‘Happy Summertime’ from the TPS Team!

From this week The Political Sword goes into recess for the summer period until the 2nd February 2014.

Well, its authors, and Casablanca’s Cache, will have a break, but all of you who love to comment and share links and thoughts and fun on TPS don’t have to do the same.

Comments on this page will stay open until the 1st January 2014. Then, the TPS Team will put up a new page, where comments through January can stay open until the first discussion starter by an author for 2014 goes up on the 2nd February.

This past year, 2013, has been a big one for The Political Sword. It’s not only the change of government; it’s that two stalwart Swordsters, Ad Astra and Lyn Linking, retired from their daily and full-time commitment to this long-term blog. We mourned their loss, and wondered about life with no TPS.

But little by little, The Political Sword found itself renewed and revived as a group effort, with a team that now chuffs along behind the scenes, and with regular team authors Ken Wolff and 2353 mixing it up with guest bloggers. This year we’ve been lucky to have well-known writers Barry Tucker and David Horton guesting, as well as Ad Astra on a guest-spot return, and jaycee, long-time commenter, trying his hand at a discussion starter for the first time.

We thought you might like to know who your TPS Team in these last three months of 2013 has been. We were:

  • Bacchus, who provides all general tech support, as well as email and TPS Twitter account support;
  • Casablanca, who puts together the ever-extraordinary ‘Casablanca’s Cache’;
  • Catching Up: email support and comment moderating;
  • Janet (j4gypsy): editing and Twitter support;
  • Ken Wolff: regular authoring and reviewing, as well as editing support;
  • Pappinbarra Fox: regular reviewing support;
  • Talk Turkey: reviewing and comment moderating support;
  • 2353: regular authoring and reviewing as well as online/html coding support;
  • Ad Astra who, as well as mentoring us all through the process of becoming a team, has acted at different times as editor as well as author, and regular TPS site technical support.
We also thought we could all end the year with some visual moments – anything from a cartoon to YouTube grabs -- that capture any of the lowlights or highlights of the 2013 political year, and in whatever seasons TPS contributors might have celebrated or will celebrate this year.

We invite you to add your visual moment (or two) of the year in a comment below, and tell us why you chose it.

Here’s one, with a ‘why’, to start the ball rolling.

2353 picked this, because, he says:

While this clip is really a commercial it demonstrates that some corporations do have a sense of community and of the greater good. Community and the greater good are two things we all should remember in our own dealings and insist on in others during 2014. From my family to yours: we hope 2014 is everything you want it to be and full of peace and prosperity. Take care over the festive season and throughout the year.

We wish you, from us all, a happy and safe summer holiday season.

The myth of political sameness

Cock your ear at your local watering hole, listen to the boys as they clasp a frosted schooner of VB, and you’re bound to hear: ‘They’re all the same these pollies. Ya just can’t trust em’. Of course they are right to some extent. The deception and deviousness we see day after day from our politicians has earned them that condemnation. On the other side of the coin, by and large politicians enter public life to make a difference, to do good things, to make life better for their electorates, indeed the whole nation. Only the Eddie Obeids of this world have self-interest as their driving force.

Similarly, political parties have good intentions and many comparable policies. It’s not surprising then that many voters perceive politicians and parties as ‘all the same’.

This notion of sameness needs debunking, lest too many entitled to cast a vote swallow the myth that the ‘sameness’ of the parties absolves them from making a critical decision about who is best equipped to lead the nation, who has the best policy agenda, who has the most acceptable ideology, who has the most suitable approach to policy development, who can take us to a better future.

Politicians and parties are not ‘all the same’.

In his book: Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think, (University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2002), George Lakoff, linguist and cognitive scientist, tells us how very different are conservatives from progressives, and how the major differences in their mindset affects their approach to politics. Because he studied US politics, he uses the term ‘liberal’ to describe ‘progressives’ (in the US, Democrats; in this country Labor and perhaps the Greens), and ‘conservative’ to describe conservatives (in the US, Republicans or their extreme variant, The Tea Party; in this country the Liberal National Party, the Coalition). Most of the quotes in this piece are from this book. I quote him extensively; my words could not do a better job than his.

