The way the American media reported it, the second debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney during the week was a bruising, bare-knuckle affair—the roughest and most aggressive presidential debate ever. Crocodile Dundee comes to mind. “That wasn’t aggressive. THIS is aggressive.”

Ha, ha, ha, those damn Aussies have no idea how much this new campaigning costs… Picture: AFP

The Democratic president and his Republican challenger presented their arguments forcefully, and there was plenty of needle in the contest. But, compared with what we’ve become used to in Australia in recent times, they were remarkably respectful towards each other in the language they used.

The most offensive term I heard during the 90 minute telecast was “offensive”. Although each man was out to convince the massive TV audience that his opponent was telling untruths, neither uttered the word “lie”.

Romney even thanked the president for being part of the debate. Obama described Romney as “a good man”. It would be nice to think that Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott could abandon crude invective and start to behave in a similarly civilised manner - but don’t hold your breath. Other aspects of the US election, however, will have an influence in Australia.

Our politicians and backroom operators in both major parties are watching and learning.

Liberal Party federal director Brian Loughnane plugged directly into the Romney campaign when he attended the Republican convention in Tampa, Florida. The Liberals are believed to have a representative embedded with the Republicans for the duration.

Gillard’s staff are in close contact with Obama’s people. One of her senior advisers recently held talks with the president’s pollster in New York. And Labor and Liberal officials will get detailed briefings on campaign techniques and strategy—what worked and what didn’t—from their Democrat and Republican counterparts after the election on November 6.

The Liberals are paying particular attention to Obama’s so-called “class war” strategy, because it is similar to Wayne Swan’s efforts here to rebuild Labor’s base by attacking mining billionaires and linking Abbott with them.

Obama’s pitch aimed at middle class voters is that he is concerned about all Americans while the wealthy Romney is for the richest one per cent. Hence that moment in the debate when Romney unwisely asked Obama: “Have you looked at your pension?” The president replied: “It’s not as big as yours so it doesn’t take as long.”

The “gender war” that has recently dominated Australian politics is also reflected in the US campaign.

Obama went to great lengths in the debate - as he does at every opportunity - to position his opponent as “anti-women” on things like abortion, health care and pay equity.

Romney’s counter-strategy is to direct his economic management message directly at female voters, in the belief that women are at least as concerned about economic issues as men and possibly more knowledgeable.

For obvious reasons both Gillard and Abbott will keep a close eye on how this tussle turns out. In terms of campaign techniques being used in the Obama-Romney contest, the area of most interest for Australian politicians and their minders is the growing importance of social media.

As one commentator wrote: “The 2012 US presidential election campaign is being fought with tweets, hashtags, Facebook updates and emails in a battle for digital supremacy which may be a key to victory.”

According to a Labor apparatchik who has been closely following the campaign: “The volume is incomprehensible, and the speed of the rapid response game now is what stands out.”

Both the Republicans and Democrats are able to produce videos responding to claims or mistakes of their opponents and get them on the internet within an hour.

The cost of resources required is already frightening Australia’s political parties.

“There’s a lot parties here can learn here about the digital social media stuff, especially about rapid response” says a Liberal minder.  “But only if we’ve got the money.

“The skill will be in determining what’s the hoop-la and what’s actually been effective in moving votes.”

Obama pioneered the use of social media in his 2008 White House campaign, and is still way ahead of the Republicans in this area. “We’ve been working really closely to learn lessons from Obama,” a Labor source told me yesterday.

“One thing we learned was that you can’t tell people what to do on social media. You want to kind of receive rather than transmit. You want to have a conversation.”

An example of this Obama influence is a recent Gillard video that invites people to tell the PM about their favourite teacher.  The aim is to open up a discussion via video, email and Facebook about education policy and the proposed Gonski reforms.

Obama’s pollster advised that, in advertising, too, middle-ground voters don’t want to be shouted at or told what to do or think. They want information and a chance to deliberate on it.

Consequently many of Obama’s TV commercials have been longer than the usual 30 seconds, are delivered in a soft rather than hectoring voice, refer to a plan, and provide an internet link where voters can get more information.

Labor is already looking at a similar approach.

Comments on this post will close at 8pm AEST.

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    • John says:

      02:52pm | 20/10/12

      US only goes after, weak targets, Iraq, Libya. Iran is different ball game all together, they know this, this why the US has caused a civil war in Syria to weaken Iran’s influence from Tehran to the Mediterranean Sea. They also imposed sanctions, in order to weaken Iran’s economy. With Assad fall seems very unlikely, Putin is too strong to toppled by the CIA and subversive pussy riots band members, Kasparov and US aid (CIA front organization), this thing looks like it’s going to play out for the next few years.

