Tim Blair continues to insist that the election was about Iraq. I’ll look at his arguments in a moment, but first let’s look at what everybody else says about this.

Tom Allard and Mark Metherell in the Sydney Morning Herald:

Iraq flared briefly after the Jakarta bombings—most notably in the leaders’ debate—but was mostly left alone by the Opposition, even though Mr Howard refused to talk about the issue, betraying his fears the missing weapons of mass destruction and increased terrorist threat could hurt this chances.

A “Labor Insider” in Crikey:

Labor’s Iraq policy. Latham’s on the run promise to “bring the troops home by Christmas” cruelled this potential vote winner for Labor. Even opponents of the war think this a bad policy and it cast doubt on his grasp of security issues. Howard wasn’t able to use it during the campaign because of his lies on Iraq, but it meant Latham wasn’t able to use it either.

Greg Sheridan in the Australian

Iraq hardly figured in the campaign

The Associated Press:

Iraq played only a minor role in Australia’s election campaign.

Sally Young in the Herald Sun:

Another factor that went in the Coalition’s favour was that an issue which could have caused some difficulties for the Coalition—the Iraq war—did not turn out to be a major issue in the campaign

John Black in the Courier-Mail:

Error 8: Don’t mention the war. Labor ran no effective campaign on Iraq

John O’Sullivan in NRO:

Iraq has scarcely been an issue.

Australian warblogger Arthur Chrenkoff:

If the issue of Iraq did not seem to have been on the forefront of the Australian election campaign, it’s because by contrast with the US presidential campaign it wasn’t there to anywhere near the same degree.

John Quiggin at Crooked Timber:

Anyone with any knowledge of Australia, or even with the capacity to read Australian papers on the Internet, would know that Iraq was barely mentioned either during the election campaign or in the subsequent analysis.

And there’s plenty more where those came from.

How does Tim Blair attempt to make a case that the election was about Iraq? Well, he gathers together all the mentions of Iraq that he can find. Trouble is, there aren’t that many, so he even has to pad out the list with lots of stuff from March, well before the election campaign. So, what did he find? Well, as mentioned above, Iraq flared briefly as in issue in the leaders’ debate after the embassy bombing. Following the Iraq Survey Group’s finding that Iraq had no WMDs Howard got four questions about Iraq after his Press Club appearance (Blair counts this as 27 mentions). That’s pretty much it.

Probably the best indicators of the relative importance of the issue are Howard’s and Latham’s policy launches. Howard devoted just one out of sixty-five paragraphs in his policy launch to Iraq. Latham only mentions Iraq briefly, almost at the end of his speech. Compare the amount they talk about Iraq with how much they talk about taxes, unemployment, interest rates, health care, education, the environment, industrial relations, childcare, the economy and pensions

So does anyone agree with Blair’s position? Blair claimed that Robert Corr did, but Corr repudiated him:

Tim Blair also puts my name forward as someone who thinks the war on Iraq was a significant election issue. I do not.

Comments

  1. #1 Russell
    October 13, 2004

    G’day TimL,

    I think a big part of the problem is that your side simply can not conceive that Iraq could possibly have been a positive for Howard. From your viewpoint – if Iraq had been an issue Howard would have lost – Howard won – so Iraq can not possibly have been an issue.

    Various people on the left tried to raise Iraq as an issue – it was at the core of the “Howard Lies” push. This gained no traction with the electorate and so your side insists it was not an issue.

  2. #2 Simon
    October 13, 2004

    ‘This gained no traction with the electorate and so your side insists it was not an issue’
    Mmmm flawless logic there. Would you like to provide a list of other issues that didn’t gain traction and were actually an issue and issues that did gain traction but were not issues. Or what about non-issues that did not gain traction and were non-issues.
    Surely such an important issue that was a positive for the government would of been promoted in ads and leaflets – now looking at the couple I got from the Libs – umm lets see, interest rates, more interest rates, the economy, Latham and Liverpool, umm not one mention of Iraq. Most definitely a major issue…
    Do you think that the reason that Iraq didn’t feature was because each party’s polling and focus groups found that it wasn’t an issue that would sway votes? That, when it came down to it, the average swinging punter was more interested in home loan repayments, the economy, school fees and healthcare than Iraq. Iraq wasn’t an issue because it wasn’t an issue.