His underlying thesis rests on a central metaphor: ‘Nation as Family’. He elaborates on this as follows:

The Nation is a Family.
The Government is a Parent.
The Citizens are the Children.

We know that the metaphor is not wholly applicable, but many people find it a comfortable one with which they can identify readily. They can accept that family dynamics and economics might be seen as applicable to the nation’s dynamics and economics, even though there are many fundamental differences. Our politicians often use this metaphor, making reference to the family budget to argue that the nation, like a family, must ‘live within its means’.

Building on the Nation as Family metaphor, Lakoff identifies two types of family based upon two distinct styles of parenting, which he assigns to conservatives and progressives respectively. When applied to the Nation as Family metaphor, they result in vastly different behaviours.

The two parenting styles are:

The Strict Father model, and
The Nurturant Parent model.

At the center of the conservative worldview is a Strict Father model; the liberal (progressive) worldview centres on a very different ideal for family life, the Nurturant Parent model, which encompasses both parents.

Lakoff asserts that the Strict Father model is a metaphorical version of an economic idea. He explains:

It is based on a folk version of Adam Smith’s economics: If each person seeks to maximize his own wealth, then, by an invisible hand, the wealth of all will be maximized. Applying the common metaphor that Well-Being Is Wealth to this folk version of free-market economics, we get: If each person tries to maximize his own well-being (or self-interest), the well-being of all will be maximized. Thus, seeking one’s own self-interest is actually a positive, moral act, one that contributes to the well-being of all.

Lakoff goes on to cite some words and phrases used over and over in conservative discourse, words that reflect the Strict Father model:

Character, virtue, discipline, tough it out, get tough, tough love, strong, self-reliance, individual responsibility, backbone, standards, authority, heritage, competition, earn, hard work, enterprise, property rights, reward, freedom, intrusion, interference, meddling, punishment, human nature, traditional, common sense, dependency, self-indulgent, elite, quotas, breakdown, corrupt, decay, rot, degenerate, deviant, lifestyle.

How many times have you heard Coalition members use these words, particularly those who have responsibility for the economy: Tony Abbott, Joe Hockey and Mathias Cormann? Countless times!

Lakoff continues:

Liberals [progressives], in their speeches and writings, choose different topics, different words, and different modes of inference than conservatives. Liberals talk about: social forces, social responsibility, free expression, human rights, equal rights, concern, care, help, health, safety, nutrition, basic human dignity, oppression, diversity, deprivation, alienation, big corporations, corporate welfare, ecology, ecosystem, biodiversity, pollution, and so on. Conservatives tend not to dwell on these topics, or to use these words as part of their normal political discourse.

How often have you heard Labor members and Greens using these words? Over and again!

Lakoff summarises:

The conservative/liberal [progressive] division is ultimately a division between strictness and nurturance as ideals at all levels—from the family to morality to religion and, ultimately, to politics. It is a division at the center of our democracy and our public lives, and yet there is no overt discussion of it in public discourse.

He continues:

Yet it is vitally important that we do so if Americans are to understand, and come to grips with, the deepest fundamental division in our country, one that transcends and lies behind all the individual issues: the role of government, social programs, taxation, education, the environment, energy, gun control, abortion, the death penalty, and so on. These are ultimately not different issues, but manifestations of a single issue: strictness versus nurturance.

In Australia, an identical and just as fundamental division exists between the Coalition, the conservatives, and Labor and the Greens, the progressives. This division results in the striking differences in attitude, behaviour, rhetoric, policy, and indeed morality, which day after day define our own conservatives and our own progressives. It explains so much of the contrast we see.

Lakoff summarises the relationship between morality and politics as follows:

The Strict Father and Nurturant Parent models of the family induce…two moral systems...

The link between family-based morality and politics comes from one of the most common ways we have of conceptualizing what a nation is, namely, as a family. It is the common, unconscious, and automatic metaphor of the Nation as Family that produces contemporary conservatism from Strict Father morality and contemporary liberalism from Nurturant Parent morality.

According to Lakoff, conservatives cannot understand the thinking of progressives, nor can progressives understand conservatives. Conventional logic does not help; it is only when the two methods of parenting are used as explanatory models that understanding comes into view with a startling flash of insight.