      If the US decides to move against Iran militarily, it could spark the end of the US, by causing a US military defeat and economic collapse and It’s US base’s to be taken over by Iran. US will no longer be a player to anything anymore and will beg for cheap oil from Iran.

    • OCO says:

      05:04pm | 20/10/12

      Wow, John. There’s so much stupid in there it’s difficult to know where to start.

    • nihonin says:

      07:20am | 20/10/12

      Obama, run, the Left won’t like seeing you pictured with a member of clergy, especially one, where you’re even sharing a joke with said clergy member and with Romney to boot.  You have failed them…................miserably.  wink

    • Yawn says:

      02:25pm | 20/10/12

      Romney, run, the Mormon Right won’t like seeing you pictured with a member of clergy, especially one, where you’re even sharing a joke with said clergy member and with Obama to boot.  You have failed them…................miserably.

    • Amused Qld says:

      07:24am | 20/10/12

      Difference here is that only Labor needs to attract more votes.
      As for the invective, the most recent and disgraceful was the “PM” calling her opposition a coward and saying “he doesnt have the guts”......please!!  Where is the class there Laurie?  Calling someone out for telling a lie isnt nearly as offensive to me. 
      So call it what you will Laurie, but to incite race riots, attacking the richest taxpayers in the country and trying a class war (uncouthly) and now the latest gender war attacks from the potty mouths of Labor women, is about as low as we can go.  The invective is heavily loaded on one side and the Australian public dont like it.  What is to be learnt from America?  They only have to use their brains and look in our own back yard and worry what the Australian people think.  And they do think differently to Americans.  For mine, looks like Obama is gone too.  The people want results no empty promises and hollow words.

    • Chris L says:

      10:12am | 20/10/12

      Again we see that one side is pure and virtuous and the other side plots to bring chaos and destruction just for the fun of it. No wonder neither of the majors lift their game, they don’t feel the need.

    • Lodie says:

      10:32am | 20/10/12

      “Calling someone out for telling a lie isnt nearly as offensive to me. ”
      Calling someone out on a lie while repeatedly lying yourself but covering it up by saying if it isn’t scripted it might not be truth is offensive to me and very hypocritical.

      “but to incite race riots” - how about looking at Abbots good mate and a fellow right whinger of yours - Allan Jones. Also if you are refering to the Canberra incident I wouldn’t really call it a riot and it was also started by a staffer not the PM.

      Regarding Gender war attacks - Abbot deserved everything he got, Julia gave examples of his misdemours when it comes to woman equality. Everyone should just stop referring to gender completely, if all was equal it wouldn’t be an issue.

      As to what happens here, I don’t care who anyone votes for as long as it is informed and they have looked at all sides of the argument and balanced it with their priorities. For that reason I am a leftie, I am for free healthcare and education for everyone, yes that is a socialist view but before I get knocked down by the right whingers I am not a doll bludger, I am from a middle class family, who paid my own way through university and now married in the upper middle class range. I don’t mind paying taxes in order to have the wealthy and healthy australia that I want.

    • Soames says:

      12:14pm | 20/10/12

      @Lodie, obviously your university days didn’t include how to spell, how to type, or lexicon knowledge, Otherwise your post is marked ‘satisfactory’, but possibly can be improved by your marrying into the “upper middle class range”, but, beware, it could prove to be a social card from a corn flakes packet. Good luck.

    • lodie says:

      01:52pm | 20/10/12

      I am so sorry Soames, I didn’t study an Arts degree. You find the maths and science streams don’t focus on things you obviously find important and that seem to give you a sense of superiority. But thanks for being a typical troll and focusing on grammer and spelling rather than content.

    • Robbo says:

      08:00am | 20/10/12

      Perhaps if Julias voice wasnt like nails down a blackboard, there would be less agression in general politics.  I instantly become irritated and uncomfortable the moment I hear her speak.

    • Gregg says:

      09:03am | 20/10/12

      We should be able to handle various voices Robbo and for me it’s what’s said that counts.
      We have seen much criticism of Labor and Gillard as far as policies and decisions and even though Tony Abbott may have gone out to address a rally that had people holding placards, I’ve not known Tony Abbott to go down the track of using stuff like unfit to be PM, Dr. No, Mr Wabbitt , or the latest screams of sexism and misogynism as well as cowardly and not having the guts.

      I do hope the general public are able to make sound judgements even if they do not always get helped in doing so by media reports.

    • maria says:

      08:02am | 20/10/12

      What have we learnt from the land of freedom and democracy ????
      Lincoln’s definition of democracy;
      Government of the people, by the people, for the people.

