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Wicked versus Stupid

Where one side of politics revels in sanctimonious moralising, the other ignores it altogether

13 December 2014

9:00 AM

13 December 2014

9:00 AM

Why is it so hard for those with ‘lefty’ political sensibilities to be funny when they write about politics? And why do those with ‘righty’ political sensibilities so frequently surrender what looks to be the moral high ground when there is a policy debate?

Here’s my theory. In broad, sweeping terms most people on the left consider ‘righties’ to be morally substandard. The ‘L’s think the ‘R’s are wicked and selfish, and occasionally even a bit racist too. Meanwhile, the right reckon the ‘lefties’ are bad at consequential reasoning, at knowing which policies will deliver the good outcomes that more or less everyone wants. The ‘R’s think that the ‘L’s are more easily hoodwinked by emotive appeals that will achieve virtually nothing; they think the ‘L’s are stupid, to put it in blunt terms. One team dwells in moral self-satisfaction and puffed up sanctimoniousness; the other in over-confidence about the consequential benefits of its policy prescriptions.

These sins are not equally egregious. Nor are they as easily mocked and made fun of. Take Mark Steyn, perhaps the world’s funniest political commentator. He can laugh at all things ‘lefty’ in large part because he notes the absurdity of many of their standard orthodox claims. But try being funny when alleging that someone is a moral reprobate, or racist, or imperiling the planet by not supporting Julia Gillard’s carbon tax.

Think of the Australian Greens Party. It basically stands for the proposition that anyone who disagrees with its policy prescriptions must deliberately want to ruin the planet and have death and destruction rain down on children and (if we last that long) grandchildren. From there they wrap themselves up in a cloak of moral self-righteousness so impenetrable that mere facts and erroneous prediction after erroneous prediction make not a dint in their own self-regard or proselytizing zeal. Funny they are not. Convinced that they have a pipeline to God, or Gaia, they are. And ‘Light on the Hill’ Labor is sometimes as morally self-righteous as the Greens (the suspect activities of some union officials notwithstanding).

If the ‘L’ team managed to convey a bit less sanctimoniousness it would be a more palatable outfit. Perhaps more importantly, the many fellow travellers for the ‘L’ team – many, but not all, of whom are employed at public expense by the ABC – might actually be funny on occasion. Who knows?

Yet what interests me is the ‘R’ team. A corollary of the above is that they tend to ignore or downplay the ‘we are on the right side of history’ sloganeering in favour of more technical arguments. Alas, you can win these technical fights till the cows come home, but if you ignore the moral argument the other side will always have the advantage of being seen to be the team fighting for fairness and justice.

It’s a mistake for the ‘R’ team to so often put to one side the big picture moral argument, such as with stopping the boats. More ‘R’ team members ought to be daily noting that this is the morally better position, as it is. The same goes with the repeal of the carbon tax. That is why Tony Abbott’s craven caving in on repealing 18C was such a terrible idea. Rather than put the repeal to the Senate and argue the case, he mumbled a few incoherencies about ‘Team Australia’ and surrendered the moral playing field. I doubt that surrender has earned him even a dozen new votes across Australia. Nor has it gained him an iota of slack from the ABC, because the many ‘L’ team journalists working there really do think our Prime Minister is morally deficient (as opposed to just incompetent which they forgave in Ms Gillard on a daily, if not hourly, basis).

But it has made his core supporters spitting mad because they see free speech in moral terms, with them on the right side of the issue. So talk of technical political calculations (even wrong ones as here) cut no ice. Being on the side of John Stuart Mill and on the side of the status quo today in the United States and in Canada is for them, and for me, the morally correct side of the argument. Mr Abbott has sold that down the river with nary the slightest second thought. Maybe a bit more attention paid to what the Liberal Party is supposed to believe in, what it says it believes in on its own website, might be helpful here.

The moral values that are supposed to underpin the Liberal Party clearly did not underpin anything at the State level in Victoria. I would never have voted for the Victorian Libs, a party that argued before the 2010 election that it would repeal the God-awful Charter of Rights but ended up leaving it in place and fighting tooth and nail to stop Mr Abbott from repealing 18C.

Good riddance to the Victorian Liberals if that is their moral compass. Mr Abbott has two years left to show that (the boats and carbon tax to one side) he’s not just operating some sensible version of a soft left government. And if you think that’s an implausible description, try to name a single other policy right now on offer from this government that the lefty UK Liberal Democrats or US Democrats or Canadian lefty parties would not endorse.

Paid Parental Leave? They would. Joe Hockey’s comparatively minor deficit reductions? They would, and in Canada a while ago did (and I know the Senate here is blocking even these emasculated spending cuts). Deregulated university fees? They would, and in the UK did. Direct Action on Carbon? Ditto. A Race-Based Constitutional Amendment? Double ditto. None of this is incompatible with overseas team ‘L’ policies.

Come the New Year, then, let’s have a bit of moral vision that actually looks as though it’s coming from an ‘R’ team rather than a sane social democratic party. Remember, it won’t matter what you do or offer, the ABC will be implacably opposed to you. Trying to woo them is the biggest waste of time ever. So grow some cojones and start selling a worldview that fits with the ‘R’ team’s moral worldview. And put the policies that flow from that to the Senate. If the Upper House blocks them, it blocks them. But you’ll at least have something to sell to the middle of the road voters later on, and to your long-time supporters. You might then get back in the polls to the point where you can pull the double dissolution trigger.

That’s my New Year’s Wish.

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