In this tumultuous political year, the latest sharp surprises come from the far reaches of the Anglosphere — Alaska and Australia.
These were lands to which Capt. James Cook voyaged even as the seaboard Atlantic colonists were rebelling against king and Parliament in London. Cook’s charts of the southern coast of Australia are still in use, and he sailed from there to Hawaii and then through the Bering Strait to the ice-choked Arctic Sea. You can see splendid murals of his voyages in the Captain Cook Hotel in Anchorage.
Australia joined the Anglosphere when the British established a convict settlement there in 1788, and Alaska joined when Secretary of State William Seward purchased it from Russia in 1867.
Today they are commonwealths with economies thriving on mining and oil. Australia’s 22 million people have a massive export trade with China; Alaska’s 700,000 people, as Sarah Palin accurately noted, live in a state that has boundaries with Canada and Russia.
Neither the August 21 federal election in Australia nor the August 24 primary in Alaska were supposed to produce surprises. One reason: Both have economies relatively untroubled by the financial crisis and recession.
In Australia, the Labor government headed by Julia Gillard (after the intra-party ouster two months before of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd) was expected to cruise to victory, as Australian parties have after one term in government since 1930. The new leader of the conservative Liberal party, Tony Abbott, was considered too extremist to win.
In Alaska, Republican senator Lisa Murkowski was expected to easily win renomination over Fairbanks lawyer and political newcomer Joe Miller.
But the voters had other ideas.
In Australia, the Liberals and Labor are both short of the 76-seat majority in Parliament. Postal and provisional ballots are still being counted, as both parties seek the votes of five independents, while Labor has the support of the one Green candidate elected.
In Alaska, Miller’s narrow lead of 1,668 votes may vanish as at least 7,600 absentee and mail ballots are counted.
Whatever the final outcomes, there are lessons to be learned. One is that the current unpopularity of left parties in the Anglosphere (Republicans lead Democrats by a record margin in polls on voting for the U.S. House) are not just a reaction to bad economic times.
Australia’s Labor party was hurt by its attempt to slap a 30 percent tax on the mining industry. Voters evidently understood that soaking the rich would hurt just about everyone.
And Labor’s attempt to put burdens on carbon use, rejected in the Australian Senate, was a liability, even in the country with the world’s highest incidence of skin cancer.
Murkowski was hurt by her assertion in a debate that the Constitution put no limits on Congress’s ability to make laws. She won votes from Alaska insiders and Alaska Natives for supporting spending on local programs, but not as many as local pundits expected.
The key votes against Labor in Australia and against Murkowski were cast in fast-growing areas — in semitropical Queensland in Australia, in the Matanuska and Susitna Valley (including Sarah Palin’s Wasilla) in Alaska.
We see there what we saw in the Massachusetts special Senate election in the suburban rings around Boston that depend on the private sector rather than government and universities: a massive repudiation of the liberal policies of what New York Times columnist David Brooks calls “the educated class.”
And we did not see any sign in Australia or Alaska that the cultural issue card can trumping other issues. Australia’s Abbott was supposed to be unelectable because of his opposition to abortion; turns out that wasn’t a problem. In Alaska, a ballot proposal putting restrictions on abortion brought out voters for whom Murkowski’s pro-choice stance was a liability.
The results in Australia and Alaska are congruent with developments elsewhere in the Anglosphere. The British coalition government headed by David Cameron since the election in May is getting wide approval for its 25 percent cuts in most departments’ spending. The Canadian government headed by Conservative Stephen Harper seems firmly in power in a country that has long seemed well to the left of the United States.
“The educated class” in Sydney, Melbourne and Washington, at a loss to understand this, is furiously denouncing fellow citizens as bigots. That makes no more sense, and wins no more votes, than blaming Captain Cook.
– Michael Barone is senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner. © 2010 the Washington Examiner.