For those who believe the Australian newspaper is produced by cave-dwellers, its opinion-page editor Rebecca Weisser has provided definitive proof. Her biographical notes record how she once ‘lived in a cave in Granada, Spain’. This is a worrying trend in right-wing politics. There has been an outbreak of people who claim to believe in conservative family values but actually live a life of bohemian weirdness.
Readers will remember the strange case of Nick Minchin, the tough-as-teak right-wing Liberal powerbroker, known for condemning climate scientists and supporting Cory Bernardi. Yet in private, Minchin practices the wacko habits of vegetarianism, having convinced himself that red meat causes cancer.
In the Senate, Minchin’s South Australian colleague Mary Jo Fisher was fond of lecturing the chamber on the rule of law. But behind-the-scenes she was a kleptomaniac, the Liberals’ answer to Winona Ryder.
Adding to this trend is the serious matter of Alan Jones. As Tony Abbott prepares for more radio interviews at 2GB, many voters are asking: how can he believe in the sanctity of family values if he is happy to appear on air with someone who thinks Julia Gillard killed her father with her lies? What has happened to Australian conservatism since John Howard’s retirement?
The Liberal claquers who have tried to defend Jones have simply demonstrated their isolation from public sentiment. The Australian people are incredibly irate about the Jones slur, not because of politics, but because they can relate to the grief being experienced by the Gillard family. Inadvertently, the Jones attack has humanised the PM in the eyes of the electorate — a political bonus she deserves given the personal trauma of recent times.
The cave-dwellers of the Tea Party are a major drag on the Republican campaign in the US. Cocooned in a world of fanatical Obama hatred, they have no rational understanding of the best way to beat the President. The US is an instinctively conservative electorate but the Tea Party has pushed the Republicans so far to the Right that the Democrats have been able to annexthe middle ground.
Something similar has happened in Australia with the rise of the Abbott/Minchin Liberals. By comparison, a natural conservative like Malcolm Turnbull has been made to look like a born-again Leftie. He has developed a niche market politically, for Liberals who have no desire to be part of a Weisser-style Cro-Magnon community.
It was not by coincidence that Turnbull was the first Liberal to strongly condemn the recent outbursts by Bernardi and Jones. Abbott’s predecessor knows too well the madness gripping his side of politics. Its driving forces are fanaticism and authoritarianism.
To give one example: on Sydney Radio 2GB on 24 September, the high-profile commentator Andrew Bolt harangued Helen McCabe, editor of the Australian Women’s Weekly, as a pro-Labor stooge. Her sin? To place material dealing with Gillard’s relationship with Craig Emerson ten years ago at the rear of a profile of Gillard. When did this occur? More than two years ago — an irrational focus on all things Gillard.
Bolt owes McCabe an apology. She is not a Labor person. She is a conservatively-inclined professional woman who does a fine job at the Weekly. She does not need Bolt to stand over her editorial judgements (from 2010) and pressure her into sharing his anti-Gillard fanaticism.
Part of the moral decline of Australian conservatism is its willingness to defend the indefensible, provided it involves a cutting attack on Gillard. Morality is only important to today’s Tories as long as it excludes the Prime Minister from its reach. As a Spectator Australia contributor, I am ashamed of the magazine’s editorial last Friday which failed to unreservedly condemn Alan Jones. It gave succour to the sick puppies, the Jones followers, who see nothing wrong in his comments.
Even worse, our associate editor, Rowan Dean, appeared in the Australian Financial Review on Saturday making light of the Jones atrocity. He positioned it as a joke, justifying the comments as an unlucky exercise in public speaking. This follows Dean’s recent defence of Bernardi’s comments linking gay marriage to the legalisation of bestiality. While likeable in person, Rowan remains naive about politics, hoping to receive brownie points for unerringly running the party line. He writes about freedom of speech but does not practice freedom of thought.
The Speccie editorial was also intellectually dishonest, self-selecting a list of political insults and then declaring Labor to be the main offender. For the record: where was Wilson Tuckey’s parliamentary slur regarding Paul Keating’s ‘illegitimate child’? Where was Peter Costello’s parliamentary ridicule of Nick Sherry’s mother, after which Sherry tried to kill himself? Where was Costello’s description of Simon Crean as ‘BS Crean’, by which he meant Bullshit Crean? Where were Alexander Downer’s repeated interjections against Duncan Kerr as ‘evil’? Where were the Liberal party’s attempts to fit up Keating as having affair with a Canberra pianist? Where was Bill Heffernan’s homophobic attack on Michael Kirby? Where were the Liberal party leaflets from Lindsay in 2007 inciting racial hatred? Where was Tony Abbott’s feeding of smut to the Press Gallery about Cheryl Kernot and Pauline Hanson? Please explain.