To assist understanding, Lakoff compares conservative and liberal (progressive) moral systems:

Conservative categories of moral action:

1. Promoting Strict Father morality in general.
2. Promoting self-discipline, responsibility, and self-reliance.
3. Upholding the Morality of Reward and Punishment.
a. Preventing interference with the pursuit of self-interest by self-disciplined, self-reliant people.
b. Promoting punishment as a means of upholding authority.
c. Ensuring punishment for lack of self-discipline.
4. Protecting moral people from external evils.
5. Upholding the Moral Order.

Liberal categories of moral action:

1. Empathetic behaviour, and promoting fairness.
2. Helping those who cannot help themselves.
3. Protecting those who cannot protect themselves.
4. Promoting fulfillment in life.
5. Nurturing and strengthening oneself in order to do the above.

He clarifies these concepts as follows:

In the conservative moral worldview, the model citizens are those who best fit all the conservative categories for moral action. They are those (1) who have conservative values and act to support them; (2) who are self-disciplined and self-reliant; (3) who uphold the morality of reward and punishment; (4) who work to protect moral citizens; and (5) who act in support of the moral order. Those who best fit all these categories are successful, wealthy, law-abiding conservative businessmen who support a strong military and a strict criminal justice system, who are against government regulation, and who are against affirmative action. They are the model citizens. They are the people whom all Americans should emulate and from whom we have nothing to fear. They deserve to be rewarded and respected.

These model citizens fit an elaborate mythology. They have succeeded through hard work, have earned whatever they have through their own self-discipline, and deserve to keep what they have earned. Through their success and wealth they create jobs, which they “give” to other citizens. Simply by investing their money to maximize their earnings, they become philanthropists who “give” jobs to others and thereby “create wealth” for others [trickle down economics]. Part of the myth is that these model citizens have been given nothing by the government and have made it on their own. The American Dream is that any honest, self-disciplined, hard-working person can do the same. These model citizens are seen by conservatives as the Ideal Americans in the American Dream.

We can now see clearly why liberal [progressive] arguments for social programs can make no sense at all to conservatives, whether they are arguments on the basis of compassion, fairness, wise investment, financial responsibility, or outright self-interest. The issue for conservatives is a moral issue touching the very heart of conservative morality, a morality where a liberal’s compassion and fairness are neither compassionate nor fair. Even financial arguments won’t carry the day. The issue isn’t about money; it’s about morality.

What we have here are major differences in moral worldview. They are not just differences of opinion about effective public administration. The differences are not about efficiency, or practicality, or economics, and they cannot be settled by rational argument about effective administration. They are ethical opinions about what makes good people and a good nation.

Lakoff illustrates his thesis with an example from America that has application in this country:

Take a simple example: college loans. The federal government has had a program to provide low-interest loans to college students. The students don’t have to start paying off the loans while they are still in college and the loans are interest-free during the college years [similar to our HECS - HELP loan program].

The liberal rationale for the program is this: College is expensive and a great many poor-to-middle-class students cannot afford it. This loan program allows a great many students to go to college who otherwise wouldn’t. Going to college allows one to get a better job at a higher salary afterward and to be paid more during one’s entire life. This benefits not only the student but also the government, since the student will be paying more taxes over his lifetime because of his better job. From the liberal [progressive] moral perspective, this is a highly moral program. It helps those who cannot help themselves. It promotes fulfillment in life in two ways, since education is fulfilling in itself and it permits people to get more fulfilling jobs. It strengthens the nation, since it produces a better-educated citizenry and ultimately brings in more tax money; and it is empathetic behavior making access to college more fairly distributed.

But through conservative spectacles, this is an immoral program. Since students depend on the loans, the program supports dependence on the government rather than self-reliance. Since not everyone has access to such loans, the program introduces competitive unfairness, thus interfering with the free market in loans and hence with the fair pursuit of self-interest. Since the program takes money earned by one group and, through taxation, gives it to another group, it is unfair and penalizes the pursuit of self-interest by taking money from someone who has earned it and giving it to someone who hasn’t.

Lakoff explains:

I started with college loans because it is not as heated an issue as abortion or welfare or the death penalty or gun control. Yet it is a nitty-gritty issue, because it affects a lot of people very directly. To a liberal, it is obviously the right thing to do. And to a conservative, it is obviously the wrong thing to do.

