Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Why Are People So Unkind?

It’s almost expected these days that political campaigns will “go negative” and focus on the shortcomings of your candidate’s opponents rather than on your own candidate’s strengths. The idea is not to convince people to vote for you, but to convince them not to vote for your opponents. It’s a horrible premise on which to sell anything, and in the case of politicians prior to an election, it often sees the real messages about vision and policy taking second place to varying amounts of dirt being flung around and reported.
That’s the point.
The age of social media has seen this trend become far more common, possibly because it’s so easy to access and hide behind a series of pseudonyms. Many social media platforms are built to support spirited debate, yet now we have members of the public attacking politicians and reporters, politicans attacking members of the public, politicians attacking eachother in public forums, and all of them using language that would make my late Grandma Queenie faint.
During the past week or so, the inappropriately aggressive language has jumped the fence – and the shark – and we’ve seen two contemptible examples of the commentariat sinking to great depths.
Firstly, Grahame Morris, former Chief of Staff to John Howard, and now lobbyist-at-large and political commentator, has suggested on Sky News that the ALP should be “kicking her to death.” The ‘her’ in question is Julia Gillard. As a former Liberal Party operative, we know he’s not a fan of Ms Gillard, but when did this kind of sentiment become acceptable? Mr Morris has apologised to programme host David Speers; the rest of us – Ms Gillard, the ALP, ALP Supporters and almost everyone else with an adult’s sense of decency – aren’t worthy of a simple ‘sorry’.
I’d like to include a link to Mr Morris’s insult. Unfortunately I can’t find a link to the footage, although there is a bare mention here.
The second incident came from News Limited columnist Joe Hildebrand, in Monday’s Daily Telegraph column about the apparent implosion of the ALP. Hildebrand quotes a list of reasons why we-the-people may have lost faith in the people’s party, and he’s right on every count. Each one of these political miscalculations has contributed to the sad truth that the Labor party is – to quote a great Australian whose name I never knew – going off faster than a bucket o’ prawns in the sun, mate.  Joe lists just some of them for your consideration and lays them at the feet of the current leader.
These include the assassination of Kevin Rudd, the carbon tax, the mining tax, the pokies cap, the second Rudd showdown and subsequent recruitment of Bob Carr, and the Craig Thomson and Peter Slipper scandals.
I do agree with most of that, and in fact, I posted about the same issue in this very blog – albeit from a different perspective, when Clive Palmer dropped his parliamentary bombshell. We do need more politicians will real life experience, and less Canberra-bred hot-house flowers. The only one of the current front bench on either side of the aisle who has more experience in the private sector than in government is Malcolm Turnbull, and it shows. It’s just a shame he’s shackled himself to a party with policies so stupid that even he doesn’t believe them.
But does Joe Hildebrand really think that because the Prime Minister is childless, she’s out of touch? That’s his explanation? Too much time at dinner parties and not enough time at play dates? He continues:
And, to be frank, the fact that Gillard has no children perhaps also limits her exposure to what’s happening in the world outside the rarefied corridors of Canberra or the Melbourne dinner party set. If the PM moved in broader circles or had better political instincts then this would not be an issue but it seems as though she needs every avenue to the outside world she can get and kids can be a great – if often unwelcome – conduit to what’s really going on. Having said that, this is of course a deeply personal matter and entirely one for her.  It merely presents as one reason why she may be so insulated from popular opinion.
With all due respect, a comment like this one deserves absolutely no respect. If the Prime Minister is out of touch – and she is – it’s not because she has chosen to remain childless. 
It’s because she is surrounded by a posse of like-minded Canberra-bred hot house politicians who have spent their entire lives in politics and its feeder-industries: media, unions, academia and public service…and I suspect Joe Hildebrand knows that.
He also knows that none of the former Prime Ministers of this country has given birth either. Not one. How ‘bout that!  Most, if not all, were fathers, but in a large part, absentee fathers. None of them knew much about the price of milk, the best way to clean a really poopy nappy, the importance of massaging baby’s tummy in a clockwise direction or how to make a broccoli costume out of chicken wire,  gaffer tape and lipstick either.
It’s not even an original thought. If Joe wants to be really vile, he’s got a long way to go. He’s still about five years behind Bill Heffernan, who said that Ms Gillard was unqualified to lead the country because she was deliberately barren.

True, Joe, the ALP doesn’t have a faintest clue what the public is thinking, or how to save themselves. It’s a tragedy, because every democracy needs a strong opposition to function.
I’m delighted that you spent your 2000 words trying to convince us that you’re really trying to save the ALP, against your better judgment.
But I’m not buying it, Joe. We both know damn well that you just spent 2000 words pointing out to your readers – most of whom would choose root canal surgery over voting Labor – precisely why the ALP is one step away from lining the budgie’s cage, and why your readers are justified  in sticking with the Coalition of No.


  1. I'm just so relieved Penny Wong's had a child! She was soooo out of touch until then - NOT! ;)

  2. I'm so over people targetting Julia Gillard for her childless or unmarried status. Target the policies instead! It's not her childlessness or her unmarried status that is seeing her come up with not-so-great policies.