Obama and Gillard defy the theory of voternomics
Just as it sinks in here that an election is two full years away, the political circus that is American politics is sending in the clowns and pegging out its big-top for another round of primary races.
As it does so, one sobering factoid for the Obama administration is that no president in the modern era has been re-elected with an unemployment rate above 7.5 per cent. Which is just another way of saying Bill Clinton famous maxim, “it’s the economy stupid’‘.
Yet here in Australia, it ain’t just the economy.
Here the jobless rate is not 9.1 per cent as it is in the US, but 4.9 per cent and falling. And here, there are not whole states on the verge of insolvency. Nor are there entire regions turned into ghost towns and huge swathes of suburbia, strafed with foreclosure actions as house prices plummet, debts exceed equity and bankruptcies abound.
Yet politically speaking, there is not so much difference. Both governments are on the nose suggesting that in Australia, its not just the economy after all.
If anything, Obama’s in a better place than Julia Gillard. While the giant American economy is in real trouble, the safer money is still with the President’s re-election at this stage.
Australia’s economy is extremely sound and gearing for rapid expansion, yet the incumbent government is well and truly the underdog. Go figure.
Perhaps the best thing President Obama has going for him at the moment, and knocking off Osama bin Laden did him no harm, is the gaggle of extremists from the Tea Party right who have stolen the Republican Party and forced even some moderates to become hardliners.
Indeed, the Obama camp believes the greater threat longer term arising from the GOP primaries is the remote possibility that it is somehow sensible enough to choose a moderate to match-up on the President.
They believe they have more to fear from someone like the little-known John Huntsman, rather than from high-profile charismatic types such as the polarising Sarah Palin.
This is because they know that in the end, elections are fought out in the middle ground. Divisive rhetoric and bombast might cut a lot of ice in the GOP but it will not simply not fly with most voters.
Huntsman, who is poised to formally declare his candidacy this week, has been a diplomat (under Obama as it happens), a supporter of action on human-induced climate change, and a progressive on social policy questions, having supported civil unions as Governor of Utah in 2009.
Of course, in Australia, we already know who our candidates are in 2013 - well, barring some unforeseen upwelling against one or both leaders. If there is a lesson of 2010, it is that the unthinkable is always possible.
Labor MPs might suddenly decide their position is terminal. But you wonder what it would take. If this week’s appalling Newspoll was not enough to crack the structure, perhaps it is now unbreakable?
A primary vote of just 31 per cent to the Coalition’s 46 is landslide territory in anyone’s money. And the once joked-about Tony Abbott is set to eclipse an incumbent as preferred PM.
Mind you, there is some discussion going on in Labor ranks. Word is that this week, Labor backbenchers did discuss the leadership and did discuss the prospect of Kevin Rudd making a comeback.
But before you jump to the conclusion that this means something, as at least one prominent report suggested, remember, backbenchers always discuss politics with each other, always discuss the leadership, and pretty well always exchange their own analyses of political events and the way they are reported. What else do you do on the backbench while in Canberra?
Informed sources say the Foreign Affairs Minister has done little to rebuild relationships and while he remains popular with voters, his support in Caucus is tiny.
Talk of a “Kevin 11” for example was laughed at by one well placed MP who put his support in Caucus at closer to four or five “optimistically”.
At the end of a week when the Government faced a terrible poll, survived a symbolic but embarrassing defeat on the floor of the House of Representatives, and a mini-rebellion from independents over its carbon tax plans, Julia Gillard emerged unshaken.
But Tony Abbott showed again that he is not going anywhere either - except perhaps up.
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