Indefatigable, relentless positivism and negativism and a strict adherence to the Murdoch corporate mantra, "We don't know the meaning of 'Wrong'!" That's what amazes me about the Coalition and Conservative politicians in general, both here and around the world, and conservative commentators in the media. Also the fact that Progressive politicians don't seem to understand this political raison d'etre
As I sit here from day to day observing the machinations of the political world, I see issues come along, germinate, be fertilised, bloom, and be cut down by rational argument from one side of the debate or the other, a result of an objective perspective.
Or so I used to think. However, with the 'Jet-lag-gate' issue which has come to prominence over the last little while that involved Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard, I observed Mr Abbott over the ensuing days attempting to turn, with the aid of his support crew in the media, a negative for himself into a positive, both for himself and the Coalition as others from his political team became players in the latest episode of 'all aggro, all the time' Tony Abbott style politics.
He and his crew tried every which way but loose over the last week, after Mr Abbott made his initial 'Wrong' move, to turn 'Wrong' into 'Right' for the Coalition.
'There is no such thing as 'Wrong', just an opportunity, after the initial 'misstep', where Tony Abbott, our very own Vladimir Putin impersonator, offered up his apology for 'misspeaking', constantly, until he got the form of words right which achieved his aim of correctly airbrushing his mistake away from front of mind of anyone who has been following the saga, and from the front pages of the newspapers, Up until yesterday, that is, when he put his foot in it again, as part of his ongoing campaign to defame and delegitimize the Gillard government, by complaining of the Prime Minister's “low act of political bastardry”, which, as it subsequently turned out, she was not guilty of. No matter probably to Mr Abbott. He got a day's run for his slur in the media. I'm sure he also goes by the mantra that, 'There's no such thing as bad publicity'.
I also found it interesting to note just where Tony Abbott goes when he wants to perform his absolution ablutions or launch a pre-emptive attack on the Gillard government. First stop, not the National Broadcaster anymore, though they can just about always be counted on these days to fall into lockstep once he gets his lines out there, as we have seen most recently with the echoing, without analysis, of the 'political bastardry' meme; no, pitching directly to his favourite demographic he heads for the John Singleton/Allan Jones Syndicated Radio Network of 2GB, 4BC/MTR etc. They can be guaranteed to give whatever he has to say unquestioning support and reinforcement, unlike the ABC, who on occasion question his assumptions when interviewing him directly.
Tony Abbott's words are then bounced around the media echo chamber because, hungry for a mea culpa
for a previously identified infraction, when Tony Abbott was identified as having said something 'Wrong', they take what they can get and what he says next, even if they don't end up getting what they were after. They have to, he's the Opposition Leader and they are duty bound to report what he says, and he knows it and exploits that position.
In this way, and with so many other examples from Coalition spokespersons, such as the one referenced by Ash in his blog The Confidence vs The Con
, which is about Joe Hockey and the rise and fall of his pre-emptive strike at the government over an Interest Rate rise that never eventuated, we can see the modus operandi
of the Coalition Communication strategy very clearly. Every negative that they perceive for the government has to be made into a greater negative and every negative for the Coalition has to be transmogrified into a positive before it has had time to become a negative for them. And they 'Don't know the meaning of 'Wrong'!'.
Which leads me to the actual point of my musing today.
Why is the federal ALP government unable to kick goals in the media the way the Coalition can?
Why is it that they have to be so self-conscious about being shameless when they front the media?
Why don't they have a spokesman ready to go on air and into print every day primed and ready to have a whack at the Opposition over the latest example of over-the-top hyperbole, misogyny towards the Prime Minister, or attack from Tony Abbott or Christopher Pyne? It's exactly what the Opposition do in reverse, every day. Thus they get to fill the vacuum in the media which is always waiting to be filled. The government may wish to rise above the 24/7 cycle that it got sucked into in the last term, and seek to develop a greater over-arching media strategy; however, they should also realise that they must walk and chew gum in the media at the same time. It cannot be an either/or situation. They must do both. Effectively.
