A Lesson from History

It is expected that this week’s United States mid-term elections will see a massive swing to the Republican Party.

Some pundits predict the Democrats will lose 55 seats which would hand control of the House of Representatives (and likely the Senate) to the Republican Party.

This would mirror the result of the 1946 elections when President Truman was written off as a spent force by many in the Democratic Party. History records that despite the initial political damage, Truman went on to win the Presidential election just two years later and actually reclaimed a majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Truman’s successful campaign platform was to highlight the republican domination as the ‘Do Nothing Congress’ – despite a significant list of achievements. Having the numbers against him also saved Truman from his own propensity for bigger government, higher taxes and stronger union influence. The third plank of his successful campaign saw him pick populist but strategic battles that he knew he could never win. This developed his reputation as a ‘fighter for the people’ held back by a hostile Congress.

Sixty-four years later and one could see a similar platform developing for the Obama administration which currently battles record low popularity and widespread disenchantment.

There is also a prescient lesson for Australian politics. We have an unpopular government with a predilection for higher taxes, huge spending and centralisation of power. It is also a government that rules as a minority with the support of the independent Members of Parliament.

While this makes the process of government difficult, it also presents opportunities and dangers for both the government and the opposition.

Every government Bill that is rejected or modified becomes an excuse for the government to lay its own failings at the feet of its opponents. The spin doctors will enthusiastically maintain ‘if only we could have implemented our agenda’ things would be so much better.

This would characterise the opposition (and independents) as the cause of bad government rather than the solution, and would allow Labor to have a platform similar to Truman’s for the next election.

The danger for the opposition is to be seen as a road block rather than a genuine alternative.

Fortunately, the counter to this is remarkably simple. From the opposition perspective, any proposed legislation needs to be considered on its consistency with the Liberal Party’s philosophical roots.

These are the principles of limited government, lower taxes, stronger families, competition, traditional values, free enterprise and freedom.

If the government’s proposed agenda isn’t broadly consistent with one or more aspects of these core beliefs, the opposition needs to make the case, clearly and succinctly, why it is not in the national interest.

That way, the long-term interests of the Australian people will be protected and the Coalition will ensure they have a positive agenda for the nation at the next election.

You can bet both the Republicans and the Democrats will be learning the lessons from their political history. I suspect there might be something in it for Australian political parties too.

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