Richard Ben Cramer: Displayed Humanity Toward Politicians

Richard Ben Cramer “excelled at the finely drawn profile, from baseball stars to Irish revolutionaries to American politicians”.

Cramer died on January 7, aged 62.

His 1992 book, What It Takes: The Way to the White House, is simply a joy to read.

In this discussion from the PBS NewsHour, Gwen Ifill talks to Joe Klein and Chris Cillizza about Cramer.

Joe Klein on what he learned from Cramer:

“Well, one of the things I have learned is that cynicism is what passes for insight among the mediocre, that if we are going to do this fairly — we have gotten to the point where writing a positive story about a politician is a very tough thing to do, especially for young reporters.

“And we need to be more humane and balanced and respectful of the people who seek to lead us.”


Tony Abbott Fights Fires Around Nowra

The Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, has delayed his annual holiday to join a crew from the Davidson Rural Fire Brigade that has been deployed to fight fires around Nowra.

In a media release, Abbott pointed out he has been a member of the Davidson Brigade for 12 years.

The National Party leader, Warren Truss, will be Acting Leader of the Opposition in Abbott’s absence.

  • Listen to Truss comment on the bushfires, Abbott & Peter Slipper (5m)


Text of a media release from the Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott.

Statement from The Leader of the Opposition

Earlier this morning, a crew from the Davidson Rural Fire Brigade has been deployed to Nowra to assist with fires there.

As a consequence, I have delayed my annual holiday due to start tomorrow and for the next three days, subject to operational requirements, I will join this deployment.

I have been a member of the Davidson Brigade since 2000 and was Deputy Captain between 2008 and 2009.

During my absence, the Hon. Warren Truss MP will assume responsibility as Acting Leader of the Opposition. I thank Warren for his assistance. Tomorrow he will be visiting fire affected areas of Tasmania.

I urge all people living in areas facing fire risk at this time to monitor emergency messages carefully, activate their fire plans and stay safe.

Getting It So Wrong: The Republicans And The Presidential Election

I still find it remarkable that Republicans running Mitt Romney’s campaign seemed to genuinely believe that he was winning.

This November article from The New Republic looks at what happened. Read: The Polls That Made Mitt Romney Think He’d Win.

Gwen Ifill of the PBS NewsHour commented on the same bizarre feature of the presidential election in this video piece reviewing 2012:

Here in Australia it’s possible to find people who genuinely believe that the Gillard government is going to be re-elected. Many blogs supportive of the ALP promote the argument that Tony Abbott is unelectable. Equally, there are Coalition supporters who cannot contemplate the possibility. As in the US, one side is going to be very wrong later this year.

Obama Nominates Chuck Hagel To Be Defence Secretary

President Barack Obama has nominated former Republican senator Chuck Hagel to be Secretary of Defence.

Hagel, 66, was a Republican senator from Nebraska from 1997 until 2009. An initial supporter of the war in Iraq, Hagel became a critic of the Bush administration. He was spoken of as a potential vice-presidential running mate for Obama in 2008.

Obama also nominated John O. Brennan to be Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. He is currently Obama’s Deputy National Security Advisor for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, and Assistant to the President.

Both nominations require Senate approval.

Text of President Obama’s remarks in nominating Hagel and Brennan.

THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon, everybody. Please have a seat. As President and Commander-in-Chief, my most solemn obligation is the security of the American people. Over the past four years, we’ve met that responsibility by ending the war in Iraq, and beginning a transition in Afghanistan; by decimating the al Qaeda core and taking out Osama bin Laden; by disrupting terrorist plots and saving countless American lives.

Among an outstanding national security team, I am especially grateful to Leon Panetta, who has led the CIA and our military with incredible skill. Leon, after nearly five decades of service, you have more than earned the right to return to civilian life. I’ll have much more to say about Leon’s distinguished service in the days ahead. Today, I simply want to convey both to you and to Sylvia the eternal gratitude of the entire nation. Thank you so much, Leon. [Read more…]

Who Will Win The 2013 Federal Election?

Is it even possible to predict an election result?

Well… in my opinion most elections are quite predictable. I’ve voted in 15 federal elections and I’d say 11 of them were easy to predict. I’ve voted in 11 state elections and only 2 of them could be said to have produced surprise results.

The trouble is, some elections are not easy to predict but it’s only after the event that we know which ones. That’s why politics is such good fun.

