On Line Opinion

By Will Turner

As a self-confessed conservative minded swing voter, my basic frustration with conservative politicians in the US and Australia is that they are not grasping the nettle of courageous leadership. They are too busy being political opportunists when they should be showing flexibility and more considered positions on a range of issues on which a conservative approach has genuine value.

This is not only poor political strategy but also a betrayal of conservatism itself. Allow me to explain.

From a strategic viewpoint the Coalition under Tony Abbott and the Republican Party in America have alienated not only their political adversaries but also the very swing voters whose support their need to obtain the keys to the Lodge and the White House.

What is more, people like Tony Abbott and John Boehner (the leading Republican in Congress) are more to blame than their opponents for polarizing Canberra and Washington into such dysfunctional hyper-negativity, at a time when neither country can afford it.

Politics is the art of compromise. Anyone who doesn't believe that should not run for public office. This does not mean political leaders should not stand up for their convictions. Rather, it means they should know when to show flexibility. What a breath of fresh air it would be to see a Boehner or an Abbott comment positively about the merits of certain aspects of major policies by Barack Obama and Julia Gillard.

A key strategic blunder of conservatives over the past five-to-ten years has been their lack of recognition that younger people are more and more making their voting decisions based on issues rather than ideology. This means that as the years progress there are less and less 'dyed in the wool' party supporters. All the more reason for conservative leaders to show they are committed to the good of their nation than scoring political points on the day's headlines.

In America, the chains of big business are clearly firmly around both the Democratic and Republican Parties. This is an unfortunate by-product of the money needed to run election campaigns. However, there has never been a better time for the Republicans to engage with disaffected Americans to the left and the right of their typical support-base.

Consider those to the right – Tea Partiers. This movement sprang from conservative voters frustrated as much as anything by the anything-but-fiscally-conservative approach of the Bush-Cheney era and its long-term negative impact on the average Joe.

To the left you have Occupy Wall Street – a growing surge of people who are disenchanted with the Obama administration clearly being in Wall Street's pocket ever since he came into office. If you have any doubts about this, look at elephantine bailouts of places like Goldman Sachs and the impunity with which such places now reward executives for being crap at what they do.

Now to my point about conservative leaders betraying conservatism itself. The first thing to say is that honest progressives and conservatives have far more in common than is commonly supposed. For one thing, both groups are, when at their best, committed to the good of society, though they have different positions about the role of government in the scheme of things.

The key thing I would say here is that current conservative leaders in the US and Australia should be proactive in arguing the case for their viewpoint but pragmatic enough to find a middle-way.

It is mind-numbingly unreasonable, for instance, for congressional Republicans to oppose an increase in the currently miniscule taxes on the rich, as a part of the solution to the $1 trillion dollar per year budget deficit that their country is facing.

I think it is similarly infuriating to watch the Coalition fail to get behind such a positive policy proposed by Labor to help problem gamblers and shore up the households across Australia who are haemorrhaging money to poker machines.

Australia is a relatively prosperous, healthy and optimistic place because it is a hybrid of the best that authentic left and right-minded leaders have had to offer down the decades. We, like our American contemporaries, are in serious danger of damaging our country's ability to handle the challenges of the 21st Century if our conservative political leaders cannot take a long-term view and get down to the business of negotiating with their political counterparts and conceding the merits of other points-of-view.