I trust that these extensive quotes from Lakoff’s book paint clearly the differences that he postulates exist between the mindset and thinking of conservatives and progressives.

Although Lakoff’s description of the extremes of conservative and progressive thinking might lead one to conclude that there is a spectrum along which this thinking is distributed, somewhat after the fashion of a bell-shaped curve, which could throw up ‘moderate’ or ‘middle of the road’ conservatives and progressives, Lakoff maintains that there are no such politicians. He acknowledges that sometimes conservatives may have a progressive view on some issues, and progressives may have a conservative view on other issues, but insists that there are no moderates. A conservative is a conservative, and a progressive is a progressive.

Lakoff spells out in detail just how conservatives and progressives see the world:

It should now be clear why, from the conservative world-view, the rich should be seen as “the best people”. They are the model citizens, those who, through self-discipline and hard work, have achieved the American Dream. They have earned what they have and deserve to keep it. Because they are the best people – people whose investments create jobs and wealth for others – they should be rewarded. Taking money away is conceptualized as harm, financial harm; that is the metaphorical basis of seeing taxation as punishment. When the rich are taxed more than others for making a lot more money, they are, according to conservatives, being punished for being model citizens, for doing what, according to the American Dream, they are supposed to do. Taxation of the rich is, to conservatives, punishment for doing what is right and succeeding at it. It is a violation of the Morality of Reward and Punishment. In the conservative worldview, the rich have earned their money and, according to the Morality of Reward and Punishment, deserve to keep it. Taxation – the forcible taking of their money from them against their will – is seen as unfair and immoral, a kind of theft. That makes the federal government a thief. Hence, a common conservative attitude toward the government: You can’t trust it, since, like a thief, it’s always trying to find ways to take your money.

Liberals, of course, see taxation through very different lenses. In Nurturant Parent morality, the wellbeing of all children matters equally. Those children who need less care, the mature and healthy children, simply have a duty to help care for those who need more, say, younger or infirm children. The duty is a matter of moral accounting. They have received nurturance from their parents and owe it to the other children if it is needed. In the Nation as Family metaphor, citizens who have more have a duty to help out those who have much less. Progressive taxation is a form of meeting this duty. Rich conservatives who are trying to get out of paying taxes are seen as selfish and mean-spirited. The nation has helped provide for them and it is their turn to help provide for others. They owe it to the nation.

He could scarcely make it any clearer. How relevant is this exposition to the contemporary dispute about the Gonski model for school funding here!

Lakoff goes on to assert a worrying trend:

The conservative family values agenda is, at present, being set primarily by fundamentalist Christians. This is not a situation that many people are aware of.

These groups have been most explicit in developing a Strict Father approach to childrearing and have been extremely active in promoting their approach. On the whole, they are defining the conservative position for the current debate about childrearing, as well as for legislation incorporating their approach. Since the ideas in conservative Christian childrearing manuals are fully consistent with the Strict Father model of the family that lies behind conservative politics, it is not at all strange that such fundamentalist groups should be setting the national conservative agenda on family values.

In short, conservative family values, which are the basis for conservative morality and political thought, are not supported by either research in child development or the mainstream childrearing experts in the country. That is another reason why the conservative family agenda has been left to fundamentalist Christians. Since there is no significant body of mainstream experts who support the Strict Father model, conservatives can rely only on fundamentalist Christians, who have the only well thought out approach to childrearing that supports the Strict Family model.

The claims to legitimacy for the conservative family values enterprise rest with the fundamentalist Christian community, a community whose conclusions are not based on empirical research but on a fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible. And that…is based on Strict Father morality itself. Thus, there is no independent or non-ideological basis whatever for conservative claims about family values.

Is this group of fundamentalist Christians representative of conservative attitudes about childrearing? I don’t know, but they are in charge. They are the people setting the conservative family values agenda.

We have become aware of the influence of fundamentalist Christians in The Tea Party on the recent debt ceiling debate in the US, which resulted in the closure of some government departments, and threatened the government with the prospect of defaulting on repayment of its borrowings. They pressured their less radical Republican colleagues and almost succeeded in overwhelming them.