      Today definition of democracy in USA ;
      Government of the mob, by the mob, for the mob under.

      According to Tocqueville, democracy had some unfavorable consequences: the tyranny of the majority .... today it is the tyranny of the mob and their cronies.

      Democracy meant rule by the people, oligarchy meant rule by the few…

      What has happened to the people after an election?.
      Is this a lie?
      Is this a fraud?

      Authoritarian regime;
      Government by a little group of leaders.
      Authoritarian regimes have no distinct state ideology and grant some amount of freedom (e.g. economic and cultural) as long as their rule is not jeopardized. The most important goal of authoritarian regimes is the maintenance of power and the personal enrichment on cost of the country and its population.

      IN AUSTRALIA, the rise of a political class who are in essence a dictatorship who are cut off from real world, manipulate the truth, enrich themselves at the tax payers expense. The political parties no longer represent the interests of the public but serve as vehicles for personal ambitions. This is in contrast to the establishment of yesteryear who may have been snobbish but had strong values of public service.

      Democracy: A democracy is a society in which the citizens are sovereign and control the government…..ARE WE ?????

    • Soames says:

      12:52pm | 20/10/12

      Maria, tentatively, you have a brief outline of the politics of politicians. It’s of course to stay in power by finessing the results of polling. It’s the results that most align their policies that matter to them. If the result is negative, the policy will be nuanced. That’s not to say that politicians are uncaring people. They are, except for their primary ambition, which is to visit upon their peoples, the results of whatever personal epiphany they’ve had, to make a better society.  Ever heard of a General winning a war? Well they don’t. Prime Ministers or Presidents win wars. And citizens aren’t sovereign. They don’t control the government. It’s the rule of law that’s sovereign in a democracy, otherwise we have anarchy.

    • Mayday says:

      08:03am | 20/10/12

      I doubt out political leaders would be photographed sitting either side of a priest, too hot to handle and thank “god” for that.

      Election early in the new year perhaps?


      08:35am | 20/10/12

      Hi Laurie,

      So the Americans could really teach us one or two things about good public speaking skills and election campaigning which go hand in hand! Isn’t free speech a wonderful thing when it is actually practised with mutual respect and dignity? Of course the election campaigns happen to b e very colourful and expensive in the USA to say the least.  And Americans have been doing it slightly longer than the Australian politicians.  However that isn’t the issue here and we can’t deny the importance of social media websites like Facebook and Twitter in relation to successful marketing of anything really. 

      Buying airtime in the USA or Australia happens to be a very expensive business with all those millions of dollars spent on television advertising with eye catching and “straight to the heart of potential voters” kinds of commercials.  When we look at the power social media networks and the whole new generation of voters are showing true interest in the whole voting process with a whole new attitude.  Somehow there is no denying the fact that even most ordinary members of the public do have a voice unlike ever before.  Where we were only served up certain kinds of dishes and not the others, in the past.  But I only presume that the times certainly have changed for the better, thankfully.

      Right now it seems that we do have a choice and a voice in relation to the the outcome of any upcoming election by sharing very interesting information like the presidential debate in the USA, almost instantaneously!  And in conclusion we will eventually make up our own minds about who happens to much more worthy of that job description than the others, right?  And true public speaking skills make it possible by giving us a chance to be stimulated mentally.  The key question here happens to be “do we all want to be entertained or informed by our leaders” or may be a bit of both?  Kind regards.

    • porter says:

      12:46pm | 20/10/12

      This doesn’t bode for well for the Australian conservatives.
      They just don’t get technology and social media. Case in point the NBN.
      After initially failing in their goto strategy of “let the private sector do it”, they responded to the booing crowd with the trusted…  there will be “waste of money” and “cost blowouts” that works so well when you have a compliant megaphone of a press that operate unhindered by facts.
      If you are struggling with this, think BER. The conservatives shouted waste and mismanagement bought the press megaphone new batteries and the press gladly obliged in passing on the conservative fact free claims.
      In the years that followed, the facts were investigated many times and the claims were found to be unsubstantiated, but after years of being yelled at with false claims and innuendo, the damage was done. A program that delivered needed education infrastructure and kept the nation in work during the GFC was tarnished. Even today, after all the facts have come out, conservatives will still dispute the facts and perpetuate the lies. Just have a look at the comments.
      Conservatives don’t know why the NBN is so popular but understand they need to keep a low profile on it. Even amongst swinging voters that are leaning towards the opposition, you can hear the angst as they desperately want the NBN at their doorstep before a conservative government can rip it away from them. The opposition strategy of late appears to be to deflect the NBN infrastructure argument at a non-existent internet filter or privacy issue. Again, let the lies run their course and damage will be done.
      Conservatives don’t get social media…. at all.
      The entire strategy of the Abbott led opposition is to yell at you, tell you what to think and try to scare the pants off you (think price on carbon).
      Heaven forbid they should have a conversation with you. You know, give you some actual facts, tell you what their plan is, where the money is going to come from and why it’s good for Australia. Yes actual facts – not three word slogans. The opposition has defined itself on what it doesn’t like about Labor policy (everything) and what it won’t do. The opposition has no positive vision for Australia, doesn’t know how to have a conversation and will be entirely ineffective in its attempt at connecting with the voters via social media.

