Tony Abbott loves using buzzwords, as do most effective conservative communicators these days. These people are the inheritors of the Newt Gingrich conservative political legacy, which I have referred to before.
Not only have they taken their communication cues from the infamous Mr Gingrich's list, they also appear to be taking advice from the American conservative linguist, Dr Frank Luntz. It's really starting to ‘p’ me off. Why does it ‘p’ me off? Because I know that the words that they use when framing their arguments around the issues, in this particular instance population, immigration and refugee policy, whilst being essentially meaningless with reference to objective reality and the evidence which contradicts their assertions, are however very potent and effective in shifting people's perceptions, and in framing the debates and conversations they have with the electorate. Which really upsets me.
It's not a talent that the ALP has mastered yet. They try. However, to my eyes and ears their attempts are pretty ham-fisted and lame. Fair dinkum, if I hear, ‘Working families’, one more time, even I, a rusted-on Labor supporter, will look around for the nearest wall to bang my head against.
Nevertheless, it is Tony Abbott's use of various 'P' words that is really 'p'ing me off at the moment. Archangel Abbott is encouraging the electorate to believe their worst fears. He intimates that their worst nightmares may come true, unless they harden their hearts, and vote for him.
That really 'p's me off, because I know that we are so much better than that. But the Archangel refuses to encourage our better angels, instead fanning the flames of the following:
Parochialism: narrowness of view; provincialism
Provincialism: ignorance and narrowness of interests
Prejudice: 1. a biased opinion, based on insufficient knowledge
2. hostility, for example, towards a particular racial or religious group
Prejudiced: to make someone feel prejudice; to bias against; to harm or endanger
Populism: political activity or notions that are thought to reflect the opinions and interests of ordinary people
Propaganda: the organised circulation by a political group, etc. of doctrine, information, misinformation, rumour or opinion, intended to influence public feeling
Nativism: the policy of favouring the natives of a country over immigrants
Xenophobia: intense fear or dislike of foreigners or strangers
Bigot: someone who is persistently prejudiced, especially about religion or politics, and who refuses to tolerate the opinions of others; from the 16th century French for 'a superstitious hypocrite'.
Considering all of the above, I have been looking on recently with alarm at the increasingly shrill attacks on immigrants and refugees, sometimes under the guise of commentary on population policy, by conservative politicians, such as our own Mr Abbott, and the echo chamber in the media world-wide, so as to stir up nativist sentiment for their own electoral benefit.
In Britain especially after 'Bigotgate', where the Labour PM Gordon Brown was caught in secret but with mike still on, calling a middle-aged white woman's fears of Eastern European EU migrants, 'bigoted'; and where the Conservative Party are relishing exploiting such fears in the UK Election campaign, we are able to see a microcosm of a more widespread xenophobia becoming apparent, and a nativist propaganda campaign being run in order to benefit the Conservative Party and likewise, other conservative political parties around the world.
So what we need to do is get down to basic taws about all of it.
We all know that we can't just open the floodgates and let everyone into a First World country who wants to come to it from a Second or Third World State. We need an orderly immigration system as a tempering tool to manage population, social cohesion, infrastructure provision, employment opportunities and environmental sustainability. However, on the one hand we hear conservatives in our own country, like Tony Abbott, making the point in the media about infrastructure when they are talking about limits to population and about maintaining population at 'sustainable' levels; on the other hand, we don't hear about and thus shouldn't lose sight of the fact that that's not all there is to this concern about immigration and population.
For when you look around the world at this point in our history, about 50 years after WW2, there has been a groundswell of opposition to immigration, both legal and illegal, especially from neo-conservative politicians, and new movements that have recently sprung up, like 'The Tea Party' in America. Why, when all of our countries have flourished as a result of immigration? Why have these uniformly WASPy politicians sought to demonise this particular group of people? Well you might ask.
From Tony Abbott's anti-boat people tirades and suggestions of muscular and armed responses to the boats, to David Cameron's suggestion that he will 'do something' about the 'flood' of Eastern European EU migrants to Britain, to the Republican State of Arizona's recent enactment of a law to require suspected illegal immigrants to produce identity papers when stopped by police; are they not all of a piece which we should find a troubling portent of things maybe to come, should this attitude get a toehold in the national psyches of these country's populaces?
So, before it gets that toehold, I'd just like to make clear what I think it all points towards - other than appealing to the unjustified fears of Middle Class voters in Marginal Seats that is.
“We will decide who comes to this country, and the manner in which they come.” Or, in other words Howard (and Abbott, who mimics him), will forcefully and determinedly decide the composition of the country. Ditto in a Conservative UK and the Republican States of the US it seems. So, as far as they're concerned, we should no longer be subject to a natural ebb and flow towards an increasingly colourful society which accommodates acceptance of all equally.
It's not actually populism, as my definition suggests - reflecting the opinions and interests of ordinary people as in a popular sentiment of the people. It is something else. Because populism was, historically still is, about making government a force for economic justice to the end that oppression, injustice and poverty shall be attended to, and making government less a tool of the elites. No, instead, what it is is prejudice, provincialism and parochialism.
How I'm seeing it manifest in the media and from conservative politicians, in order to weave their attitudes into our minds, is that it starts with generalising unwanted characteristics across an entire demographic (Muslims, Boat People, Hispanics or Eastern Europeans, for example). Then a solution to this 'problem' is advocated by asserting a superior force, via the Armed Forces or the Police over this population. These people are repeatedly demonised and stripped of their rights and dignity that you yourself enjoy, not because it is right and the correct thing to do to them, but because the conservative media and their politician confreres have convinced the populace that this course of action will solve the 'problem' somehow.
However, when you strip a man or a woman of their basic human rights, you strip them of their dignity in the eyes of the community and even in their own eyes eventually. He or she who is degraded is then perceived to be of less worth than other individuals in the community.
These are the seeds of resentment, hostility, and in extreme cases, conflict.
Such 'solutions' solve nothing, even if they ARE superficially appealing and resonate with us at a visceral level.
All I can hope for is that our Western democracies will not again heed the siren call of those who want to demonise these migrating populations of refugees and immigrants, because these people won't be going away anytime soon. So we should just grow up and get on with embracing them and exploiting them as a positive resource.
We can be bigger than xenophobia. We can be one big, happy Australia. The world likewise.
Without letting ourselves become doormats, of course, as that way lies eventual subjugation to the immigrant communities, who can also be aggressively nativistic. This is also not desirable.
So what do you think?
Do you think that we will ever be able to take Nativism, Parochialism, Provincialism, Populism, Prejudice, Propaganda, and Bigotry out of our debate about what to do with immigration and population policy?
I'll leave the last few words to W. B. Yeats, and his poem The Second Coming:
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold...
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.