Sunday, September 20, 2020

6 Words

We here in Oz constantly wonder at the US political system. Some of the things about US elections and politics that confuse us: 
- the Democratic Party destroying itself every 4 years when selecting a candidate to run; 
- the electoral college system; 
- the voting being on a weekday; 
- voting not being compulsory; 
- that unlike the position of the Prime Minister, the President is not selected by the parliamentarians of the party in government. 

No doubt the Americans are just us nonplussed that: 
- in a democracy, we fine voters for not voting unless they have a reasonable excuse; 
- our preferential system of voting; 
- we change our Prime Ministers as soon as the polls start falling; 
- the party MPs can kick out the PMs. 

Where we really scratch our heads is wondering how things can be said, and done, in the US by political leaders which if done in Oz would create such scandal, condemnation and political fallout that it could result in the loss of office and government. 

If Donald Trump’s actions and words had happened here, featuring a local politician, the response and flow on effects would be quite different from what has been happening in the US. 

That is why today I am reposting an article by Joe Hildebrand that was published yesterday on The original can be read at: 

He is one of my favourite columnists whose articles are always worth reading, the item below offering some insights and a spin on the US elections that I hadn’t considered. 

Joe Hildebrand: Just six words can sum up modern politics 

Just six words can sum up what people think of modern politicians. But it is a lesson that political parties continue to ignore. 

September 19, 2020 

Perhaps the greatest ever lesson in modern politics was relayed to me by the man with whom I now share a microphone on 2GB. 

It was a decade ago and veteran radio host John Stanley and I were rummaging through the nuclear fallout of the Labor caucus’s fateful decision to knife Kevin Rudd, a first term prime minister, in the dead of night. 

Chief among the reasons was Rudd’s personality – his perceived contempt for cabinet colleagues and top bureaucrats, his stubbornness and narcissism, his temper tantrums and cool disdain. 

Hardened backroom operators who once buried people over a plate of shredded beef at the Golden Century Chinese restaurant now clutched their pearls at such unbecoming behaviour and so buried Rudd too for his rudeness. 

Bringing down a government for bad manners seemed like something of an overreach to both me and John and to illustrate the point he told me about a chance meeting he had with a Labor elder statesman at a Sydney cafe. 

Stanley rattled off the laundry list of complaints about Rudd and the wise old warrior simply shrugged his shoulders. 

“So he’s a c**t,” he said. “So what?” 

There is more political wisdom in those six words than in a thousand polls or focus groups, neither of which have any value unless you know how to use them. 

Put bluntly, most people have the same view of all politicians. The only thing they care about is which one is going to do more for them. 

US President Donald Trump’s latest scandals are unlikely to bring him undone in the election. 

The art of character assassination might have been an effective weapon in more puritanical times but in the age of social media, in which virtually every public figure is instantly scandalised by some outrage or another and such facts are rarely if ever agreed upon, it has no use. 

It is therefore staggering that Democrat strategists and activists genuinely still believe that heaping one more scandal upon Donald Trump, a man whose entire career already rests on a scaffold of scandals, will finally bring him undone. 

Lest we forget, this is a man who was publicly caught on tape in 2016 saying that when meeting women he could just “grab ‘em by the pussy” and got elected President of the United States a month later. 

Now, four years later, the same people are convinced that reports of some vile comments he made calling fallen US soldiers “losers” and “suckers” will guarantee his loss in six weeks’ time. 

Did he make the comments? Probably. Were the comments disgraceful? Certainly.

Will they cost him the election? Almost certainly not. 

For the record, I made this prediction on the US politics podcast I’m Usually More Professional more than a week ago based on nothing more than a hunch. 

Now the numbers are in. 

In a Hills-HarrisX poll conducted in the days following the Atlantic Magazine’s expose of the comments, Trump’s approval rating actually rose to a three-month high of 47 per cent. And this is not just my analysis. 

The headline in Newsweek could not have been clearer: “Trump Approval Rating Rises Despite Controversial Atlantic Article, Poll Shows”. 

Obviously, this is not an election-winning figure but it is equally clear that the reported comments did not hurt his standing and possibly fed into his supporters’ ardent belief that there is a media conspiracy to sabotage his re-election. 

Of course, there is also the continuous question of whether polls can be trusted given their failure to predict Trump’s victory last time, not to mention similar discrepancies in the UK Brexit vote and the 2019 Australian election. 

There are countless words to be said about this but the simple fact is that all these polls underestimated the right vote, so were the same assumption to be made about this one Trump would be doing even better. 

This brings us to another unlikely prediction I made two weeks ago both here and on the podcast, namely that if Trump got re-elected it would be on the back of progressive middle-class women. 

This group, I suggested – again purely on a hunch – would be both the most worried by the violence of the rioting in the US and the least likely to admit to pollsters they would vote for Trump. 

This is the great question of the so-called “shy voter”, a phenomenon so opaque that pollsters are divided as to whether it even exists. 

For political analysts, it is the equivalent of what astronomers call dark matter or dark energy. It cannot be seen in and of itself but explains things that otherwise have no explanation. 

And, surprise surprise, it might just be real. Another pollster told Bay News 9 – a cable news service in Florida, the state which Trump shocked the world by winning in 2016 – that there did indeed seem to be some strange forces at play. 

Mason-Dixon polling head Brad Coker pointed specifically to the state of Wisconsin, one of the classic Midwest states that was assumed to be a Democrat stronghold yet swung for Trump in 2016. 

As the article states, Hillary was supposed to be a shoo-in – up at least five percentage points on the night before the election – but Trump snuck home. 

Why? “Coker cites the discrepancy in pre-election and exit polls with one specific demographic.” 

And who could that be? “White women with college degrees.” 

This group was telling pollsters they supported Clinton by a margin of more than 20 per cent. According to exit polls that margin was in fact just seven points. 

Wisconsin is of course also the home of the once sleepy regional city of Kenosha, which is still reeling from mass rioting and killings after yet another police shooting of a black suspect. 

One can only imagine how secure those college-educated white women are feeling now. I suspect defunding the police isn’t top of their list of priorities. 

And so if the Democrats’ assumption is they will turn away in disgust from Trump after his latest crude comments I suspect they might be disappointed. 

Enough already voted for him after knowing what he might do if he met them and clearly decided the benefits outweighed the risks. 

Maybe they were more worried about a bad economy than bad language. Maybe they were more worried about faux outrage than false promises. 

And maybe they just thought to themselves: “So he’s a c**t. So what?” 

Joe Hildebrand is co-host of the US politics podcast I’m Usually More Professional and Nights with John Stanley on 2GB from 8pm Thursdays

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