Tuesday 13 May 2014

The Cruellest Cuts: Why Joe Hockey's Budget Will Almost Certainly Fare Worse Than Bill English's.

Budget Cutters: In the Anglophone economies it is becoming increasingly clear that the ruling classes' definition of the political nation (i.e. the people upon whom it is still legitimate to lavish taxpayers' money) is shrinking. Accordingly, there is a growing understanding among elite political managers that the electoral equation can only be made to work in their favour by ensuring that an increasingly large proportion of the electorate is dissuaded, for whatever reason, from casting a vote.
THE WORLD OWES a debt of gratitude to Scott Prouty, the Florida bartender who videoed Mitt Romney’s infamous 47 percent speech. It was during this speech that the Republican Party’s nominee for President of the United States told his $50,000 per person fundraiser that 47 percent of Americans were dependent on government, saw themselves as victims and believed government had a responsibility to care for them. More than any other single factor, it was Prouty’s recording that derailed Romney’s campaign for the Presidency.
The potency of the tape lay in the insight it provided into the minds of the very wealthy men and women to whom Romney was addressing his remarks. Some commentators construed its message as demonstrating how out of touch Romney and his Republican donors were with the realities of American life – especially in the aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC). Inasmuch as it grossly overstated the level of dependency and fundamentally mischaracterised the expectations of ordinary Americans Romney’s speech did testify to his political ignorance. What it also demonstrated, however, and more importantly, was the open contempt in which America’s ruling class held nearly half of the American people.
Because, of course, that “47 percent” wasn’t a statistic – it was code. What Romney was signalling to his audience was that once you deducted the Blacks, the Hispanics and the Poor White Trash from the raw total of American citizens, 53 percent was all you had left. His comments were thus intended both as a reminder and a warning to his wealthy donors about just how tenuous their position was. If something wasn’t done – and soon – to stem this rising tide of outstretched hands, Romney was saying, then “Real America” – the 53 percent – would find themselves out-voted by the other America.
This equation of White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant and economically comfortable America with “Real America” is deeply embedded in the political psyche of the Republican Right. Interestingly, one of the most cogent statements of WASP prejudice comes in Eric Roth’s screenplay for The Good Shepherd – a movie about the foundation and early years of the Central Intelligence Agency. Halfway through the film Roth brings together the hero, Edward Wilson (Matt Damon) a senior CIA officer, with Joseph Palmi (Joe Pesci) a Mafioso chieftain.
Joseph Palmi: Let me ask you something ... we Italians, we got our families, and we got the Church; the Irish, they have the homeland, Jews their tradition; even the Niggers, they got their music. What about you people, Mr. Wilson, what do you have?
Edward Wilson: The United States of America. The rest of you are just visiting.
This attitude remained deeply imbedded in the CIA. When the right-wing Republican, Ronald Reagan, became President in 1981, his appointee as CIA Director, William Casey, launched an unofficial purge of the Agency’s hyphenated Americans – especially those whose immigrant parents and grandparents hailed from suspect homelands in Eastern and Southern Europe.

AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND are not, of course, the United States, but, like it or not, they (along with Anglophone Canada) remain strong outposts of the great Anglo-Saxon diaspora of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Their ruling-classes, like the ruling-class of the United States, are also White, Anglo-Saxon (to which we can now append Celtic) and Christian (Protestants and Catholics having long ago joined forces against the rising tide of “Secular Humanism”) and in relation to their respective states both evince a deep proprietary awareness. They see it as their bounden duty to ensure that Australia and New Zealand continue to be governed by “the right people”.
In both countries there is a growing fear that the demographic structures of their populations are turning against them: that, as in the United States, the electoral equation can only be made to work in their favour by ensuring that an increasingly large proportion of the electorate is dissuaded, for whatever reason, from casting a vote.
The Australian ruling-class finds itself at a decided disadvantage on this score. The Commonwealth’s compulsory voting legislation means that the participation rate in Australian elections remains exceptionally high. It also means that when the Liberal Party finds itself in power, with its most aggressive ideologues calling the shots, its ability to implement the sort of far-Right programme demanded by it's billionaire backers tends to run into a series of demographic and democratic road-blocks.
Joe Hockey’s – the Liberal Party Treasurer’s – Budget is being trumpeted as a no-holds barred assault on the social-democratic reforms of the last 40 years. We shall see. The polls are already registering a gathering public rejection of the Liberal’s hard-line approach. If Hockey’s Budget is as bad as people fear, the Government of Tony Abbot may not see out the year. The precedent set by the Liberal-dominated Senate’s constitutionally objectionable refusal to pass the Budget of Gough Whitlam’s re-elected Labour Government in 1975 may well come back to haunt them.
The National Party-led government of John Key and Bill English in New Zealand has much more room to manoeuvre. Their ideological latitude is, paradoxically, attributable to the constitutional ramifications of National’s own attempt to do what Hockey hopes to do – unwind the welfare state and “put an end to the age of entitlement”. Ruth Richardson’s 1991 “Mother Of All Budgets” (clearly an inspiration for Hockey) so deranged the New Zealand political order that, in 1993, the voters threw out the First-Past-The-Post electoral system and replaced it with a form of proportional representation.
The conditions of so-called “elected dictatorship”, which had made the whole neoliberal revolution in New Zealand possible, were reconfigured in such radical fashion that the pursuit of a hard-line, ideologically-driven programme became electorally unfeasible.
For the foreseeable future New Zealand seemed destined to be ruled by necessarily moderate coalition governments. The former Reserve Bank Governor, Don Brash’s, determination to test this proposition in the election of 2005 brought his radically right-wing National Party closer to victory than many pundits believed possible – but not far enough.
One of the (many) mispronouncements and campaigning gaffes that cause Brash to lose the election was a statement he made just 72 hours before the polling booths opened in which he conflated “mainstream New Zealanders” with National Party supporters. The similarities between Brash’s remark and Romney’s are remarkable. The willingness of both men to cast half of their respective nation’s citizens as “The Other” – persons somehow unworthy of either recognition or representation – exposes the enduring weakness of the Far-Right. Its apparent incapacity to practice the politics of inclusion.
The contrast between and ultimate fate of Joe Hockey’s and Bill English’s Budgets will be interesting to observe. The former’s, I suspect, will prove the downfall of Tony Abbott’s government. The latter’s, by being framed to include as many of the voting public as English deems ideologically defensible, will, at the very least, give John Key’s government a fighting chance.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Monday, 12 May 2014.


Guerilla Surgeon said...

"electoral equation can only be made to work ......large proportion of the electorate is dissuaded, for whatever reason, from casting a vote."

And by gerrymandering.

Olwyn said...

This post and the one before it are deeply related, since they are both in different ways about coping with the demands of the empire and its well-cushioned courtiers.

I too will be interested to see how Australians respond to Joe Hockey's budget. Europe and Australian have proved the hard nuts to crack in the corporate demand that half the population be thrown overboard. I hope that your predictions are correct, and that the Liberals fail to get away with it.

However, I do not accept your claim that National is forced to be moderate. For one thing, Key's popularity put together with National's annexing of ACT and the subservience of the Maori Party, permit it to go on functioning as an elected dictatorship. For another, NZ is far further along Romney's favoured path than Australia is, so that it does not take much for National to seem moderate - it has to do just enough to reassure the more squeamish members of the comfortable middle class that they are not horrible people.

Furthermore, according to a recent survey, New Zealanders are more opposed to reducing inequality through redistribution than any other country, even the US.

When you look at this in the context of a high-price, low-wage economy, bridged to little more than survival level by handouts like WFF and accommodations supplements, you can see that an almost insurmountable wall has been constructed here between the haves and have-nots. Furthermore, the endless squeezing of the poor suggests a desire to push them out of the country altogether, and replacing them with rich haves and cheap, temporary have-nots.

