Tim Dunlop kindly exempts me from his argument that the right’s commentators generally gave the Howard government a soft time, while the left’s commentators have turned on Rudd.
* Right-wingers typically have low expectations of what politics can achieve, and so were not so disappointed with the Howard government. Left-wingers have high expectations – higher than is realistic – so are inevitably disappointed. There was a huge expectations and popularity bubble around Rudd that in my view was always absurdly out of line with the fundamentals. It had to burst and it has.
* Labor governments try to do more than Liberal governments, and given the inherent limitations of state action are therefore more likely to stuff things up. The national broadband network looks like the next big Rudd fiasco, if he survives the 2010 election. Blunders put both left and right commentators on the attack.
* The views of right-wing commentators were closer to those of Howard than the views of the broad left were to Rudd. Most wouldn’t regard the examples Dunlop gives of failed Howard policies – Iraq, WorkChoices – as failed policies.
Dunlop also complains that:
… there is a structural (attitudinal?) bias against strong, unabashed leftwing voices on mainstream commentary pages. What’s more, the democratic tendency of left-leaning commentators to criticise their own side actually plays to this bias.
He’s right that the tabloid press particularly tends towards right-of-centre commentators, though there are exceptions like Jill Singer at the Herald-Sun and Maralyn Parker at the Daily Telegraph (though I haven’t read much of Parker except for her attacks on private schools). But both are minor figures compared to say Andrew Bolt.
The structural/commercial reason for the tabloid right bias may reflect the different paths right and left have taken over the last 20 years. One of the most important changes on the conservative right has been the development of a strong populist edge, which gives them a natural affinity with tabloid audiences. On the other hand while the left will still support the material interests of the tabloid-reading masses, culturally the left has very little in common with them. Any concerns working class people might have about immigration or refugees are dismissed as racism. Their patriotic feelings are disparaged and challenged with ‘black armband’ history. Newspapers are reluctant to offend their readers, and so the tabloids don’t publish too much of this stuff.
By contrast there is plenty of it in The Age in particular, which lacks a weekly right-wing columnist, though Chris Berg appears in The Sunday Age every couple of weeks. This again presumably reflects a commercial judgment on what the readers want to see in their paper.
One factor that is hard to assess is the distribution of talent. Lefties with opinions have far more opportunities to find work in unions, NGOs, and universities than right-wingers. Perhaps this diverts left talent away from the media, while right-wingers with fewer alternatives head into the media commentariat.