US Politics is a real life Soap Opera. It’s what keeps me coming back. The Vitriol, the scandals, the inane partisanship, the tribalism, the stances, the beliefs, the media; it is all almost completely detached from reality. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately?) the rest of the world does not suffer as much from these same afflictions. The rest of the world is just that little bit more serious. It’s that little bit more boring. This is partly what makes it so hard for many of us non-policy “wonks” to get interested in Australian Politics. And then came Tony Abbott. The closest thing I have ever seen to a political attack dog. He does not stop. He pays no heed to reality or pragmatism. He just attacks. At least that was Tony Abbott. This week, Abbott made a concession that has taken him a step away from the unelectable attack dog that we all know and love, and towards the pragmatic real world. Abbott has broken away from the conservative “sacred cow”, that tax cuts are a magic pill that will solve any and all problems from pimples to deficits. He has taken a step away from the pipe dream that tax cuts (and the resulting economic growth) alone can solve deficits and debt. He has announced that if elected he will be unable to immediately cut taxes. Instead, he will cut taxes towards the end of his first term, after he has solved the deficit and debt. Bravo Tony. Bravo.
Abbott’s move comes in strong contrast to traditional conservative dogma: that Tax Cuts solve everything. Listening to an average “fiscal conservative” you are made to believe that the moment taxes are lowered, the economy will boom to such an extent that there will be no significant drop in revenues. In fact, some believe that revenues will actually increase. In theory, and in the long run, this does make sense. However, in the short run, and in practice, it seldom works as a real answer to deficits and debt. Just look at the deficits and debt that George W Bush’s tax cuts failed to address, and actually helped explode. In real life, to go along with tax cuts, significant spending must be cut in order to match the short-term drop in revenues.
By realising (and accounting for) this problem, Tony Abbott is making himself into a more serious and electable candidate. He is doing what Gillard should have done in the last election: make realistic promises based on an accurate assessment of the situation. Abbott might currently be copping a shellacking from Labor for altering a campaign promise, and from his own conservative colleagues for abandoning conservative dogma. But altering a promise before an election is much, much better than altering one after an election, and abandoning a theory that has proved not to work is hardly something the rest of us (non ideological) need be concerned with. This change in promise is not something Abbott should be criticised for. Tony Abbott is being realistic.