In these days, when an avowed non-truth teller, who will gladly and glibly go back on his word, signed in blood or whatever, at the drop of a hat, can still somehow manage to retain at least a skerrick of credibility, and what's more be given the benefit of the doubt repeatedly by an indulgent media, then the ALP spokespeople, from the PM down, have to learn how to take a trick from him and his colleagues in the Coalition in the political Poker game.
As everyone, from Bernard Keane of Crikey
, down, seems to be saying at the moment, why, when they have so many positive achievements to sell, with which they could be hitting home runs into the electorate, are the ALP striking out, unable to sell their product successfully to the electorate?
Anyway, so as to help the ALP get its communications act together, because they can't rely on Tony Abbott's foot-in-mouth disease to be his fatal flaw, especially when his mates in the Mainstream Media keep offering him a hand-up out of the verbal quicksand into which he keeps getting himself, I thus thought I'd go do some searching around for some salient advice which might help them along the path to better communication with the electorate. Other than waking up to the new paradigm that is, 'There is no such thing as 'Wrong'!'
Firstly, I think they need to understand the nature of truth telling better. As Friedrich Nietzsche puts it: "What then is truth? A mobile army of metaphors, metonymy's, and anthropomorphism – in short, a sum of human relations, which have been enhanced, transposed, and embellished poetically and rhetorically, and which after long use seem firm, canonical, and obligatory to a people: truths are illusions about which one has forgotten that is what they are; metaphors which are worn out and without sensuous power; coins which have lost their pictures and now matter only as metal, no longer as coins. We still do not know where the urge for truth comes from; for as yet we have heard only of the obligation imposed by society that it should exist: to be truthful means using the customary metaphors – in moral terms, the obligation to lie according to fixed convention, to lie herd-like in a style obligatory for all ... "
In other words, if it is plausible and you say it for long enough and often enough, and it has its basis in truth, somewhat embellished, eventually people will believe you.
Construct the right frame and people will get the picture.
Secondly, keep creating a new verbal paradigm to go with the 'new political paradigm' you say you are trying to foster. Hence, as I have just read concerning Progressive political groups and media companies in the US, leave behind the old 'Left/Right' descriptors – they possess too much confusing baggage – and start referring to your political movement as say, ‘leaning towards the future, seeking solutions that will prepare us for the challenges ahead'. Accentuate the positives, and talk about them constantly, and reinforce the fact that your opponents merely want to re-invent the wheel and recreate past glories, because they are not forward-thinking but conservative thinkers.
Make a point of the fact that their philosophical inspiration comes from archaic, arch-conservative thinkers from the past, such as Ayn Rand and Friedrich Hayek. Get out into the community to explain why this type of thinking is wrong for the 21st century and why we need to leave the past and its mistakes behind. Constantly point out what those mistakes were, and what such corrupt thinking will lead to again. As we are living in the 21st century, with a whole new and unique set of challenges that can't be answered by preserving society in aspic. The old ideologues that the conservatives rely on never had to deal with the challenges which we are facing now. Etc, etc.
See how I infused my statements with words like 'now', 'new', 'unique', 'challenges', 'the future'? Words that make the distinction between the two forces who seek to shape politics as clear as black and white.
Also, as in America, so it goes in Australia. Those of us in the Progressive community need to start thinking about our identity more deeply, as this article, Liberal Branding
How about coming up with a universal byline that encapsulates what Progressives stand for, like this one:
'Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.'
– Helen Keller.
They might have Ayn Rand, but we can have Helen Keller! (And guess who is who in the pictures below!) Anyway, you get my drift I hope.
Finally, enough of the apologetic tone. The Coalition never sound apologetic. They don't know the meaning of 'Wrong'! What they do know is that it makes you look weak when you adopt a defensive tone, and that's the last thing that a leader, and that's what our politicians are, our civilian leaders, should look like.
Any more suggestions?