  3. #3 Russell
    October 13, 2004

    G’day Simon,

    Sorry if you found my expression unclear.
    I actually missed most of the electioneering because I was out of the country. I am basing my view solely on what I read at the various news sites as I didn’t actually see most of the ads.
    I assumed that the “lying rodent” style attacks on Howard were basing their viewpoint (at least in large part) on Iraq. It seems to have been a spectacularly misplaced bit of campaign emphasis as it gained none of the traction that the Left expected it to with the electorate.
    I am not attemptiong to imply that the Libs used Iraq as an election issue – I am just pointing out that the Left side kept trying to raise Iraq as a negative for Howard (the “Not Happy John” marches etc.) and only consider that it was not an issue because it didn’t work out the way they expected.
    The idea that Iraq might have been a net positive for Howard seems to be something that the Left finds impossible to comprehend. The attitude appears to be very much “heads I win tails you lose”

  4. #4 Tim Lambert
    October 13, 2004

    Russell, the opinions I list at the start of my post include those from pro-war and pro-Howard people. They also say that Iraq was not a major issue. And it includes people on the left saying that it was a mistake not to make Iraq an issue.

    If you were out of the country then you are not in a good position to judge whether it was a major issue. Neither Labor or Liberal wanted to talk about Iraq. There were people like Andrew Wilkie running for the Greens on the issue, but they got more attention overseas than in Australia, which perhaps explains your perception that it was a big issue.

    The opinion from O’Sullivan above is particularly interesting. He wrote that before the vote, when he thought Howard might lose. After the vote he changed his tune and called it a big victory for Bush. A similar thing has happened with Tim Blair. It is only after Howard won that he started calling it a referendum on Iraq.

  5. #5 tim
    October 13, 2004

    “Tim Blair continues to insist that the election was about Iraq.”

    Wrong. All I’ve pointed out is that Iraq was an oft-mentioned issue in the election, contrary to your claim that Iraq was “hardly an issue” and “rarely mentioned”. An accurate intro would read: “Tim Blair continues to insist that Iraq was an issue in the election.”

    “He gathers together all the mentions of Iraq that he can find.”

    Wrong. I mainly examined just the campaign launches and press club speeches, since they were broadcast nationally.

    “Trouble is, there aren’t that many, so he even has to pad out the list with lots of stuff from March, well before the election campaign.”

    Wrong. I linked to one account of a Parliamentary debate, and one on Latham’s announcement of his Iraq policy. This isn’t “lots”.

    “So does anyone agree with Blair’s position? Blair claimed that Robert Corr did, but Corr repudiated him.”

    Rob claimed that some swinging voters may have supported Howard because of Iraq, supporting my position that Iraq was an issue.

    You’re inaccurately presenting me as claiming that Iraq was the primary issue in the election. I don’t; I simply note, and supply evidence, that Iraq wasn’t — as you claim — a non-issue.

  6. #6 Tim Lambert
    October 13, 2004

    It’s not my fault if you write unclearly. I thought you were disagreeing with this statement: “No, the election was not about Iraq-it was hardly an issue.” You now tell me that you were objecting to part of my statement plus another one (“rarely mentioned”) that I don’t seem to have made. The usual convention is that stuff in quotation marks should be an actual quote. The question that the serious people were addressing (see the list of quotes above) was whether Iraq was a major issue. No-one (except perhaps you) thinks it was.

    So answer this, and maybe we can proceed. Are you claiming that Iraq was a major issue in the election?

  7. #7 tim
    October 13, 2004

    What’s unclear about this: “Let’s take another look at Tim Lambert’s claim that Iraq was ‘hardly an issue’ in the election”?

    If you don’t understand that, you need more help with your reading than I do with my writing.

    Iraq was obviously an issue in the campaign. For many people who opposed Howard it was obviously a major issue; consider all the demonstrations, etc. For the Greens, it was their main issue (and is credited by some for their increased vote). And I’d argue that many believed Iraq was a positive issue for Howard, although in this group other issues were likely more crucial. Iraq was also important in that it exposed a certain opportunism in Latham. Overall, I’ll side with the PM: “I think the issue was there. It wasn’t the dominant factor.”