Lakoff comments on the funding of policy think tanks:

Because of the way conservative think tanks are funded – through large general block grants and virtually guaranteed long-term funding – conservative intellectuals can work on long-term, high-level strategies that cover the whole spectrum of issues.

Liberal [progressive] think tanks and other organizations are not only out-funded four-to-one, they are also organized in a self-defeating manner. There are three general types: advocacy, policy, and monitoring the other side. The advocacy and policy organizations generally work issue-by-issue. Few are engaged in long-term, high-level thinking, partly because of the issue-by-issue orientation, partly because they are kept busy responding to the current week’s conservative assaults, and partly because they constantly have to pursue funding. The funding priorities of liberal foundations and other funders are also self-defeating. They tend to be program-oriented (issue-by-issue) and relatively short-term with no guarantee of refunding. Moreover, they tend not to give money for career development or infrastructure. And liberal organizations tend not to support their intellectuals! In short, they are doing just the opposite of what they should be doing if they are to counter the conservatives’ successes.

I’m sure these words will resonate in Labor hearts in this country, where we have seen several well-funded conservative think tanks (the IPA is a classic example) outperform the few progressive ones, set the policy agenda for the Coalition, and fashion the most effective framing of these policies. Labor has not been able to match this, has been manipulated to use the frames set by the Coalition, and thereby has repeatedly failed to get across its message.

It is heartening to see that the Centre for Policy Development, a local progressive think tank, has this year written a book: Pushing Our Luck: ideas for Australian progress, about which reviewer Ken Wolff tells us that it ‘presents a wide ranging picture of the changes needed in our economic and social structures if we are to maintain our “luck” into the future’.

Finally, in another Lakoff book: The Political Mind – A Cognitive Scientist’s Guide to your Brain and its Politics (Penguin Books, London, 2009), he asserts that the different thinking of conservatives and progressives has a neural basis. He argues:

To change minds, you must change brains. You must make unconscious politics conscious. Because most of what our brains do is unconscious, you can’t find out how people’s brains work by just asking them. That is why neuroscience and cognitive sciences are necessary.

There is not space here to elaborate; that will have to wait for another piece.

To me, Lakoff’s thesis was a revelation. As one who applies logic to resolve puzzling matters, Lakoff showed how pointless this process is in attempting to understand how conservatives and progressives think, and why they think so differently. He also showed the pointlessness of expecting conservatives and progressives to explain why they are so different; they don’t know themselves!

Lakoff provides a plausible explanatory model. I for one believe he has tapped into a rich vein of understanding that for me explains the extraordinary differences between our own conservatives and progressives, which until I read his thesis, defied explanation. What he says makes sense. Hereafter, it will enable a depth of comprehension for me that was not previously possible.

Try keeping Lakoff’s thesis in mind as you now listen to political dialogue, no matter what the forum. You might be surprised how much more sense you are able to make of it!

What do you think?

Generational change and the ALP

In the Abbott Cone of Silence since the 2013 election, the media has actually been looking around for other things to report on. There are two issues that caught my interest recently.

The first was the reporting of a survey conducted by Monash University and funded by the Scanlon Foundation. The survey suggested that while Australians like immigration, they dislike ‘boat people’. (The Scanlon Foundation website discusses the objectives of this organisation as well as linking to the current and previous surveys.)

Unfortunately (for me), I can remember the 70s and 80s and the Vietnam War. I can also remember that there was bipartisan support for a considerable number of people displaced from South East Asia as a result of that war who became refugees in Australia. At the time, part of the discussion on why we should accept asylum seekers from South East Asia into Australian society was that Australia was partly responsible for the displacement of fellow human beings. There was a certain amount of logic to this argument as Australia was part of a multi-national force that had attempted to bomb the Vietnamese Communists into submission.

