What Gillard could learn from Obama’s mistakes
The parallels between US politics and ours provide interesting lessons.
Just as we saw an historic swing against a one-term Labor government here in August, the US mid-term election last week saw a stunningly massive swing away from Obama’s Democrats that has the conservative Republicans gaining control of the House of Representatives.
Just a year ago both parties had immensely popular figureheads, in Rudd and Obama, who had been swept into office on a wave of symbolic rhetoric and grandiose promises. Granted, Rudd didn’t quite top Obama’s assertion that he would stop the seas rising, but he came close.
Their rapid descent from grace and popularity in such a short time frame is largely due to the belief that they’d fallen well short of their promises. And a justifiably cynical public took the first opportunity at the ballot box to punish them.
In Australia, some of that anger was mitigated by Rudd’s political assassination.
Post-election, the main question being asked of both Obama and new Labor leader Julia Gillard is “What do they really stand for?”.
Gillard is getting plenty of advice from both the commentariat and her own party (no less than elder statesman Graham Richardson) about the desperate need to outline some sort of agenda for the direction she wants to take her government and the nation.
There is one vital lesson she can learn from the Rudd/Obama example. It’s a simple one really: say what you mean and mean what you say.
The electorate is justifiably cynical about political double-speak and over-reaching promises of utopian government-delivered solutions.
Obama and Rudd’s eloquent yet empty words promised “hope and change”. They were designed to differentiate them from their plain-speaking longer-term opponents. And they did.
Problem was that the hollow reality of what these new Governments actually delivered in office left many feeling cheated and doubly cynical.
Symbolism, while attractive and distracting at times, will never win out over realistic action. Symbolic gestures should never be a substitute for solving complex issues – but they are so often the first tool of choice for Labor’s political spin masters.
Gillard is caught in a web of her own making on this issue. The “real Julia/fake Julia” distraction of the election campaign has set the tone. Now she seems to lapse in and out of the “robot speak” that was apparently “fake” Julia.
Her demure disinterest in foreign affairs, as evidenced in comments made during her recent trip, really diminishes her stature as a leader and feels at odds with her previously tough domestic persona. Exactly who is the real Julia Gillard?
She needs to learn lessons from the Rudd/Obama era of symbolism-bordering-on-fakery. Drop the spin - people just aren’t going to buy it anymore.
Or perhaps more instructively, she should go one back to Howard and Bush to realise that speaking plainly, having strong core beliefs, and sticking to your convictions might not always make you loved – but it will make you a stronger, more defined national leader.
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