Some years ago, with an election approaching, someone asked me how I would be voting. “Vote for Labor and continue on the fast-track slippery slope to the standard utopian disaster,” I responded, “or vote Coalition and take the slower, more scenic route.”
Here we are, years later, and the same choice presents itself as another election looms. Australia is not the only country in this situation. I was grimly amused recently to see my cynicism is shared by none other than bad-boy French writer Michel Houellebecq. In his recent novel, Soumission (‘Submission’ in English), he has his main character say of the French electoral system:
To be fair, when I was young, the elections could not have been less interesting; the mediocrity of the ‘political offerings’ was always surprising. A centre-left candidate would be elected, serve either one or two terms, depending on how charismatic he was, then for obscure reasoning he would fail to complete the third. When people got tired of that candidate, and the centre-left in general, we’d witness the phenomenon of democratic change, and the voters would install a candidate from the centre-right, also for one or two terms, depending on personal appeal. Western nations took a strange pride in this system, though it amounted to little more than a power-sharing deal between two rival gangs, and they would even go to war to impose it on the nations that failed to share their enthusiasm.
What Houellebecq’s character noticed matches my observation: election cycle after election cycle, irrespective of outcome, nothing much changes. While supposedly ideologically opposed governments come and go, the policies and bureaucrats who implement them change little. True, the last French electoral cycle saw a slight variation on the theme. With the rising threat of Marine Le Pen, the political class panicked and, bypassing the failing traditional two parties, installed another Euro-technocrat, Emmanuel Macron.
Here, watching the daily stand-up comedy that passes for government in Canberra, one notices there is very little difference between the political parties. They trade insults and barbs, make florid accusations and insist to the public they are different as night and day. Night and dusk, perhaps. There appears to be what amounts to a bipartisan agreement between the two major parties on what political discussion points are allowed to be aired and vigourously explored. It is essentially Houellebecq’s “power-sharing”, whereby all issues are stage-managed to ensure that nothing outside of this bipartisan agreement ever reaches public attention. The key concerns — what the parties should be talking about — the climate scam and the rentiers growing rich from it, hyper-debt and where that borrowed money goes and to what purpose, and the Ponzi scheme of immigration, all are more or less off limits. These matters can be raised but not seriously addressed.
Neither party has any intention of stepping away from renewable energy targets. Scott Morrison has just pledged billions more dollars, secure in the knowledge that no one in the mainstream media will ever challenge him on the negligible temperature reductions even the most optimistic scientists predict from these outrageous re-directions of taxpayers’ dollars. Neither party has any intention of cutting immigration levels. Neither party shows any interest in paying off Australia’s debt, the most recent budget’s dubious assurance that we will be back in the black by 2020 notwithstanding. In one of her 2013 columns, Janet Albrechtsen asserted:
Not even a nice smile can save (Penny) Wong from being remembered as the $106 Billion Woman and this nation’s most incompetent Finance Minister.
But, yes, it can! Nobody right now is remembering her handling of the Finance portfolio, certainly not in the media, and even the Liberal Party appears to have no interest in reminding anyone. Simply not up for discussion.
And yet listening to the carry-on from the politicians, the bureaucrats, the academics, and the media – that is, the entire political class, the Deep State, or “the swamp” if you prefer — you would be led to think the parties are ideologically poles apart on all these issues. Minor points of difference between them are magnified by political rivals and the media until it appears as if there are serious, significant differences. A tax break here, a tax grab there, everybody squealing, but it is all small beer in the greater scheme of things. This all fulfills a need to convince the electorate there are genuine and vital differences between the parties, and the voters’ contribution in the electoral process on election day is therefore significant. In other words, that participatory democracy flourishes and is still relevant. “Never has there been an election in which the policies of the two parties have been so starkly different, and never before has the role of the voter been so important in shaping the future of the country.” I think that may be a quote from Houellebecq’s novel pertaining to France, but it doesn’t matter. I’m sure you have heard it proclaimed on Australian hustings. And it’s nonsense.
