There was the blog talking earlier today about negative campaigning, FDR and you have nothing to fear but fear itself when Kevin Rudd does something very clever – making a positive ad which is a very subtle form of negative advertising.
Earlier today the blog discussed that the real art of negative campaigning was to define your opponent before they had a chance to define themselves. Tony Abbott has been an extraordinarily successful Opposition Leader – perhaps the most successful since Gough Whitlam – but largely by being as he promised, an attack dog, and using the tactic to define the Labor Government through three and four word slogans.
Now Rudd is using the attack dog positioning to define Abbott at a time when the public is sick and tired of politics and negativity. His new 30 second ad emphasising the positive policy stuff may not work but it is striking because it is actually less about promoting positive policy and more about the sub-text – attacking Abbott’s ‘old style’ negative politics. Ironically, it also proves that what comes around comes around. In 2007 Rudd was helped by the longevity of the Howard Government and an emphasis on policy compared to negativism, just as Whitlam was helped by the same Liberal longevity, his emphasis on policy plus some support from Rupert Murdoch Abbott has had the same Murdoch help (if a bit more hysterical) without the benefit of the policy emphasis and the longevity argument. Now Rudd is trying to work around the circle to a different position on the curve closer to what happened in 2007.
Rudd is also successfully re-running The Revenge of the Nerds franchise – without the promise that nerds think more about s.x with others than jocks who first ask whether it was good for them. The nerds won the college election because there were more of them than there were blue-eyed, blond-haired jocks with expensive orthodontic work. Rudd is calculating on the same arithmetic.
The next test is next Thursday at the National Press Club. Will Abbott turn up? Will there be any empty chair like those organised by International PEN at Writers’ Festival to remind us of persecuted writers around the world? The blog has no idea what Abbott will do. So far he, and his staff, have been astonishingly successful in controlling the message by means such as trying to force journalists to agree to conditions such as providing questions in advance and accepting veto power on copy; junking the budgie smugglers; and, avoiding long-style electronic interviews other than with the shock jocks.
But one possibility is suggested by a Liberal friend who has been trying to persuade the blog for a while that Abbott is actually a wimp – although they did mean it in policy terms. The argument was that he would always avoid tough policy decisions and that an Abbott Government would need a strong Cabinet to avoid polices like the parental leave levy and his refusal to countenance taking anything away from anyone except Tim Flannery and climate change policy. But does it have wider implications? Will he wimp the debate, will he continue to try to frame the debate challenge as an irrelevancy and will that be successful? Despite what most of the commentariat will say this week – who knows?
It is difficult to believe Rudd will succeed in all this. Abbott, the Murdoch media and the shock jocks may have done too good a job defining the ALP Government. But it is fascinating to watch him trying. And he has two great advantages: the public has a short attention span and an infatuation with the new; and there may not be enough time before the election for people to remember why they didn’t like him.