The Australian Government of the time assisted asylum seekers into the country; then, through a number of paid and volunteer groups gave assistance to the refugees until they ‘found their feet’ in Australia and started to contribute to our society. The National Archives website claims:

… the impact of the Fraser government can best be seen in its revitalised immigration program. From 1975 to 1982, some 200,000 migrants arrived from Asian countries, including nearly 56,000 Vietnamese people who applied as refugees. In addition, policies were put in place to grant entry to 2059 ‘boat people’ – refugees from Vietnam who arrived without documents or official permission after hazardous sea voyages to the northern coast of Australia. The immigration program focused on resettlement and multiculturalism. In 1978 the Australian Institute of Multicultural Affairs was created. Petro Georgiou, the Prime Minister’s immigration adviser, suggested in retrospect that: ‘Viewed in the longer run it was the entry of Vietnamese refugees that made Australia’s migrant intake multiracial … it was under [Fraser’s] management that Australia first confronted the real consequences of abolishing the White Australia Policy.’

Between the 1930s and now, it is estimated that Australia has become home to over 750,000 refugees. The National Archives attributes over 56,000 of that number to the eight years of the Fraser Government.

The interesting thing about this period of our history is that the Australian Prime Minister at the time – Malcolm Fraser – was a member of the Liberal Party and described at the time as extremely conservative.* In his defence, though, his predecessor was Gough Whitlam so the comparison is probably more marked than it could have been. Fraser was conservative economically; he commissioned a review of the Public Service as well as cutting expenditure and reducing services (sound familiar?). Fraser’s Government – his Treasurer was John Howard – had the Australian economy in recession in 1983 when Bob Hawke and the ALP were voted into power.

Come forward to 2013 and we have both political parties in Australia attempting to outdo each other in rhetoric demonstrating they are ‘tough’ on asylum seekers. The Political Sword has previously discussed some of the current practices in relation to asylum seekers, and we won’t go there again now. However, we can ask why there was bipartisan support for asylum seekers in the 70s and 80s and why in 2013 there is bipartisan support for what could be described as an ‘anywhere but Australia’ policy.

The second issue in the media that caught my interest was the ‘debt ceiling’ debate in the United States. While I won’t claim to know enough about the practicalities and politics of the issue, there has been considerable reporting on it. This News Limited business article ‘Tea Party candidates behind the US government shutdown’, written before the very public back down from the Republican Party that allowed the US Government to resume ‘normal service’, details some of the issues involved.

The Tea Party is a very conservative political group that has a number of ‘non-negotiable’ core beliefs. These are listed on their website and seem to be similar to some of the 75 points the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) believe are necessary in Australia. Ironically, the linked article from the IPA sheets a considerable part of the blame for Australia’s ‘failings’ to Fraser’s Government. There is a local Tea Party, too, calling itself CANdo. You might recognise some of the players in, or offering patronage to, that organisation: for example, David Flint, Hugh Morgan, Alan Jones.

That the conservative end of the Republican Party – backed by their Tea Party – is bringing to America significant personal tragedy and heartache is demonstrated by the personal story of an IRS government employee caught in the shutdown, Jenny Brown of Ogden Utah, as reported by George Packer in The New Yorker. In ‘Business as usual’, Packer notes that:

According to an estimate by Standard & Poor’s, the Tea Party’s brinkmanship cost the American economy twenty-four billion dollars—more than half a percentage point of quarterly growth. House Republicans have suffered a huge tactical defeat of their own devising, and their approval ratings are at an all-time low. President Obama and the Democrats in Congress appear strong for refusing to give in to blackmail.

But he then reflects that:

… in a larger sense the Republicans are winning, and have been for the past three years, if not the past thirty. They’re just too blinkered by fantasies of total victory to see it. The shutdown caused havoc for federal workers and the citizens they serve across the country. Parks and museums closed, new cancer patients were locked out of clinical trials, loans to small businesses and rural areas froze, time ran down on implementation of the Dodd-Frank financial-regulation law, trade talks had to be postponed. All this chaos only brings the government into greater disrepute, and, as Jenny Brown’s colleagues dig their way out of the backlog, they’ll be fielding calls from many more enraged taxpayers. It would be naïve to think that intransigent Republicans don’t regard these consequences of their actions with indifference, if not outright pleasure. Ever since Ronald Reagan, in his first inaugural, pronounced government to be the problem, elected Republicans have been doing everything possible to make it true.

While the Republicans may be seen to be ‘winning the argument’, it seems, however, that all is not well for the Tea Party’s role within the Republican Party – as this Bloomberg report, ‘Republican Civil War Erupts: Business Groups v. Tea Party’, explains. Harold Meyerson, in ‘A tea party purge among the GOP’ (The Washington Post) also analyses the issue.

