Frightening the life out of voters over debt
The late Lee Atwater is a legend in the US Republican Party. Hailing from South Carolina he successfully rewrote the book on American election campaigning. Atwater ran scare campaigns and he was good at it. He made a name for himself in the early 1980’s with his aggressive campaign tactics including push polling and dog whistling on racial issues in the South.
Atwater won election after election running scare campaigns on any issue he could find. He ran scare campaigns on religion; he ran scare campaigns on race; he once even ran a scare campaign claiming his opponent was unfit for office because he had suffered from depression as a teenager.
Lee Atwater understood people and, more importantly, he understood the power of emotion over rational thought. He used to say that people vote their fears over their hopes and that fact shaped his campaigning.
Atwater became a Republican icon in 1988 when he successfully steered George Bush Snr’s Presidential campaign to victory from an amazing 17 points behind. Atwater went negative – he ran a scare campaign claiming that if his Democratic opponent was elected President he might introduce a weekend release program for American prisoners. It wasn’t true, but it worked.
The way to beat a scare campaign is to expose the strategy by getting out the facts, but sadly the Democrats didn’t, and that’s why George Bush Snr became the 41st President of the United States.
The Liberal Party here in Australia have learned a lot from Lee Atwater and the US Republicans. While publicly John Howard and George W Bush were very close, behind the scenes the Liberal Party developed an even stronger relationship with the Republican Party. Whether it was John Howard’s son working on Republican campaigns or Liberal Party Pollsters Crosby Textor learning about push polling and databases, the Liberal Party have spent the last few decades importing the politics of fear and loathing, learning to replicate Lee Atwater’s famous scare campaigns.
Under the Howard Government, the Liberals perfected the scare campaign. They ran a scare campaign on asylum seekers in 2001, claiming that children had been thrown overboard; despite knowing they hadn’t. They ran an even more effective scare campaign in 2004, claiming that interest rates would always be lower under the Liberals (interest rates rose 10 times under Howard and Costello). But by 2007 they had run out of steam, running a half-hearted and unsuccessful scare campaign on trade unions.
But the Liberals are back in business with their latest effort – the debt and deficit scare campaign.
Get ready because it is coming to a TV and radio near you. For those who haven’t heard it, it goes like this: Government debt is out of control and the country is ruined.
Almost all of us go into debt for personal reasons: a new car, house or even mobile phones. But government debt is unfamiliar territory for most of us because governments of all persuasions at the state and federal level have been rolling in dollars thanks to the mining boom and housing revenues.
That is the unknown that Malcolm Turnbull and the Liberals are preying on.
Well I’d like to do what the Democrats didn’t in 1988 and shine a light on the strategy. So here are five facts you will never hear from the Liberals:
1. Cash payments only make up a small proportion of the Stimulus and, as the National Accounts figures showed this week, they did their job as an immediate response to the global financial crisis.
2. 70% of the Stimulus is invested in infrastructure – schools, roads, railways and energy efficiency measures which are only getting under way now, sustaining jobs for the next two years and providing a lasting legacy for our children.
3. Australia has the lowest debt of any major advanced economy in the world.
4. The majority of our debt is due to less tax being collected as a result of the global recession ($210 billion over four years) and the end of the mining boom.
5. Because of this, Mr Turnbull and Mr Hockey have had to admit they too would experience a deficit if in office; about $275 billion or $25 billion less than Labor.
You won’t see any of these facts in the Liberal Party’s scare campaign. They won’t even acknowledge there is a global recession or admit the Stimulus package is working, because if they were telling the truth – it wouldn’t be a scare campaign.
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