United States: Manipulating the next generationby Michael ScammellNews Weekly
, June 3, 2000
— Michael Scammell is a Melbourne writer and was Media Officer with the US Consulate in Melbourne from 1989 to 1995
The pollster and former Chief Political Strategist to US President Bill Clinton was in Melbourne recently speaking at the Melbourne Press Club. He was here promoting his book and his Internet site both creatively titled, “Vote.Com”.
Morris made his reputation — or rather lost it — as the result of a sex scandal (what else) while working for Clinton.
But it is not Morris’ Clinton-like taste for dangerous sex that all the fuss is about. Morris came to Melbourne spruiking a new kind of politics. According to him the Internet — and, in particular, his website — will empower average citizens by allowing them to vote via Vote.Com on the issues of the day. The results of each vote will be forwarded on to our political leaders.
According to Morris, never before have voters had such direct access to political power. As he sees it voters will now be able to bypass the traditional and expensive avenues of political dialogue such as the media, big business and political lobbyists and deal directly with their elected officials.
But while Morris drapes himself in the robes of a true democrat working to return power to the people, what he really represents is the kind of political operative who is neither left nor right — not driven by any particular moral base or ideology at all — who is rather more concerned with the winning of political power for power’s sake.
Morris made his reputation working for a left-leaning Democrat President, Bill Clinton having earlier in his career worked as an adviser to Republican conservative Senator Jesse Helms.
Most famously, while working for Clinton, he invented the term “triangulation” whereby a legislator extracts the best points from the left and right on political positions and synthesises them into a populist middle ground. The result being the taking of political positions which you as a politician may not believe in at all, but which maximises your potential vote.
It is generally considered that the adoption of this strategy in the mid-1990s reinvented the Clinton Presidency from a progressive left-leaning office to a middle ground blancmange, winning Clinton the 1996 election.
But is there really anything new in this? Political parties these days as a matter of course target the middle ground in politics. Prime Ministers Hawke, Keating and Howard all deserted their traditional party bases in search of the mythical Middle Australia vote.
Britain’s “New Labour” Government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Tony Blair is perhaps the best example of this so-called “triangulation”.
But having said that there is really nothing new in the new politics of Dick Morris, I must add the rider that his attitudes do, curiously, correlate with the supposed views of the new millennium “target” group for political parties, Generation X.
For the generation that believes in nothing, the rejection of ideology, the refusal to believe in any particular set of values is all grist to the Xers’ mill.
Add to this the clunky thrill in new technology — particularly the internet — as a kind of cure-all for the monolithic control and lies of big business and the media — and you have here, cleverly packaged, the trappings of a new faith for the faithless generation.
So what Dick Morris is peddling represents the past and the future in politics.
Perhaps what his visit proved most of all is that in politics and human behaviour nothing really ever changes at all.