I’m in Australia, and watched the election returns last night, bringing the sad news that John Howard, arguably the greatest Western leader of the past decade, was defeated by the Labor Party’s Kevin Rudd.
This does not seem to have been an ideological campaign, but rather a “competence” battle, the major slogans being the aussie equivalent of “time for a change” and “stay with the proven winners.” The electorate was bored with Howard, who had been in office for nearly twelve years, and went with Rudd, who basically echoed Howard on most questions, but who is deeply indebted to the unions. We’ll see soon enough how he intends to govern. He’s got a solid majority, and as of this writing it seems Howard may have even lost his own seat. In any event Howard’s political career is over and he will be succeeded by Peter Costello, who has been Treasury Minister for many years, and is very capable.
For an American, the campaign was notable for the near-total absence of foreign policy themes. In his victory speech last night–easily the most wooden, hollow, substanceless victory speech I’ve heard in a very long time–Rudd had only a couple of passing references to “national security.” The words “Iraq” and “Afghanistan” did not appear, so far as I can recall. Rudd has said he will be withdrawing the 1,500 troops from Iraq but increasing the aussie contingent in Afghanistan. He’s a good friend of the United States,knows us well, and will no doubt follow Howard’s lead on how to manage relations with Washington.
I think the basic reason for these results is boredom, the most underrated force in world affairs. This election reminds me of the day (or was it the night?) when the British Tories overthrew Margaret Thatcher in favor of David Major.
Can you imagine?
Let’s hope this election doesn’t leave us with the same sinking feeling…