This is no country of just old, white men
As if politics wasn’t a difficult and dirty enough business; politicians also have to take into account the unwholesome fact that nutters vote, too.
There’s a lesson for Opposition Leader Tony Abbott in how failed US Presidential candidate Mitt Romney stretched himself a bit too far. He wanted to pitch to the far right but couldn’t quite span the octave. His finger slipped off the middle bit and he lost votes there instead.
Conservatives need the votes of older, white men - but by hooking up with sexist, racist, homophobic nutters (who often appeal to some of those conservative white men) they risk losing other, equally important votes.
The US Presidential race has shown us many things; that you can spend a lot of money and end up back where you started; that Donald Trump can trump his own brand of crazy; that some speeches are great even if you can’t remember the content.
The other thing it shows is that – deep breaths, people – it’s not all about the possible Presidents. There could have been a very different outcome if Mitt Romney had made it through the campaign with the Tea Party inflicting its particular brand of crazy on the voting public.
He had brilliant material to work with – the national debt, unemployment near 8 per cent, Obama’s poor approval ratings. And he still did well with white people, and with men, and older people. But it turns out that most of America is not old white men. And they can be turned off by the extreme conservatives that tend to congregate in that bracket.
Romney failed to convince people that he was all that different from his colleagues Paul anti-Planned Parenthood Ryan, Todd Legitimate Rape Akin and Richard God Intended It Mourdock.
Mr Abbott is still trying to convince voters that he is not just a conservative Catholic who would like to take women back to the 1950s.
If the United States were an island, Mr Romney would be a turn-back-the-boats kinda guy.
But both Mr Romney and Mr Abbott are, on their own, within the parameters where they can appeal to a broad enough span of the population. As long as they cut loose the crazy lone rangers roaming the far boundaries, who leave the moderates circling the wagon.
Mr Abbott only pushed Mr Bernardi aside when he – finally – crossed a bridge that was too far even for him. But it’s not just extremists in his own party he needs to cut loose – he is firmly linked in the public mind with repulsive ranter Alan Jones, with those Ditch the Witch signs.
When politicians dogwhistle to the conservative pack, they seem to forget that other people can hear them, not just their intended audience.
When Mr Abbott tries to keep the extreme nutters on side, he forgets that there’s a swag of people in the middle who shudder with revulsion.
When Ms Gillard tried not to scare off the religious right by namby pambying around on gay marriage, or by pandering to the Australian Christian Lobby, she forgets the message that sends to gay people.
When anyone fear mongers on immigration, they are forgetting that we – like America – are a nation of immigrants.
Despite the Obama love flooding the world, it was ultimately less a win for him than it was a loss for Romney.
In the end, Romney scared the horses with all those wagons he was hitching up. He scared off the women, and the non-whites, while Obama won them – and the gays, too.
There’s a parallel lesson here. Politicians probably need the votes of conservative, old, white men – but they need to find a way to win them without alienating the rest of the population.
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