    Read my posts again. Try to find anything that points at me identifying Iraq as the major election issue. Claiming that it was would be as stupid as arguing that Iraq wasn’t an issue at all.

    (By the way, the “answer this, and maybe we can proceed” line? Pull your head in, son.)

  8. #8 Tim Lambert
    October 13, 2004

    Wow. A simple straightforward question: “Are you claiming that Iraq was a major issue in the election?” And you didn’t answer it. If Iraq is a major issue for the Greens it doesn’t make it a major issue in the election. (And no, it wasn’t their main issue – the name of their party should be a clue to what their main issue is.

    You might also want to read my posts. Nowhere did I state, as you falsely claim, that Iraq was a “non-issue”.

    Look at the quotes at the top of my post. Do you disagree with all of those people?

  9. #9 Tim Lambert
    October 13, 2004

    Oh, and if your post was so clear, how come it was interpreted as proof that the election was a referendum on Iraq? See here.

  10. #10 Eenkie
    October 14, 2004

    An EZboard politics forum concerning this topic

    here.

  11. #11 tim
    October 14, 2004

    OK. So you didn’t say Iraq was a non-issue. You said it was “hardly an issue”.

    Yawn.

    Short version of what’s happened here: you claimed Iraq was hardly an issue; I’ve pointed out that it was an issue; and now you’re playing evasive, Sheil-like games in an attempt to move away from your dumb initial claim. Several people say Iraq wasn’t an issue? Well, fine. You’ve read my posts; I disagree, and I’ve indicated why.

    Hardly an issue? Hardly.

  12. #12 Tim Lambert
    October 14, 2004

    Again you evade my question. Are you claiming that Iraq was a major issue in the election? Why so evasive?

    Short version of what is going on here: Everyone disagrees with you (see list at top of my post of all the people that made this “dumb” claim). You don’t want to get your position pinned down by answering my question, hence all the ducking and weaving on your part. Here it is again: Are you claiming that Iraq was a major issue in the election?

    I predict that your next action will be to declare victory and retire from the field without ever answering my question.

  13. #13 tim
    October 14, 2004

    So if everybody else claims that 2+2=5, they’re right, yes? Arguments aren’t solved by pointing at shared opinions.

    I’ve already answered your “major issue” question. I never argued that Iraq was a major issue; I agreed with Howard that “the issue was there. It wasn’t the dominant factor.”

    Now, a question for you: do you think Iraq was an election issue?

  14. #14 snuh
    October 14, 2004

    i hear that “yes” or “no” might be a more functional answer to the question lambert asks.

    my understanding is that you’re answering “no”. here’s a fun idea: why not put a poll on your website and ask your readers whether they thought you were asserting that iraq was a major issue in our election. it might not be as topical as your current poll “What might [Teresa Heinz Kerry] re-name Air Force One if her husband is elected?”, but i’d be curious of the results.

  15. #15 OldDigger
    October 14, 2004

    I was impressed by Howards steadfastness over his descision to involve us in Iraq. If he had waivered I would have no longer supported him.

    TimL – you are a dissembling idiot – Tim B – election gloating is now officially over, time to move on to Labor’s internal war … he he he …

  16. #16 Tim Lambert
    October 14, 2004

    So to summarize your position: Iraq was not a major issue but you still disagree with the all the people (see above) who wrote things like “we have troops at war and they were hardly mentioned in the campaign” because that’s a “dumb claim”.

    You might want to sort out the folks who decided that your post was proof that the election was a referendum on Iraq. Of course, if it was your plan to persuade them of this, you need not bother.

    It is a little worrying that you still seem to think that I am denying that Iraq was any sort of issue, despite the fact that I never said that, I denied it, and I quoted about ten people who agreed with me expressing my position in various different ways.

    No, if a bunch of people said that “2+2=5″ it wouldn’t prove that 2+2=5, but that’s a bad analogy. The question at issue is a subjective assessment of the election campaign. To answer it you have to consider all the issues that were involved in the election campaign and look at how much time and attention the two sides gave to them. A better analogy would be a meadow full of wild flowers. Ten different observers have wandered through the meadow, looked at the flowers, and concluded that the flowers are almost all white. Tim Blair calls that a “dumb claim” and insists that they are wrong and there are plenty of blue flowers as well. I think in that case the burden of proof belongs to Tim Blair to point all of the blue flowers that everyone else missed.

