In a recent post, Bruce reflected on the (possible) fall of the right-wing narrative that underscored the tenure of the Howard Government. Since they were booted out of office, the Lib/Nats have abandoned core policy positions on Aboriginal reconciliation, on industrial relations and on nuclear power. Even in the last term of the Howard Government they were dragged kicking and screaming to the party on climate change, and as has been recently revealed, were planning to pull Australian soldiers out of Iraq. Howard himself appeared on the cusp of a U-turn in indigenous affairs policy in the dying days of his regime, promising a constitutional referendum to recognise indigenous Australians in the constitution, and embracing symbolic as well as “practical” reconciliation. The major force in conservative politics in Australia is now sans a political platform, and sans a galvanising leader. [UPDATE: And how.] On the other side of the ledger, the Labor government has ratified Kyoto, apologised to the Stolen Generations, introduced legislation to dismantle Workchoices, and (as per party policy) will pull Australian troops out of Iraq. The death of a monolithic narrative, as Bruce put it, and
it happened in a very Australian way. Cars weren’t torched. Government departments weren’t blockaded. Counter dogma wasn’t preached by mass sections of the public. With a quiet confidence an a relatively minimal level of fuss, Australia simply said “no”.
In the comments I opined that the Australian right perhaps overreached itself, endeavouring to transpose a politically successful US Republican Party/Religious Right formula into an Australian context for which it was unsuited. But maybe that wasn’t the problem at all. Maybe the formula itself was tainted.
That is the view of Greg Anrig, vice president of policy at The Century Foundation. Anrig is the author of The Conservatives Have No Clothes (see this article for an overview), in which he argues that
the most important ideas developed and marketed almost exclusively by the right’s elaborate network of think tanks and advocacy institutions, after implementation by conservative Republican officeholders, have demonstrably failed to produce the promised results and in most cases have made conditions worse in concrete ways.
Anrig claims that rather than betraying the nostrums of modern conservatism, the Bush administration has faithfully implemented them; hence, Bush’s failures are the failures of modern conservatism. The author also emphasises the disconnect between modern and traditional conservatism, arguing that where traditional conservatism (as defined by 1964 Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater) promoted “economic, social, and political practices based on the successes of the past,” modern conservatives “simply wanted to roll back government, through any means necessary.”
The leading funders of movement conservatism didn’t think twice about what the consequences for the public—intended or unintended—might be of getting rid of this or that program or regulation or tax or policy. Just do whatever it takes to get on the offensive, attack, and beat back the government. Those were the kinds of results they wanted.
Sounds awfully familiar, doesn’t it? Even if you allow for the differences between the Australian and US political systems.