Both articles reflect on the predominance of ‘older white Americans’ in the US Tea Party. Apparently, one of the ‘big issues’ with the US Government shutdown with older white Americans was the closure of the World War II memorial in Washington – an interesting comment on the demographics and perceptions of the Tea Party’s membership! Perhaps Gary Younge of The Guardian has the answer, in terms of this group in the US:

Central to this deep-seated sense of angst is race. In 2012, 92% of the Republican vote came from white people who, within 30 years, will no longer be in the majority.

Back in Australia, it seems that the same people that are publically backing the self-proclaimed ‘Australian Tea Party’ – CANdo – also have considerable influence in our major conservative party, the LNP, particularly in relation to its leadership.

After Kevin Rudd and the ALP were voted into office, the Parliamentary Opposition Leadership position seemed to be a revolving door – with Brendan Nelson and Malcolm Turnbull both being ‘tapped on the shoulder’. On both occasions, this occurred after they seemed to agree with a proposal from the ALP Government that wasn’t conventional – the GFC economic stimulus plan and the carbon pricing scheme, respectively. Abbott won his 2009 leadership vote by one vote and was the third Opposition Leader since the 2007 election. The LNP leadership challenges were reported at the time as being orchestrated by the LNP’s ‘power brokers’ such as Nick Minchin a (now retired) Liberal Senator from South Australia. But Phil Dobbie (a broadcaster with considerable experience) also links the influence of the Alan Jones’ Radio Show with the various changes in Liberal Party leadership during the period 2007 to 2010.

Can George Packer’s comment that the conservatives are ‘really winning the argument’ be seen as valid across the Pacific in Australia?

I believe it can be. The Scanlon/Monash survey on Social Cohesiveness suggests that in 2013 this country is ‘against’ asylum seekers – in spite of bipartisan support in the 1970s and 1980s where a resettlement policy was managed by the ruling Liberal/Country Party Government. Reflecting such findings by the Scanlon/Monash survey, the current Government used the three-word ‘Stop the boats’ mantra while in Opposition and claims that they stopped the boats in their first 50 days of Government.

The ALP seems to have recognised this trend and in these days of focus groups and marketing experts also seems to be heading to the conservative side of politics, allowing for a vacuum to be created on the progressive side of the political landscape.

While ‘aping’ your competitors may work when selling TVs, it is potentially a lesser advantage when selling ideas and strategy. The ALP is responsible for a number of great social advances in Australian history, from paid annual leave to disability care. Should the ALP, in an attempt to court a group of voters that are literally dying out, (ageing conservative men and women) continue to copy the LNP’s position on a number of issues, or should it stand its ground on its own principles?

Obama and the Democratic Party in the US seem to have decided to hold their ground – and for the moment they are successful. It seems that they have begun to fracture the conservative alliance of the Tea Party and Republican Party by standing by their principles on the debt ceiling issue and demonstrating that the Republicans are being held to ransom by an ideological rump. Since the same issue arises again early next year, the battle is not over and it will be interesting to see if the ‘Tea Party’ or ‘Business’ Republicans (see again the Bloomberg report) win the day.

As older conservative Australians die out, will the ALP survive the current generational or demographic change within Australia?

Can the ALP determine a strategy to promote the real differences between them and the LNP?

Might the ALP model itself on the US Democratic Party in order to reach out to those that are not represented by the LNP?

What do you think?

* Note: We never see Malcolm Fraser as an honoured guest at events such as Liberal Party policy launches these days despite his engineering of the fall of the Whitlam Government. He resigned from the Liberal Party in 2009, and campaigned for a Greens Candidate at the last Federal Election.

The Meaning of Treason

In the closing days of the Second World War, the name ‘Lord Haw Haw’ was synonymous with the cry: ‘traitor!’ In those days a traitor was seen as a clear-cut thing. In The Meaning of Treason (Penguin, 1965), Rebecca West identifies him as a traitor:

... by broadcasting between '... the eighteenth day of September 1939 and on other divers days thereafter, and between that day and the second day of July 1940, being then to wit, on the said several days, a person owing allegiance to our Lord the King...' It was in fact the case for the prosecution that a person obtaining a passport placed himself thereby under the protection of the crown and owed it allegiance until the passport expired.

