Can any parallels be drawn between the Australian elections of 2007, (the Kevin’07 campaign) and the current U.S. presidential elections? There are some similarities and some obvious differences. For a start, America is a super power and its political trends have far reaching global implications while Australia is by comparison an inconsequential backwater (the arse end of the earth to use the phrase coined by ex prime minister Paul Keating). Australia’s political system is fundamentally different to the American system and is based on the British Westminster system. Despite the fact that in Australia and Britain votes are cast for one party or another rather than the leader as head of state, both have moved closer to presidential style campaigns in recent years. The personality of leaders is ever more important and campaigns are carefully planned in response to polls and demographic analysis.
In both the 2007 Australian election and the 2008 American election, long serving conservative governments faced off against an opposition claiming to represent the winds of change. Despite McCain’s efforts to distance himself from the Bush administration and present himself as a ‘maverick’, years of alignment with Bush’s policies will make any distancing difficult. Howard described himself as a ‘climate change skeptic’ and refused to sign the Kyoto protocol. McCain is also seen as weak on the environment.
Both Howard and McCain are older men and both struggle to represent themselves as men of the future. Both Rudd and Obama are younger men and have found it much easier to present themselves as a breath of fresh air, despite lacking any truly revolutionary policies.
Perhaps the greatest similarity between the Australian campaign and the U.S. campaign is the advent of the internet as a potent political force. Howard was slow to employ the web to his advantage and his use of it showed a fundamental misunderstanding of the medium. Howard’s YouTube videos were stiff and conventional, much a like a party political broadcast on tried and true TV. Howard’s YouTube received numerous negative comments and users were outraged when their comments were promptly deleted. It also quickly became a spam magnet. Rudd primarily used MySpace and his tone was much more casual and relaxed. The majority of comments were positive but negative comments remained on the site. Rudd’s savvy use of the web medium made it easier for him to be portrayed as future friendly and helped his campaign resonate with younger voters.
John McCain claims not to know how to even use email and has all but admitted he is technology illiterate. Obama’s campaign seems to be using the web much more effectively. The reasons for this are quite simple; the Obama camp spends way much more on advertising. Obama’s web site is much more popular McCain’s site; it is visited monthly by 4 times as many people as McCain’s one (2.2 million vs. 583 thousand). Obama is also much more popular with various social media sites as well.
Sarah Palin’s use of her personal email account to conduct public affairs in Alasksa, which allowed a hacker to gain access to her account does little to negate the perception that the Republican camp is technologically challenged. McCain may have chosen Palin as running mate partly because of her youth. Despite getting a temporary boost after the convention, Palin’s inexperience now seems to be doing little more than making McCain look old.
Effective use of online media may not be the deciding factor in this campaign, nor was it in the Australian election, however, it is undeniable that the political importance of the web is now much greater. This is also a particularly telling factor when candidates attempt to promote themselves as agents for change and leaders for the future.
McCain is looking more and more like yesterday’s man, as did John Howard.
Apparently Sarah Palin has attracted a great deal of support because people identify with her; because she appears to be an ordinary person, “just like you and me”. The truth is, successful politicians are not ordinary people. They have highly specialised skills, knowledge and experience. Such qualities are kind of necessary when managing a national economy or facing a potential global crisis. Anyone who disagrees with this should consider running for office.
In response to questions on Palin’s foreign policy credentials, supporters have said that she must have a good grasp of foreign policy as Alaska is close to Russia. Perhaps she also has a strong grasp of space policy; Mount McKinley is in Alaska and quite close to space.
The New York Times called her “a tyrannical woman who pursues vendettas and fires people who cross her.” She made an ex schoolmate director of the State Division of Agriculture after citing her childhood love of cows as a qualification for the job. She has also had her office ring to berrate bloggers who posted material that offended her. Perhaps I’d better be careful as to what I say about her. No matter what your opinion of Palin’s ‘pro choice’ pro NRA evangelism might be you’d have to admit her leadership credentials are a bit shaky.
The U.S. and the world now faces an economic crisis, possibly of the dimensions of the great depression. A McCain/Palin adminstration would only continue the distastrous economic policies put in place by George Bush. Ill advised tax cuts, a highly expensive war and mounting levels of private and national debt have brought about the current crisis. China is one of America’s largest creditors and seems set to become the new global super power.
Now is surely not the time to elect an ‘ordinary person’ with little economic or foreign policy experience. Only an extraordinary leader has any chance of dealing with the challenges which loom on the horizon.
John McCain has released a television commercial that likens Barack Obama’s celebrity status to other celebrities like Paris Hilton. The comparison was not meant to be complimentary. It targets Obama’s youth and inexperience with the catch phrase “Is he ready to lead?” Paris Hilton has released a commercial in response. Her parody calls McCain ‘the oldest celebrity in the world’ and likens him to figures such as the Golden Girls, Colonel Sanders, Larry King and Yoda from Star Wars.
Paris Hilton states that she is not from ‘the olden days’ and that she does not stand for change; she’s just hot, “so thanks white haired dude”. She does actually put foward an energy policy involving tax incentives and limited offshore oil drilling. She ends saying that if elected she might paint the Whitehouse pink.
McCain’s response is that Paris Hilton has a better energy policy than Obama. It’s quite surprising that Paris Hilton has actually made a coherent political statement, albeit inadvertently. John McCain’s age, the perception that he is rooted in ‘the olden days’ and out of touch with the future is at least as much of a negative than any doubts about Obama’s youth and inexperience.
In fact, it may well be much more of a negative than he realises.