Here’s what I didn’t quite get to say on Sky News this week about Tony Abbott’s National Press Club address (from my rough and ready notes and talking points. Apologies for sketchiness):
* Before analysing the speech, a little context. The political year, unsurprisingly, has begun rancourously. And why not? Tony Abbott had pegged his strategy to the belief that the Government would not run full-term. Prosecuting this strategy meant Abbott was running a sprint, not a marathon. The Rhodes Scholar become markedly less articulate as he transformed into a hyper-masculine saboteur, and here we are.
So the question was: could Abbott use this speech to replace his rhetorical aggression and shallowness with a genuine, substantive vision borne of his own—or his party’s—convictions? Would he present himself as a genuine alternative leader?
Answer: No. Not really. Abbott opened with an attack, appealing to the wide, vague suspicion that Labor have a ruinous reliance on luck and duplicity. Abbott then lifted Bill Clinton’s campaign epithet—”It’s the economy, stupid”—and belted Labor’s economic record. It’s negative stuff, but there’s a large section of voters for whom suspicion of Labor’s economic credibility is now ossified—it’s stubbornly resistant to any reality which might disprove it. Many years of polling bear this out. But it’s easy, grubby stuff. And Abbott’s promotion of his own economic credentials was basically predicated on his being a member of Howard’s cabinet. His economic claims have been questioned here and here.
*Another thought: Abbott quotes Lincoln. Good to see Abraham Lincoln still posthumously whoring out his wisdom 150+ years after Booth put a bullet in his head.
*As far as I can tell, no Aaron Sorkin lines have been smuggled into this speech.
* Some more notes: Rhetorically, Abbott has it made. He can use the “flip flops” and reneged deals as weapons. With the Government staring at Nixonian levels of awfulness in the polls (suspicions still linger about Abbott, though), Abbott can continue to pick and chip away. The public largely doesn’t care about the tight calculus of the House and the dealmaking that enforces. They see only dull Byzantine complexity and broken promises. So it is Gillard’s role to explain herself—to instruct and inform. But to do so she concedes that her power is less than it might be with a clear majority. And so she inelegantly straddles the dead space in between—and that’s where political death is.