English's can seem moderate because here Romney's rough half has already won. It is the task of the left to reverse that victory. In Australia, in comparison, the biggest inroads have still to be made, and it is the task of the left to resist them, which is the easier of the two options. Especially now, when the "rising tide" promises have run out.

Robert M said...

Maybe you exaggerate the degree of American racism. Even in the south in the 1950's and 60's the real hostility was to working class and poor blacks rather than in the universal sense imagined by Chris.There was a black middle class even in the South, Condi is an obvious example. While I'm not black or Irish, and its dangerous to comment from the black position all would say that within the US black system they have always judged each other by class as much as whites do it, it is just that we are colour blind.
Today and in the US for a long time, some ethnic groups have been mobile upwardly on a large scale, nb the Japanese since the disaster and isolation of WW2. Many Asian and Middle East people are enjoying fast mobility and its the same in the west.
But at the same time, the poor whites and certain groups of blacks are being locked out more decisively. The real division in most cases in on the grounds of class rather than race, with the worlds talent moving into the rich country.
The Aus budget, message is that NZ guest workers are no longer much wanted, the local population will have to do the jobs now that no Australian were prepared to do and New Zealanders will now only access the Australian university sytem if they are top 2 percent in real talent as Aus defines it, very rich or selected items from the remaining NZ higher professional class.
Australian strategic requires NZ and Auckland to remain aligned with the West and therefore ending the safety valve and shoving the kiwis back on the streets of Auck, Wgtn and Christchurch is a needed counter to Wellington and Auckland's rather outdated rose coloured view of Asia. NZ is about to hit the safety barrier, and Abbot and Bishop have jammed the fuel pump of Kiwi guest backers into reverse on as a propellant into NZ cities.
I recommend the US Ambassadors to Japan Caroline Kennedy recently released and virtually uncensored tape conversation of Jackie Kennedy with James Slesinger in a raw and wired review of JFKs rivals, cabinet, brothers and personalities. Its one of the most 'naked" and revealing docos in history and might give some an insight into the nature of class in the US in the 1930s and the common view of those in 1940 at Eton, the first intake of the inchoate CIA,and the Oxford and British political elite. The real division even then was not race or religion, its class,ideology and intelligence.
The importance of the racial perception even at the most basic level of maori pakeha is of course still great and possibly increasing here , but that's partly because generally the best have both have left for the rest of the world and even in Australia a lot of the Maori Australians are doubtlessly much more useful and better looking.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

It's almost impossible to exaggerate the depth of American racism. And it certainly wasn't just classism. Right back to the 1930s, even though FDR brought together some sort of black caucus, his programs discriminated against black people by offering only manual/service labour, no matter what the educational qualifications were. Later on of course middle-class blacks were feared even more than working class blacks, simply because fear of black people was used to keep the white working class in line. Bit of an exaggeration perhaps, but working class people needed someone to despise – as lower in the hierarchy than them. So middle-class blacks were in an invidious position. Not to mention that they were actually the leaders of the Civil Rights movement which make them even more feared and hated.

Anonymous said...

As part of the Kiwi diaspora residing in Sydney I can testify to the lunacy of the Australian right. It will be very surprising if Abbott makes it into the next election given the event underway. Not only is he under siege from state coalition politicians in QLD, VIC and NSW after cutting their health and education budgets but the proposed amendments to hate speech legislations have fueled a rebellion within backbench federal MP's with lone support coming from convicted holocaust deniers. Although not a supporter of John Key I have a new respect from him having won two elections and is cruising to a third victory with Abbott having pissed away his political capital in 6 torrid months. As Abbott said when elected 'Australia is open for business' the electorate found out was that it really meant the Liberal party was open to laundering banned money from property developers for a political slush fund via a ICAC investigation.