Someone linked the ALP-friendly blog The Pub the other day on Twitter, and I read it idly because its stuff too often descends into boilerplate rants, and this one was no different. One passage perked up my interest, though.
People are sick of eternal struggle. They’re sick of politics and stress. They want to relax and enjoy the benefits of this great country they live in, without being hectored, divided into factions and demographics, and then encouraged to disparage, heckle or pick on each other.Now, it is possible to overstate the dominance of Howard's ethos - while he did mouth the phrase "relaxed and comfortable" to describe how he wanted the populace to feel, the culture wars were a hallmark of his reign, with conservative elites pushing on with their social issue battles regardless. As part of Abbott's policy of retreading most of the Howard era, the new culture wars are well underway, not only with the reintroduction of dames and knights but the ongoing efforts to reverse the nanny statism of things like tobacco plain packaging.
Australia is not a hot-headed country. We’re more laid back about our politics. We like to be “relaxed and comfortable”. Culture wars, seething anger, envy, polemics, lies, spin, scandals and the rest are fun while they last, but we’re tired now.
Thus, articles like this one from the Saturday Paper about the sinister, shadowy influence of the Institute of Public Affairs are sonorously intoned into the public conversation, warning of the attacks from the far right. Personally, I think this is all a big nothing. Historically, the IPA has been a perennial loser when the actual results of the battles are tallied up. Howard may have emboldened the right to fill endless column inches with screeds on social issues through the turn of the millennium, but he was the one who implemented tough gun control after Port Arthur, he was the one who nearly doubled immigration intakes over his reign (having learned his lesson after been dumped as Liberal leader in 1989 due to an ill-advised excursion into anti-Asian rhetoric), and he was the one who increased government spending on middle class welfare to create a Big Australia by funding families in true conservative tradition.
Being "sick of politics" is the sort of thing that a Rudd can tap into when he runs as an anti-politician, with mixed results. Abbott is a regular, garden variety politician who lies like the rest of them and can't be trusted. If he's going to go retro Howard on us, he has to understand that an essential part of that was that Howard, like Reagan before him, was secretly a tax-and-spend big government Tory whose electoral success relied in part on disappointing the dries of the IPA. Joe Hockey understands this. If Abbott doesn't get it, he'll get booted out.