Speaking quite broadly one can say that there are two sorts of politicians. One operates from a set of principles that guide his or her decision-making. The other abjures those type of guiding postulates in favour of far more short-term considerations. So this second type might obsess about focus group polling or what the main press outlets will say about his or her government. The PR people will tell such politicians to dress up their lack of guiding principles in terms of ‘pragmatism’, though a moment’s thought helps you realise that shunning core principles is every bit as much of an ideology as is a core commitment to, say, small government, freedom and individual responsibility. There are no ideology-free approaches; it’s just that some ideologies, or systems of ideas, are anchored to foundational beliefs and others to that day’s focus group results. Both count as ideologies. In my view, however, one sort is not only far more attractive it also delivers far better long-term results.
Take Governor Ron DeSantis in Florida. Had he been a focus group-driven ‘pragmatist’ Florida would never have completely opened-up some eight months ago. Remember, at the time that DeSantis forswore all lockdowns he was called a grandmother-killer by much of the press and a ‘neanderthal’ by many top Democrats. Instead, this Yale University and Harvard Law School graduate took a broad cross-section of advice (not just from the incestuous public health class which makes ‘deaths from Covid’ and ‘zero risk’ their seemingly only matrices of concern), read the data rather than what even by then could be seen to be highly flawed modelling, and opted to open up, focusing protection only on those who need it. And he stuck by that call. Today, Florida has the highest net inflow of internal American immigration; its small businesses have thrived; and despite its older population it has roughly the same Covid deaths per million as lockdownista California and a much lower tally than world’s worst New York state, with far lower unemployment than both (measured properly, not as here). Oh, and this commitment to principle has paid off politically too as DeSantis now has a double-digit lead over his Democrat challengers in next year’s gubernatorial contest. In fact, he polls second-highest (to former President Trump) amongst Republicans to be their 2024 Presidential nominee. And take it from me, the Democrats (and their collaborators throughout much of the mainstream media) are petrified of him. They will throw everything they have, or can make up, at him.
Meantime we have Mr Morrison. If there is a set of guiding principles lurking somewhere deep down inside the man it would require an electron microscope to catch a glimpse of them. This is the most focus group-driven government I have ever seen. We are witnessing in real time the hollowness, the feebleness and the brittleness of government by those who have no guiding commitments. That is how a supposedly small government Liberal party under ScoMo has been responsible for the biggest peacetime increase in the size of government, in spending, in destroying small businesses, in ruining the lives of the young and in making the biggest inroads into the freedoms and civil liberties of Australians in the country’s history. (The last of these, I note in passing, has gone virtually unremarked – if not being wholly supported – by all the usual suspects in the human rights brigades in this country’s law schools and law firms. Hypocrites!) It is also the government that has overseen this country’s worst instance of intergenerational theft. Frydenberg’s and Morrison’s stimulatory fiscal policies amount to a wealth transfer from young to old, from our children and grandchildren to us oldies. And their stimulatory monetary policies amount to a wealth transfer from non-asset holders to asset holders, from poor to rich. That, dear readers, is real immorality.
It was with all this in mind that I recently had a discussion with a fellow right-of-centre conservative voter who agreed with most of the above but asserted that ‘voters like us have no choice; ScoMo is better than Albanese’. My reply was that in terms of freedom, spending, defending internal borders and most of the Covid-related idiocies, we may well have been better off under Labor. Put bluntly, there is good reason to think a Shorten government would have been no worse in responding to Covid and possibly a good deal better. Why? Because democratic politics is not a one-party game. It is just not true that the winning side is wholly unaffected and unconstrained by the positions taken by the opposition. Had Shorten been in office when Covid hit he and Labor would have faced a Coalition opposition, probably one without ScoMo as leader. As an opposition supposedly committed to freedom et al., there is a good chance (the woeful state iterations notwithstanding) the Coalition would have pushed back against the world’s highest per capita spending during the pandemic, against some of the world’s harshest lockdowns (whose efficacy is everywhere called into question not least because we are still resorting to them fifteen months on), against the moronic ‘National Cabinet’ idea that gives premiers power without fiscal (or any other sort of) responsibility, against wimping out on the s.92 challenge – the list goes on.
Governments are influenced by their oppositions. This is doubly true when the leaders of the governing party are wholly without guiding principles. The best option for such hollow men always looks to be to park yourself an inch to the right of Labor, a smidgen your side of what they want – on the assumption your voters have nowhere else to go and will adopt the view of my conservative friend. Alas, that sort of attitude is a losing one in the long-term. Unless there is a point at which you say ‘thus far and no farther’ and refuse to vote for your side, you can’t discipline your chosen party. And today’s professional class of politicians only really understands being disciplined, hollow as they are. This is what the Brexit party did to the Tories and Canada’s Reform party did to the Conservatives.
Sure, as a voter it’s harder to discipline the Liberal party here in Australia because unlike in those other places we have a preferential voting system that acts as a protection racket for the two major parties – at some point you simply have to pick between your team and the other side’s and if you pick your team yet again, well, what does it matter if you didn’t give them a first preference?
For those of us on the right side of politics there is much to think about before we cast our ballots next year. We might decide simply to choose no Liberals or Nationals at all for the Senate. We might summon the will to preference Labor this one time only to send a big message. We might withhold our financial support or our campaigning help. We will all decide differently. What can’t continue is for the Coalition to be led by those without any convictions or principles. The long-term costs are too high and dire.
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