Recall the Abbott government and all the hyperventilating in the media during his prime ministership. Consider how divisive this so-called right-winged warrior was supposed to have been, and then consider the major achievements of his government.
# The ABC’s billion-dollar-plus budget was left largely untouched.
# The second was to encounter opposition – and then backtrack furiously — on the repeal of Section 18C.
# The Government talked about balanced budgets, but at the first sign of trouble rushed the budget back into the red and kept it there.
# Yes, they removed a mining tax, but one that actually raised no revenue.
# Yes, they removed Gillard’s carbon tax, but then doubled down on funding the RET scheme and signed Australia up to the Paris Agreement.
# Yes, they “stopped the boats”, but then ramped up the legal inflow of immigrants and asylum seekers.
# His government signed off on the plebiscite on marriage “equality”.
# His government promoted the recognition of Aborigines in the Constitution.
All of these things aren’t much different from what a Labor government would have done, and yet Tony Abbott and his government are still remembered as a right-wing escapade that took Australia to the very brink of fascism, leading to media depictions of the then-prime minister as the most dangerous person since, well, if not Ned Kelly perhaps Captain Cook. Abbott’s government really just kept us straight on the track, maybe on that longer and more scenic route, but the same liberal/socialist utopian track none-the-less.
Thus do I argue there was and remains what amounts to an unspoken bipartisan agreement on policy, with the role of the media to present the two major parties as poles apart. The problem with Tony Abbott then was not what he did or didn’t do, but the fear he excited in the political class about what he might try to do. In essence, the will of the people voting for the set of policies proposed by Abbott at the national elections, was undemocratically dashed by an internal vote from terrified members of his own party. Abbott was dragged down and forced out, replaced by that sound technocrat Malcolm Turnbull. And then, after Turnbull failed and was ousted, there was the action replay: Dutton outflanked by the “acceptable” Scott Morrison.
One should not minimise the size of the swamp. Adam Creighton, economics editor for The Australian, reported under the headline “Canberra Swamp’ costs us $8 Billion a Year”
“The nature of the Canberra Swamp perverts liberal democracies, enhances established special interests and represents a gross misuse of taxpayer money,” the report [by the IPA] says.
Eight billion dollars a year is a sum of taxpayers’ money well worth fighting for.
Having seen the reaction to the simple threat that Abbott represented here in Australia, it is not surprising to observe how the political class in the US reacted to the threat that “outsider” Donald Trump represented. The similarity between the reactions is obvious. Given the immeasurably bigger swamp they have over there, it is little wonder Trump Derangement Syndrome has manifested itself in a much more virulent form throughout the American political class, compared to the slightly milder “Abbott666” strain of the epidemic we experienced here through his 23-month tenure.
Trump picked up on the issues neither the Democrats nor the Republicans wanted to touch — more or less the same issues as mentioned above: climate change, immigration, illegals, the federal budget, tariffs and jobs moving offshore. He aired the arguments the media desperately try to suppress and brought them front and centre into the public policy debate. When the standard media tactics of ridicule, vilification, and misrepresentation failed, Trump mocked the press corps and his support grew. The failure of the Russiagate scam, a chimera assiduously promoted by the media, has furthered underwritten his attacks on the Fourth Estate. Trump represented a return to the tradition of democracy that the swamp people had been steadily eroding for decades, transferring power to themselves and the political class.
The role of the media in filtering political discussion and thereby eroding liberal democracy demands much more attention. Steve Kates’s essay from 2013 in Quadrant, ‘Falling Below the Minimum Level of Truth’, bears repeating, US references notwithstanding:
There was an interesting article the other day by the [Hoover Institution’s] Bruce Thornton which he has titled, ‘Lies, Democracy & Obama’ but whose central point applies just as well here. He begins with a quotation from Jean-François Revel, a name wrongly disappearing into the past but whose books could be resurrected even more urgently for the present. This is the passage he took from Revel.