    • Gregg says:

      06:59pm | 20/10/12

      Saturday jokes is it for I doubt the NBN is at all popular and just look at take up rates.
      As for
      ” They just don’t get technology and social media. Case in point the NBN.
      After initially failing in their goto strategy of “let the private sector do it”, they responded to the booing crowd with the trusted…  there will be “waste of money” and “cost blowouts”

      Certainly been blowouts and no doubt with poor acceptance, waste of money will follow.
      The LNP have a policy of having fast broadband and just doing it differently and far cheaper.

    • Soames says:

      01:04pm | 20/10/12

      OK Laurie, anyone who follows American politics would have realised a month or so ago, that Hilary Clinton had led the so-called gender wars, but as you say the “gender war” that has recently dominated Australian politics is also reflected in the US campaign’, is I think, arse about.

    • Amused says:

      01:09pm | 20/10/12

      Cute. Campaign 101 for numpties? Australian professionals know how to campaign in Australia already. Don’t mistake techniques in the US as superior. That’s a rookie error.

    • J.t says:

      01:19pm | 20/10/12

      Some of the partisan comments on Australian blog sites like the punch are hilarious-left, right, democrat, republican, liberal, labor….

      Left, right, left, right….

      The march of tyranny continues.

      What I would do to see Gary Johnson get the nomination….hell even Ron Paul.

      The pettiness of coming on here and spewing partisan garbage when you don’t even realize both parties in both countries are basically identical.

      Keep thinking Romney, Abbott, Obama or Gillard would make a difference in your life…it means they win, it means you give them a
      Relevance they simply don’t need or deserve.

    • Bruce says:

      01:24pm | 20/10/12

      The illegal immigrant invasion ensures the Labor Party hasn’t a hope in Hades of winning the next election -  everything else is almost irrelevant.

    • Gregg says:

      01:26pm | 20/10/12

      I suppose those blokes having a good chuckle can also teach us it doesn’t matter what colour your skin, you can always have a good laugh over underpants.
      Or they wouldn’t be a little sexist would they and have just seen someone kissing grass on a big screen!

    • OscarJ says:

      01:38pm | 20/10/12

      Yet News Ltd is as guilty as any for repeated the mantra that Julia Gillard ‘lied’ about ‘no carbon tax’ when she did no such thing.

      She said there will be no carbon tax but there will be a price on carbon and that exactly what she has implemented. But when the media simply lops of the rest of a sentence the meaning can become the opposite.

      The media should look to itself first before it lectures us on lies.

    • D Fuss says:

      02:54pm | 20/10/12

      Most Australians support the Republucans. Romney won both debates and will win because Obama is like Labor and does everything wrong and has distroyed the country.

    • uneducated fusspot says:

      05:00pm | 20/10/12

      Bush the nincompoop distroyed the place I say, distroyed it.
      obvious idiot is obvious

    • Shane From Melbourne says:

      05:41pm | 20/10/12

      Wrong, Australia was destroyed when Howard decided to become a middle class family welfare drug pusher and Rudd, Gillard and Abbott decided to follow suit…..

    • Carol says:

      05:43pm | 20/10/12

      You most be joking “Most Australians support the Republicans:!
      Most Australians I’d suggest dont give a rats.  As for Obama destroying his country, I’d suggest it was on the way down long before he was elected. More to the point, it matters not who becomes the new president, the American slide will continue.

    • murph says:

      06:33pm | 20/10/12

      Unfortunately most Australians don’t support the Republicans.  This is mainly because they’re entire diet of American politics is drip fed to the by the PR wing on the US Democrat party, led by the likes of AP and Reuters.

      The tone used in any mention of the Republicans is, without exception, negative.  The tone used in any mention of Obamadamadingdong is, without exception, favourable.

    • Peter says:

      06:48pm | 20/10/12

      “Most Australians support the Republicans” - where did you get that from?

    • Peter says:

      04:27pm | 20/10/12

      Wasn’t Laurie one of the outspoken in regard to John Howard being so close to the US as were all the ALP.
      Can Gillard suck up to the big players any harder?


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