    In the case of Iraq, you can’t even claim that there a some huge discussion on Iraq that everyone else missed since you are pointing to the same documents. You point to Labor’s policy launch as evidence that there was “much discussion” of Iraq, but Greg Sheridan notes: “Iraq only figured in the last line on page 13 of a 16-page speech by Latham.” Is that another “dumb claim”?

  17. #17 Robert
    October 14, 2004

    This type of response is typical of Blair. Just wait: next he’ll claim he was only joking.

  18. #18 tim
    October 14, 2004

    I disagree with your position, Tim, which was that Iraq was “hardly an issue”. My position is that it was an issue. Why you’re now trying to pin some “major issue” definition on me is puzzling.

    Who’s being evasive now, by the way? I asked a simple question. I’ll ask it again, in another form: was Iraq “hardly an issue”, or was it an issue? Choose one.

  19. #19 Tim Lambert
    October 15, 2004

    Here, again, is my statement from my very first post: “the election was not about Iraq-it was hardly an issue”. This is not a claim that Iraq was not an issue at all, no matter how much you wish it was. And no, I don’t have to choose one of your choices, since one is a subset of the other.

    So you think that Iraq was an issue but not a major issue. That makes it a minor issue, no? So are you actually now agreeing with this statement?: “Iraq played only a minor role in Australia’s election campaign.”

  20. #20 tim
    October 15, 2004

    No, it doesn’t make it a minor issue — or, to use your construction, “hardly an issue”.

    It makes Iraq an issue. I’d agree with this statement: “Iraq played a role in Australia’s election campaign.”

    Do you agree with that statement? If so, our argument is at an end.

  21. #21 Tim Lambert
    October 15, 2004

    I think another analogy is in order. Suppose a car drives down a street and there are a dozen witnesses. Glenn Reynolds, who did not see the car, claims that it was a red car. I say that he is wrong — that it was not a red car, but a green car and I point to ten other witnesses who also say that it was a green car. You argue that all the other witnesses were wrong and that the car was not green, leading Reynolds to conclude that the car was red. You also demand that I choose one of the propositions “It was a car” and “It was a red car”. But the set of red cars is a subset of the set of cars. If it is a red car then it is also a car.

    If you wish to support your claim that there was “much discussion” of Iraq during the election, then you need to explain how come all the serious journalists missed it. (See list of quotes above.) And, no, none of them said that Iraq wasn’t any kind of issue.

    And if you don’t agree with Sheridan’s statement that our Iraq troops were “hardly mentioned in the campaign”, why did you post it approvingly to your blog?

  22. #22 tim
    October 16, 2004

    Oh, joyous evasion! Simple question asked. Answer, please: Do you agree that Iraq played a role in Australia’s election campaign?

    If yes, argument over.

  23. #23 JR
    October 16, 2004

    Simple question: Did Howard’s vote share remotely correlate with popular support for his Iraq policy?

    That’s the hoop test for Tim Blair’s argument. Does it make it through?

  24. #24 Tim Lambert
    October 16, 2004

    It takes a special kind of chutzpah for you to pretend not to know what my position is after I have carefully explained it to you over and over and over again. Iraq was only a minor issue. Neither of the major parties wanted to talk about Iraq. But you knew that.

    Of course the reason why you are throwing out ridiculous charges of “evasion” is to cover your own evasions.

    If you wish to support your claim that there was “much discussion” of Iraq during the election, then you need to explain how come all the serious journalists missed it. (See list of quotes above.) And, no, none of them said that Iraq wasn’t any kind of issue.

    And if you don’t agree with Sheridan’s statement that our Iraq troops were “hardly mentioned in the campaign”, why did you post it approvingly to your blog?

    Try to answer this time.

  25. #25 tim
    October 16, 2004

    Why? Because, although I disagree with it, I thought it fair to include Sheridan’s opinion on “Iraq mentions” in a piece making a broader point.

    I’ve already posted on the mentions Iraq received during the campaign. How come “all the serious journalists (Quiggin? An anonymous “Labor insider”?) missed it”? Perhaps, as happens often, they were wrong. Or they cast their net too narrowly; by limiting Iraq merely to what the two major party leaders were saying, they missed the widespread election debate about Iraq among the Greens, in the media, and throughout “Not Happy John” world.

