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This Is Getting Needlessly Messianic

July 15, 2011

I’ll begin by pointing out the Prime Minister’s usage of the word “crap” in attempt to lighten up and come off as a bit more natural [she says she’s naturally shy, fair enough to be commander in chief, but not so good if she actually seeks to be any kind of public figure as one would expect]. The dramatic irony is that she has essentially become Kevin Rudd; voters are unsure of where she stands and she can come off as artificial. Meanwhile, the last few days have obviously focused very heavily on the carbon tax and the two leaders’ approaches as well as their public receptions. Predictably, several voters [which is far too respectful of a title for some] accosted Gillard in public, in a less than civil manner. Gone are the days where people have respect for the office, even if not for the person. This was evident in the United States when Bill O’Reilly interviewed President Obama, as if he were some junior congressmen or even really some drunkard at the bar, not to mention the whole neo-racist birth certificate nonsense. Unfortunately, it has increasingly become a reality within Australian politics, as are many things we usually associate with the US.

Stories of Gillard being heckled very publicly on Wednesday are disgraceful [you can check them out here]; those who seek to humiliate and insult the leader of our nation, not with any decency or even the willingness to listen to the person they’re attacking. I know to be surprised at this is very naive, but doesn’t it all seem much more normal and acceptable now? Gillard’s inability to come up with a decent response to “why did you lie” over the last six months is admittedly quite an impediment, but I cannot recall Howard being treated with the same contempt of office as this about his GST debacle; nor Kevin Rudd on the ETS or even Abbott about his infamous “in the heat of an argument” quote. Hasn’t it been ingrained into us that politicians are liars? What’s so exceptional about this particular instance?

Australians as people by and large have significant issues concerning etiquette and authority as it is. It’s an endearing part of our culture, but also one which erodes the tone of debate throughout the country. I’ve argued many times that the truly left wing voice is never heard, and instead we have different shades of right [the centre is almost always right-leaning], but the phrase “arrogant liberal” very much frustrates me. Sure, liberals like myself can be elitist and yes, arrogant if you will, but that’s generally after a process of reasoned debate and discussion. Left-wing opinions are rarely a knee-jerk, because the leftist position largely requires one to admit faults in either the system or themselves. To be conservative is to largely keep with the status quo, or model it more after one’s self [and frankly it’s no coincidence that the majority of conservative voters are either self-interested individualist pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps bourgeois or largely not the intellectual/informed types]. Regardless, the lefter side of politics is with very few exceptions always more courteous and respectful. Frankly, it’s also generally smarter, whether it’s right or not. To use one of Bill Maher’s phrases; “Not all Republicans are racists, but if you are racist you’re almost certainly a Republican.”

[As a side note, this isn’t to say Labor voters aren’t guilty of the same issues. That said, the voters who do act as such are generally hardly left-wing and much more likely to act upon (generally proletarian) self-interest.]

There has been a general societal trend towards a debate over facts as if they are simply ideology. Long has it been since ideology has been argued over – neoliberalism won thirty years ago with the Hawke-Keating, Thatcher and Reagan governments, despite the huge failures in the latter two. What we see now is debates over mere facts, or lack thereof. Widely lampooned pseudo-intellectuals like “Lord” Monckton are given a platform in today’s society to argue against what is very widely agreed upon science that the Earth is getting warmer and people are contributing towards it. Yet the argument over climate change is not treated as a mere factual one, upon which one side [the “left” as conservatives insist], but rather an argument of faith. Why else would we have arguments over “believing” or “denying” climate change? When David Roberts writes about an emerging “Post-Truth Politics” (with obvious reference to the US], I am inclined to believe that we are well and truly following suit. In an age of self-aggrandisement, with the Internet serving as its ultimate tool; where anyone can say anything with relative impunity and an inflated sense of importance, it doesn’t become unusual for one to disagree with the norm purely because they can. There is little sense of place or authority anymore. John Kenneth Galbraith has written at length about the importance modern society places upon the “expert”. Fifty years later not even the expert’s opinion is necessary. The only qualification important to mount an argument in the modern world is a large enough larynx.

This isn’t to tout the elitist line; it is hugely important that in a democratic society people like economists are open to criticism by politicians and the public. To argue, as I have myself at times, that one should not comment on issues they are not comparatively well versed in is simply a fallacious approach. But to what extent can we question authority and experts? We are suffering from so much exposure, so much questioning, that like a nervous teenager we talk ourselves out of doing anything. By overloading ourselves with commentary, we’ve lost the important separation between what’s relevant and what’s merely entertaining, and are left with a compromised democracy. Even if all the coverage was factual and non-partisan, it’s an unfortunate truth that an effectively run society requires a degree of subordination. We democratically elect our government, but at some point they do need to give commands, and in the last 30 years that has become increasingly harder and harder as questioning comes harder, faster and far less critically.

It’s through such movements as these that Abbott can successfully propose one inferior policy after another; whether it be his paid parental leave scheme, his wireless alternative to the NBN and most of all the silly notion of a “direct action” climate change plan without any movements to taxing it; and actually profit politically. In his opposition to fairly commonsensical ideas such as taxing mining firms with ridiculous profit margins and making polluters rather than the taxpayers pay for pollution, he’s simply turned the hysteria up to eleven; using more and more extreme metaphors [elaborately detailed in this very entertaining blog] which create wild, bombastic visions of an impoverished Australia, when the policies on the table are in fact so mild, watered-down and incremental that they barely resemble the initial motions. Then conservatives attack it from the left; “what’s the point if it doesn’t do anything”. And nobody bats an eyelid.

The opinion polls are with Abbott now, but it’s two years before another election. A man of not inconsiderable intelligence, Abbott likely understands that his rampant negativism cannot be expected to last forever. The Coalition, along with Labor, vowed to make 2011 a year of policy development. From Labor, we’ve seen at least some of that. From the Coalition however, all of Abbott’s policies are those he took to the election, which themselves were hatchet-jobs; ornaments, never to be enacted into law. For a while we’ve been seeing editorials about Abbott’s comparative lack of policy, but it has ramped up. The comments of political enemies Peter Reith and Nick Minchin about the need to revitalise the party and embrace positive policy, along with what columnists have been opining for quite some time both indicate that this is not going to be forgotten. The attention cannot always remain on the government, no matter how badly it fails to communicate. For all its failures, policies are being enacted and the minority government is working. It was expected that Abbott was to change tone far sooner than this, but it’s been working so why change a winning strategy?

Which is why we’ve had such a fuss over another election. Abbott won’t be able to prevent the carbon tax from passing the House or Senate, and cannot be perceived as being powerless. His campaign is fuelled on red-blooded anger. When people snap out of the illusion that has been cast [very gradually mind you], they’ll see the carbon tax for what it is,; a largely sensible reform that if anything deserves to be ramped up. While Abbott may attempt to rort the democratic system by calling for an election less than a year into an elected government’s three year term, he’s fighting a losing battle. And as he knows, losing this battle runs far more than the risk of allowing the government to look like they’re achieving something; it’s a direct indictment of not only his powerlessness but his ridiculousness.

And dare I say it, people may begin to realise that for all her faults (including her constant change in accent and tone; seriously what’s with that), Julia Gillard is doing her best to help Australians, and that regardless of political alignment, she deserves to be treated with respect.

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