So what should I look for?

Let’s look at the historical situation. To start with, governments usually get re-elected. Of the past 25 federal elections since 1949, the incumbent government has been returned in 19 of them.

Never let anyone tell you it’s easy to remove a government, even an ageing government. They all run out of puff eventually but it isn’t always predictable when this will be.

What about voting percentages? How do I interpret them?

You have to remember that winning political parties usually get around 50-54% of the two-party-preferred vote. The losing party may be in opposition but around half the country still voted for them.

For example, Kevin Rudd won 52.7% of the vote in 2007. John Howard got 52.74% in 2004 and 50.95% in 2001.

Even when Howard won a massive majority in 1996, the coalition was only on 53.63%. That was similiar to the 53.2% that Hawke got when he defeated Fraser in 1983. When Whitlam won office in 1972, the figure is estimated to have been 52.7%.

What this means is that Labor and the Coalition are fairly evenly divided. You’ll notice I’m using the two-party-preferred figures because that’s the only way you can compare election results. Remember it’s compulsory for voters to allocate preferences so in the end everyone has to choose between Labor and the Coalition.

What kind of swing can I expect to see this year?

Let’s look at recent elections. In 1996, the Coalition got a swing of 5.00% and demolished the Keating Labor government. In 1998, the Howard government had a swing against it of 4.1% and nearly lost.

In 2001, the Coalition got a swing of 2.01% towards it and increased Howard’s majority. In 2004, they got another 1.79% and increased their majority further.

When Rudd defeated Howard in 2007, the ALP got a swing of 5.44%. Under Gillard, the ALP fell 2.58% and barely survived with 50.12% of the two-party vote.

Electoral history tells us that the swing this year will be similar to one of these figures. If it’s 4 or 5 per cent to one side or the other, they will win easily.

So 4% or 5% is a big swing?

Yes. A swing of that size is more than enough to shift a lot of seats and defeat a government.
One of the biggest swings ever was 7.40% against the ALP in 1975. This reduced the ALP to 36 seats in a 127-seat House. Malcolm Fraser had the biggest majority any party has ever had in the House of Representatives. He got 55.70% of the two-party vote.

Back in 1943, John Curtin’s Labor government demolished the conservatives with a swing of 7.90%. The ALP’s two-party vote is estimated to have been 58.20%. I think this is the biggest ever.

The only swings bigger than this were the anti-Labor swings in state elections in New South Wales in 2011 and Queensland in 2012. In NSW the swing was 16.48% and in Queensland it was 13.7%. As we know, the ALP was slaughtered in both elections. Its primary vote (first preferences) dropped to around 25% in both states.

Is it possible that there could be a swing like that against the Gillard government this year?

It’s theoretically possible but highly unlikely. There are some geographical and demographic factors that help explain what happened in Queensland and NSW but both states use optional preferential voting in their elections and that accentuated the swing. [Read more…]

Peter Slipper Summonsed On Taxi Voucher Allegations

The member for Fisher and former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Peter Slipper, has been summonsed to appear in the Canberra Magistrates Court next month.

Slipper has been summonsed in relation to three offences of “Dishonestly Causing a Risk of a Loss to the Commonwealth”.

The allegations of misusing taxi vouchers arose out of James Ashby’s sexual harassment allegations against Slipper. The Federal Police subsequently undertook an investigation into Slipper’s travel entitlements. Last month, the Federal Court threw out the sexual harassment claim as an abuse of process.

Text of a media release from the Federal Police.

Media Statement: Mr Peter Slipper MP summonsed in relation to AFP investigation

Release Date: Monday, January 07 2013, 03:21 PM

The AFP has today (7 January 2013) served the legal representative of Mr Peter Slipper MP with a summons in relation to three offences of Dishonestly Causing a Risk of a Loss to the Commonwealth pursuant to section 135.1(5) Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth).

Mr Slipper MP has been summonsed to appear in the Canberra Magistrates Court on 15 February 2013.

It would not be appropriate to comment further at this time.

Julia Gillard Visits Tasmania To Inspect Bushfire Relief

Prime Minister Julia Gillard visited Tasmania today to inspect bushfire damage and the relief program.

Gillard inspected bushfire damage in Dunalley. Later she held a media conference with Tasmanian Premier Lara Giddings. [Read more…]