Old warrior fatigue sets in
By Nicholas Sanchez
In a couple months time, probably in October, the United States' second cousins across the other pond—the Australians—will hold national elections. Because the Australian Commonwealth is set up in the form of a federal constitutional monarchy, a la our British first cousins' government, it falls under the purview of the Prime Minister to set the date of the election. The current holder of that office, John Howard, will no doubt do so with a rising sense of trepidation—because, if current trends hold, things do not portend well for his Liberal Party.
For the uninitiated, Mr. Howard's Liberal moniker belies his party's ideological bent. The Liberal Party is actually centre-right, and analogous to the U.S.'s Republicans and the United Kingdom's Tories. The centre-left party is dubbed, as it is in England, the Labour Party, and is led by Kevin Rudd, MP—a man who recently became known to tabloid readers due to revelations that, during an official visit to the United States, in 2003, he visited a "gentlemen's club" in New York while deep in cups.
By any measurable standard, Mr. Howard and his colleagues shouldn't be fighting an uphill battle towards reelection. Consider: each of the past eleven years—the length of Howard's tenure as PM—has been met with a growing economy, with an average annual GDP growth rate of approximately 3.7% (as opposed to 3.3% in the U.S. during the same time period). Unemployment is the lowest it's been in over three decades, resting below 6%. What's more, Mr. Rudd has had to issue a groveling excuse that he couldn't possibly comment about his conduct at the strip club, because he had gotten too blotto during the night in question to remember anything.
Politicians dream about running for reelection in such a climate, especially with a John Howard at the top of the ticket. Mr. Howard is correctly recognized as a competent leader by his countrymen. And yet, the polls show the Aussies, even in the midst of their prosperity, are anxious and pine for new leadership.
The underbelly of Mr. Howard's current problems may be due, in part, to his relationship with President George W. Bush. Save former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Australia's first minister has been Mr. Bush's most steadfast friend on the international stage. An eyewitness to the horrors of 9/11, Mr. Howard was in Washington, D.C. on that infamous date for a state visit, he has been a military ally (at its acme, 1,400 Australian troops have been stationed in Iraq) and vaunted pillar of the "Coalition of the Willing."
Of course, this amity has come at a cost to Mr. Howard. Many in the Australian press have been openly critical of the "mateship" between Howard and Bush, prompting one wag to derisively term the former as "Bush's other lap dog"—a double slap on both Howard and Blair.
The sacking of the Howard government would seem to consummate a definite development among the superpowers in the English-speaking world: namely, the rejection of her wartime leaders. Tony Blair was its first casualty.
The winningest Labour leader in the party's history, Mr. Blair and his "third way" reshaped British politics for a generation, taking the reins of government in 1997 from John Major's Conservative Party. Nevertheless, Blair's political acumen could not shield him from voter outrage over his involvement in the fiasco that is the Iraq War. During the 2005 election, one voter challenged Blair about this policy and his "best mate, George Bush." Sound familiar?
Mounting criticism within his own party eventually forced Blair to resign. His successor, Gordon Brown, has enhanced his party's standing with the public by wearing a taciturn visage in his meetings with Bush.
Mr. Bush, meanwhile, the primus inter pares of this troika, also is on his way out. Limited by the 22nd Amendment, he'll never again see his name on a national ballot. And, even with a Democratic Party inadequate to the task of impeachment, Cindy Sheehan's lugubrious protestations notwithstanding, his dismal standing in the polls make a valedictory lap unlikely. His political capital is spent.
As for Mr. Howard, he still has a bit of time to reverse his party's fortunes. Commentators have noted he is an able campaigner. If not, he may have to assuage himself with the knowledge that his loss was owed partly to a case of guilt by association.
Nicholas Sanchez is a professional fund-raiser and conservative activist. After having worked for several years at the Free Congress Foundation in Washington, D.C., Mr. Sanchez now resides in Manchester, NH. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.