    Neither leader had to say much about Iraq to make it an issue; the press ramped it up for them. Although, as previously noted, both leaders DID address Iraq (and, more broadly) the war on terror in their campaigns.

    Iraq was an issue. Not major, but significant. Certainly above the level of “hardly an issue”.

  26. #26 anthony
    October 17, 2004

    Reminds me of the Japanese coverage of the big Sydney bushfires. Koalas were obviously an issue.

  27. #27 Tim Lambert
    October 17, 2004

    I asked how come the serious journalists missed it. Your first alternative answer is “they were wrong”. This is not an answer to my question, which was how come they all missed something so obvious that they all ended up making “dumb” claims.

    Your second alternative is that they missed what the Greens and other minor groups were saying. Now for the Greens, Iraq was a significant issue, though not the major one as you falsely claimed. But the Greens aren’t one of the two major parties. Their issues only become significant in the election campaign if one of the major parties pick them up. This is what happened with forests (which was the Greens top issue, not Iraq). That’s why forests were a major issue in the election and Iraq only a minor one. The journalists did not miss the Greens’ interest in Iraq, but rather decided that it was not a significant issue in the wider campaign.

    The press ramped up Iraq for the leaders? But I’ve quoted extensively from the press saying that Iraq was only a minor issue. This is not ramping it up.

    Quoting the few occasions when Iraq was mentioned in a six week campaign does not show that it was more than a minor issue. It is quite notable how little time Iraq was given by Howard and Latham in their campaign launches.

    Is Tim Blair out of step or is everybody else?

  28. #28 tim
    October 18, 2004

    Take a look at the Greens’ website and policy document, Tim. Anything stand out? Brown himself seemed to mention Iraq as often as possible; many examples here. And this Greens candidate seems to think Iraq was an issue somehow. Meanwhile, Liberal research found that Latham’s Iraq announcement was a “watershed” moment. (That last link will also take you to a Mark Steyn column you’ll particularly enjoy.)

    By the way, what’s your issue with being “out of step”? Do you always side with majority opinion?

  29. #29 Tim Lambert
    October 18, 2004

    Looking at the Green’s hot issues, I find that they are, in order: forests, education, climate change, Iraq, the FTA and health. Their most important issue in the election was forests. You would have to have been living in a cave not to have noticed the importance of forests , especially in the crucial last week of the campaign.

    Latham’s Iraq announcement was made way back in March, well before the campaign started. And the Liberal pollster reckoned the problem wasn’t the substance of the announcement but the way it was made. As for Syteyn’s shameless brown-nosing, I have to wonder if he has any self-respect at all.

    The point about being “out of step” is that what is in step really is determined by majority opinion. The same with whether something is an issue in hte election. If only one person thinks that Iraq is an issue, then it really isn’t an issue. The one person can argue that the rest of the community are wrong to igore Iraq as in issue, but he can’t sensibly argue that everyone else is wrong and that it really is an issue.

  30. #30 tim
    October 18, 2004

    “What is in step really is determined by majority opinion.”

    So you’ll be voting for the Coalition in 2007? Excellent!

  31. #31 Tim Lambert
    October 19, 2004

    Again you somehow manage to miss the point.

    Let’s try another example. Suppose that you are wearing some lime green flares. A friend comments that flares went out of fashion decades ago. You reply that no, flares are the height of fashion. Your friend checks with everyone else around — they all agree that flares are way out of fashion. You insist that even if you are the only person who thinks that flares are fashionable and every one else thinks they are not, everyone else is wrong and they are fashionable, so there. Do you see what is wrong with your claim? The statement “X is fashionable” just means “most people think that X is fashionable”. If most people think that X is fashionable, then by definition X is fashionable. This doesn’t mean you have to go along with what is fashionable and stop wearing those lime green flares, but you can’t claim that they are fashionable without people thinking you are being silly.

  32. #32 tim
    October 20, 2004

    Er … okay. Lime green flares. Yes. Good point. (Backs away slowly.)

  33. #33 Tim Lambert
    October 20, 2004

    Hey, I’m not the one wearing lime green flares.

  34. #34 tim
    October 20, 2004

    They made me wear them! Said it was essential to make the “performance art piece” completely “believable”.

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