‘Democracy cannot survive without a certain diet of truth. It cannot survive if the degree of truth in current circulation falls below a minimal level. A democratic regime, founded on the free determination of important choices made by a majority, condemns itself to death if most of the citizens who have to choose between various options make their decisions in ignorance of reality, blinded by passions or misled by fleeting impressions.’
To which Thornton added, conflating his text from the first and last paragraphs:
If Revel is correct, the rapidly diminishing level of truth in our public discourse suggests that we are in dire straits. . . . Following Revel, we can say a healthy democracy is one in which truth is allowed to circulate freely and inform citizens so they can make the right decisions. But today institutionalised lies have more influence than the truth, with baleful effects visible all around us. This suggests that we are a sick culture, and our condition is worsening.
Thornton is most emphatically not talking about the fact that politicians don’t always tell the truth but something that goes much deeper. And while he thinks of this as a feature of the Left in modern politics, as do I, where it starts is with the media, which can no longer be expected to willingly publish anything that harms the political prospects of the Left.
So, while any story that can be seen to harm Donald Trump will get maximum exposure (or, in his day and in Australia, Tony Abbott), even when the story is patently suspect (see under ‘Kavanaugh’, ‘Covington’ and ‘Smollett’ et al), the media fall over itself in a tribal pile-on designed to eliminate an enemy and promote an acceptable candidate from within their own tribe. In the case of Abbott’s endless vilification, a candidate acceptable to the swamp.
They have never even bothered to appear fair-minded, and they are quite open about it. Their thinking is clearly exposed in this case study – an Obama-era interview – where a comedian not of the lockstep Left, Dennis Miller, explained why no journalist would do a Watergate-style exposé of Obama, whose administration’s transgressions were of perhaps even greater magnitude than Richard Nixon’s, from setting the IRS on his enemies to bugging reporters. Such a journalist would be vilified, marginalised – out of the “tribe”, out of the swamp and out of the game:
O’REILLY: Why do you think that most Americans aren’t locked in on this story? I mean, it is life and death. Ambassador Stevens a good man. He did ask for more protection. It was not granted. The murder did take place along with three other Americans. Then the government misled the world about the motive who did it. It, there’s a lot of ingredients here, but people aren’t locked in. Is there a reason?
MILLER: … And the press isn’t going to go after this story, Bill. A lot of people in the press. Maybe some guy on the internet will break it eventually. But you realize Woodward and Bernstein became Woodward and Bernstein because what they did to Nixon. The key thing in that equation was Nixon. You had a free rein on him.
You can’t go after this guy [Obama]. You won’t get Woodward-and-Bernstein status. You’ll be out of the game. Your further career, it’s not going to happen.
Stephen Kates, again (Quadrant Online 8/11/2012), writes of the US, but with Australia’s media in mind:
And it has been clear from the start that the media have understood exactly how bad Obama has been because they have known with precision exactly what parts of what Obama has done or said that have required their cover. Obama has had to lie over Benghazi and so they have covered for him to the maximum extent they could. Obama tells producers ‘you didn’t build that’ and the media runs dead with the quote so that it never really becomes as significant as it ought to be. They know exactly how dreadful Obama has been, and cannot even manufacture a greater good, that their lies and distortions have protected the community from having to do without, had Obama lost the election in spite of every service they rendered in defence of his reputation and image.
The Trump voters, France’s gilets jaunes, the Brexiteers, they all fight gamely against all the odds, but here in Australia, there doesn’t seem to be much hope.
So how to vote at the elections? As a social conservative, I think you can vote safe in the knowledge that, as we have seen, your vote actually counts for very little – and so you cannot be held responsible for the inevitable longterm outcome of the election. You can take the Jordan Peterson approach and “ …hold your nose and vote for Clinton.”, and wish the whole problem on to someone else. But my best advice is, at the very least, to vote for the most conservative and most independent Senate candidates you can find, and hope that their meddling will provide such a bumpy ride and create so many major speed humps in the legislative process that it will slow to a crawl the slide down the slippery slope. The less they are able to implement, the less damage they can do.