Claiming a surprise victory at the 1993 federal election, prime minister Paul Keating famously proclaimed “This is a victory for the true believers.” Last night, incumbent Scott Morrison was able to claim victory for the true unbelievers.
What made Keating’s victory so poignant was that the man he beat, John Hewson, was also in his way a true believer. Their beliefs were not the same, but there was a great deal of overlap.
Keating and Hewson both stood in opposition to the insular and sclerotic place that Australia had become. They both believed in the market, not as a fetish but as a tool of economic and social progress. Although on opposing sides in a partisan sense, they were to some extent partners in the opening up of the Australian economy.
But three years later, Australia turned its back on that opening up, choosing John Howard to take it back to a “relaxed and comfortable” era. Morrison is his direct heir.
If Keating and Hewson were defined by what they believed, Morrison is defined by what he does not believe. He disbelieves in climate science; he disbelieves in human rights; he disbelieves in the market; he disbelieves in the liberal world order that is receding before our eyes.
And the man he beat, Labor leader Bill Shorten, shares most of his unbelief.
There were differences between them. Morrison, as I argued on Friday, is an ideologue, albeit a negative and a foolish one. Shorten, who is much more talented, is also more committed to power at the expense of ideas of any sort.
When Hewson lost, both the Liberal Party and the political class in general took that as a repudiation of his ideas and also of his strategic boldness – ignoring the fact that he was beaten by a prime minister who shared both. With rare exceptions, oppositions since then have steered away from any broad vision and opted to present a small target.
Shorten’s policy program was more developed than most. But he never conveyed the sense of an animating vision, and he evidently failed to convince the electorate to see him as anything more than a trade union apparatchik.
The Liberal Party is now in Morrison’s hands. He showed himself to be an effective campaigner; nonetheless, it’s hard to think of a case where a political party has found itself in a position of such power under the control of a person so manifestly unfit to exercise it.
Except, of course, for the one really obvious example: the US Republican Party of two and a half years ago.
Welcome to Trumpism.