A clear case of loyalty to the crown, His Majesty, The King.

These days, loyal allegiance is somewhat more ‘beige’. Today's democracies lean more toward public perception and cultural authority for a definition of loyalty. But to work hand in hand in a brazen manner to both bring down the democratically elected government of the day and, by obfuscation, stealth and deliberate slander to work to have elected a ‘favourite’ of the vested interests that had the intent of demolishing national infrastructure and working against the social equality of the peoples of the nation, has to equate with a definition of treason.

To my mind, there is no doubt that we, as a nation, have been betrayed. Those many ‘national interest’ policies: the NBN, Gonski, NDIS, ETS, Environmental Protection, and National Parks, that are in the national interest, and coupled with a now recognized ‘non-emergency with the budget’, are at risk, and indeed in some cases will be dismantled for no other reason than to satisfy vested or financial interests, not solely out of a twisted ideology, but out of insatiable greed.

It would be an act of treason to betray the nation’s interest by destroying national infrastructure and public policy that benefits the majority of citizens, while giving financial reward to a tiny minority of capital-invested players. That would be treason, in every sense of the word and meaning. Judas would get his thirty pieces of silver. The fact that these modern major players are set to gain billions of dollars through such acts of vandalism against the nation is their treason, in every sense of the word.

But we are told that the government was voted in by over half the population. That is correct, but we are also aware that much of the voting public is neither politically perceptive nor very interested in political outcomes, other than to effect a strange ‘payback’ for the illusion of injury that has been trumped-up by the Mainstream Media. Whatever swayed the voters it certainly was assisted by some outright lies and slanderous accusations in the MSM against the sitting government.

The political players, in collusion with big media and big business, have done the most damage, particularly the Mainstream Media. We know their names, we have railed against them here and elsewhere for their perfidious behaviour, and they continue to obfuscate and manipulate out of self-interest, financial gain, or a perceived political future too obscure for mere mortals to comprehend. Only now are we reading of the vast number and scope of the rorts perpetrated by the then Opposition, now the Government. Why was this information hidden when members of parliament, and even the Speaker of the House, were being goaded to resign and were being vilified over lesser amounts? There can be only one reason.

This Government was voted in after a campaign based on fraud and deception, one perpetrated by the Mainstream Media and its employees. Who can deny the fact that many of the Government’s so-called policies were unexamined, uncontested and unopposed by that very estate that sanctimoniously holds itself up as the Fourth Estate of democracy? Indeed, it continues to this day to support the Government’s policy agenda. Even the recent trips to Indonesia and Asia by the PM were deemed a roaring success, not because of what was achieved (there was more given away!), but because it was deemed so by the Fourth Estate! The lies were maintained; the circle is complete!

In The Meaning of Treason, Rebecca West makes some very interesting observations on how the modern media has played its part in the dissemination of propaganda:

Never before have people known the voice of one they had never seen as well as if he had been a husband or brother or a close friend; and had they foreseen such a miracle they could not have imagined that this familiar unknown would speak to them only to prophesy their death and ruin.

She speaks of William Joyce (Lord Haw Haw). She continues:

He was not only alarming; he was ugly. He opened a vista into a mean life. He always spoke as if he were better fed, and better clothed than we were …

The above portrayal is an example of the malicious persuasion that manipulates a people, a people hungry for simplicity of policy, for entertainment, contentment and insulation from the harsh realities of the world on their doorstep. It is the style of propaganda of those who have in many cases helped cause those very disasters that bring trouble to our doorstep, propaganda that is trying to stop programs that could alleviate and soften such events in the future. Such people portray a meanness of spirit and ugliness of heart that opens the door to cruel intent. That is a betrayal of the trust given to the Mainstream Media, a trust that was bestowed upon those called to shine a light on duplicitous behaviour that can ruin a society, not to collude with reckless abandon in that very behaviour.

I give the last words on such a tawdry subject to Ariel Gonzales on Rebecca West's book:

The Meaning of Treason reminds us that sometimes the worst betrayal is the trading of values for the illusion of safety.

That is the meaning of treason!