Sunday, October 21, 2007

Why Bribe The Rich?

Stop Demanding Praise, Just Shut Up And Do Your Job

John Howard and Peter Costello did a masterful job of appearing not to be at all thrown by Kevin Rudd's announcement of his tax policy. Or should that be, the Howard government's tax policy, but with the big fat bonuses for the richest Australians diverted to many tens of thousands of parents who can't afford to get their kids online and computer literate.

As Glenn Milne makes clear in this column, big fat tax cuts for the rich, a few handfuls of gold coins for the rest, don't win voters over anymore. And they haven't for a while. It's like Rocky VI. Yeah, it might be good to see Balboa bounce back, but does it really matter anymore?

Voters want something more. Money into health, education, infrastructure. Where all those curiously large surpluses are supposed to be spent, before they become curiously large surpluses

It's that simple.

Ruddin Hood taking away tax cuts for the rich was probably expected by Howard and Costello, but even a day or two later they didn't seem to comprehend just how popular Rudd's few-red-lines revision of their tax policy really are.

Here's Milne :

...courtesy of Costello and John Howard's decade plus of economic management, Rudd promises $31 billion of tax cuts for middle and low-income earners.

Then he jettisons the Government's cuts for those earning more than $180,000 a year and commits the savings of $2.3billion to helping families meet the education costs of "breaching the digital divide''.

Winning elections is about having a coherent narrative.

Leaders must construct a story about where they want to take the country that resonates above the rival political noise, sufficient that it carries all the way to the ballot box on polling day.

The danger for John Howard now is that the education rebate threatens to do just that. Rudd has been smart here, if economically disingenuous.

He reaps the same Budget harvest as Howard and Costello, enabling him to promise the same generous tax cuts to the constituencies that count politically, but he overcomes the cynicism that accompanies such tax give-aways by the altruistic "gift'' of the education rebate.

There is another overlay at work as well - voters now show an increasing reluctance, at least in the published opinion polls, to want to appear selfish. So while the Howard/Costello package backs self-interest in the form of tax cuts, the polls consistently show that voters would prefer governments to spend their surpluses on services, such as health, and infrastructure.

What Rudd has done is dual-track his messages: he appeals to self-interest by embracing the Government's tax cuts but he also satisfies the vanity of voters, who at the same time want to regard themselves as selfless, by convincing them Labor's "alternative'' is about the future of their children rather than their own hip pocket.

Howard spent a decade social-engineering Australians to dream big, to want more, to spend beyond their earnings, to become mega-consumers. But the bills are piling up, the McMansions are being taken away by the banks and Howard and Costello are still telling us all that we've never had it so good.

And they're still demanding that they be thanked, praised and cheered for what they've done.

You don't need to take a poll to know that what really gets under the skin of so many Australians when it comes to Howard and Costello, and Abbott and Nelson and Downer, is their constant carping and demands for people to praise them for their allegedly excellent economic management.

And when they don't get that praise, as they very rarely do, they act all prissy and sooky.

Don't they get it?

How many Australian workers get told they've done a great job?

How many get told that, over and over again?

How many Australians expect to see people on TV addressing them directly saying, "Mate, you're bloody awesome. Seriously. You rock. You're a deadset legend. This country would absolute ratshit without all that great work you've done."

Few, if any.

Australians do their jobs, they work hard, and they mostly don't ask for praise, recognition or rewards, outside of time with the family, or a weekend free to do what they want to do.

But off the back of another massive Surprise Surplus, and 'tax cuts for all', there's Howard and Costello, yet again, waving frantically for our attention. "Hello? I'm over here! Don't you have something you want to tell me? Yes? How brilliant I am? Well, thank you."

What we expect Howard and Costello to do is to do their bloody jobs. Run the country, keep the economy strong, and spend the money handed over in tax making our health, education and infrastructure the best in the world.

But what we most expect, and are now clearly demanding, is for all those politicians to get on with and shut the hell up and stop demanding praise for doing their jobs properly.

We will expect the same of Rudd and Co. Do your jobs, do them well, don't expect to be praised.

Howard shouldn't be on the ropes going into the Great Debate tonight, but he clearly is. Wife Janette will spend most of Sunday reminding him that she isn't ready to move out of Kirribilli yet, so he can't fuck it up.

Expect to see Howard sweating a bit. Hopefully someone has reminded him that This Is It. His last days, if he doesn't pull off a miracle. Will the pressure be too much? Rudd will probably look and act like he has been slowly drip-fed, all day, a carefully balanced mix of valium and ecstasy.

It's not up to Rudd to blow Howard away. Howard has to forget Rudd completely, and remind the majority of Australians why they voted for him before, and convince them why they must vote for him again. One last time.

This may involve some of that trembling lip, weepy eye 'how can you do this to me?' DeNiro-quality acting that Howard has pulled off so often in the past.

90 minutes of them both selling themselves, and probably their souls, for our votes will probably be 50 minutes too long, but you can hope for some action, some screw ups, some great drama.

He who wins the debate won't necessarily win the election. But all eyes will be on Howard. If he screws it up, if he cracks, if he shudders, faints, or clutches at his chest, you will know we really are in The Last Days Of John Winston Howard.

Let's just hope we get some laughs.