitment to a bipartisan approach on homelessness this week. No detail is too small, it seems, for Abbott to oppose. And he is attacking everything he sees because it's all a part of the Rudd edifice, a structure Abbott is dedicating to denying and damaging. He has called Rudd dishonest, deceptive and a serial promise-breaker, a toxic bore, a prime minister who hides behind a "wall of incomprehensible words and an army of spin doctors".
Abbott has taken opposition to an entirely new level. It's the same level the Republicans have been on for a year now. A prominent analyst, Tom Mann of the Democrat-connected Brookings Institution in Washington, describes it this way: "Republican strategy is crystal clear and consistent - it's to kill or discredit every achievement or objective of Obama's to drive down his approval rating as the pathway to a Republican comeback. It's as simple as that, and boy it's been effective. They see the route for the Republican minority to become the majority is through a diminished president."
Obama started in the presidency with an approval rating of 68 per cent, according to Gallup, one of the best in the post war era, second only to John F. Kennedy's. By the end of last year it was 49 per cent, equal worst showing for a post war president at the end of his first year, tied with Ronald Reagan.
And voting intentions for the Congress, for which elections are due on November 2, puts Obama's Democrats neck-and-neck with the Republicans. "If it continues like this, the Democrats could lose their substantial majorities in both houses," Mann says.
Giving an example of the discipline and intensity of the Republican campaign, he cites denying Obama a victory on his signature reform, health insurance.
As the Democrats' Senator Max Baucus was agonising to negotiate a bipartisan deal in the Senate to get the Obama bills through, the Republican senators were called together and told, ''If you agree to anything that isn't supported by at least 70 per cent of our caucus, you will lose your ranking status," in Senate committees, the gatekeeper posts for access to tax dollars and the power of patronage. "It was really hardball," Mann says. The Baucus effort failed.
In the US, politicians customarily have enormous discretion in how they choose to vote on legislation. Unlike the Australian system of tight party discipline, it's quite normal for them to vote against a party position.
But no longer, not for Republicans. Ornstein concurs: "The Republicans are treating the system as if it were a parliamentary system, behaving like a parliamentary minority."
There is a dual convergence here. Under Abbott, the Coalition is adopting the Republican mode of obstructionism. And the Republicans are adopting the parliamentary habit of tight party discipline.
This is the first portent that should worry Rudd's government. This combination that worked against Obama is now working against him.
But it wasn't just the Republicans. Obama and the Democrats must take some blame for the failure of their reform. As the negotiations on the bills ground on for months, "the Democrats were not campaigning," says Mann. "They were just waiting for an outcome. In the meantime, all the excitement was lost in their liberal base because Obama and the Democrats were busy making concessions to the Republicans and the moderates to win support for the bill."
Sound familiar? This is a reasonably good summary of how Rudd lost popular support for the signature reform of his first term, his emissions trading system. He stopped campaigning for public support for a year while he negotiated his bills, and meanwhile public support slipped far enough for the opposition to change its mind and dump the plan.
This is the second portent that should trouble the Rudd government. The failure - to date - of Obama's signature reform has been central to the sense of pointlessness and failure that has washed over the Democrats.
The failure - to date - of Rudd's signature reform has damaged his standing and that of Labor, a mood and a trend that he needs to arrest and to counter lest he arrives at the same point as Obama. And Rudd can't do it by just pretending the ETS debacle never happened. If he walks away from the ETS and "the great moral and economic challenge of our time," he will have no credibility on any other reform.
The Democrats are losing not only on their prized legislation but also in the so-called "message wars". Most Americans are convinced the government stimulus spending was a giant waste of money, even though there is credible economic opinion that it helped stave off a more brutal downturn.
Rudd faces the beginning of a similar problem here. The Coalition accuses him of promising everything and achieving nothing. And although Rudd has a long list of achievements, he has failed to log many of them in the public consciousness.
A phenomenon of right-wing politics in the US today is the Tea Party. This is a mass movement of populist discontent, egged on by conservative media stars, fuming at what they suspect to be a socialist government conspiracy to take over the country and reduce citizens to serfdom. It's named after the Boston Tea Party of 1773, when American settlers rebelled against British taxes on tea. It was a harbinger of the American Revolution.
The New York Times this week called the contemporary Tea Party a "sprawling rebellion". The paper reported: "Some Tea Party groups are essentially appendages of the local Republican Party. But most are not. They are frequently led by political neophytes who prize independence and tell strikingly similar stories of having been awakened by the recession."
That's something that couldn't happen in Australia, right? Not necessarily. "It reminds me of your experience in Queensland a few years ago," says Mann, recalling Pauline Hanson and One Nation.
Australia has gained another populist Queensland right-winger, the shadow finance minister, Barnaby Joyce, who stumped up a storm of populist anger against the ETS, and is now campaigning against government debt and the size of government.
The Rudd government is in a much stronger political position than the Democrats in the US. The economy here is stronger and unemployment is half the US level. On current polling numbers, Rudd would be easily re-elected.
But the American experience has enough parallels, and the Democrats enough travails, to carry a sobering portent for Labor. And a thrill of hope for Abbott.
Peter Hartcher is the Herald's political editor.