One-eyed ideology could wreck the Senate

With our new Senate shaping up to produce a very diverse range of views, political brinkmanship akin to what's unfolding in the US is equally possible in Australia.

"With ‘should’ or ‘ought’, I’ll have nowt to do." – D. H. Lawrence

It’s a rather dangerous way of thinking. ‘Should-ness’, rather than ‘is-ness’, is the fundamental driver of ideologues everywhere.

Should-ness occurs when the human faculty, pushed to the fore by the Enlightment – reason – runs out of control and tells us that things can be much, much better than they are.

Thus Marx thought there should not be an underclass of any kind – a noble ethic that the eastern bloc states strained to put into practice until their political-economies failed and crumbled altogether.

Hitler thought the rather bizarrely defined ‘Aryan’ peoples should dominate all others on the basis that (himself excluded) they looked nice.

Mao thought it should be possible to transform an economy overnight through a great leap forward, and around 30 million people had to be killed or were starved to death to prove it could not.

And (emphatically not making any connection with Marx, Mao or Hitler) Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and most Western capitalists thought for nearly three decades that fiat currency, teamed with unrestrained credit growth, should make us as rich as it were possible to be.

Should, should, should, should.

And now the ‘should’ principle has led conservative activists in the US to shut down the government – a move that will damage thousands of businesses, wreck families, and ripple through world markets to hurt the poor (The Republic of CrazyOctober 2).

More important than all of that, say the the Tea Party activists and their collaborators, is that governments should be small, and most certainly shouldn’t borrow money to keep running – particularly not to give kidney transplants to people living in trailer parks.

That extraordinary leap of should-ness is not even ‘conservative’ in the estabilshed, practised sense of the word. It was under the conservative reign of George W. Bush that the US finance industry built the largest credit bubble in history, the clean-up of which we are all paying for now.

That an unlucky Democrat – Barack Obama – was tasked with the clean-up seems unfair, but that’s just what ‘is’. The healthcare plan he is doggedly pursuing – which deals with the ‘is-ness’ of the largest group of health-insurance-free poor that the US has seen in decades – is the main bone of contention that has caused the conservative activists to shut down their enemy, the government.

Fortunately, that could never happen in Australia... could it?

While it’s tempting to write it ‘should’ never be allowed to happen, let’s look at the is-ness of the new Australian Senate.

Its final form is not yet decided, because aggrieved Greens senator Scott Ludlam has asked for a recount in Western Australia. His pain is not simply about losing his spot to a Palmer United Party candidate with a much lower primary vote, but is compounded by the fact that Wikileaks founder Julian Assange – a man Ludlam tried to defend in several senate speeches – preferenced against the Greens. Ouch.

But for the time being the Senate is split into 33 Coalition senators, 35 Labor senators, and eight cross-benchers (Who let real people into parliament?, September 10).

At this stage three will be PUP senators (those pups sound so cute until you see them), Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm, independent Nick Xenophon, Democratic Labor Party senator John Madigan, Motoring Enthusiast Party senator Ricky Muir, and Family First senator Bob Day.

So here’s a quick look at some of their shoulds, and the corresponding is-ness that annoying economists and political scientists will point out in the month ahead.

First, Clive Palmer. He issued a release before the election entitled: “The media should represent diversity of Australian People”. In it he complained that “Glenn Lazarus (Qld), Jacqui Lambie (Tas) and Dio Wang (WA) had been unfairly targeted by journalists because they did not fit the mould of traditional politicians”.

The ‘is-ness’ here is that media companies broadcast or publish stories that play to audiences they largely do not create or control (but which they do reinforce). Nobody would want to create a Piers Ackerman or David Marr. But because angry outer-suburban conservatives and latte-soaked inner-city liberals exist, so too do they.

The Liberal Democrats think responsible Australians should have the right to buy guns if they want them, and that the ABC should be exterminated (presumable shot to bits with semi-automatics?).

The is-ness there is that ABC is the third highest rating TV network ahead of Channel Ten, and in last week’s top 10 list of programs had numbers five (Australian Story), seven (ABC News) and 10 (7.30). Oh, and most Australians don’t want a gun.

Nick Xenophon thinks we should not have the right to lose our money to addictive pokie machines. But as an old pokie-playing character told one of the youngsters in the hit Australian drama The Secret Life of Us, “It’s my money, sonny. I earned it and I’ll spend it how I like.”

The ‘is-ness’ side of that debate, of course, is that the entire community pays the cost of the social problems excessive gambling causes. And in political terms, if it can be harnessed, there is no greater message to voters than “I’ll stop you having to pay somebody else’s bills”.

John Madigan will argue that a neary all-male cabinet should back his views on the reproductive health of women – that is for tougher abortion laws. 

The is-ness to that one is that women who have spent three decades fighting to have their voices heard about what happens inside their bodies won’t buckle on that issue. Moreover, Tony Abbott’s gold-plated paid parental leave scheme is an early sign of how assiduously he will court the female electorate – no controversy, please.

Ricky Muir presumably thinks people should stop talking about that video of him throwing roo-poo around. Good luck with that. He also wants 4x4 drivers to have more rights to bush-bash. The is-ness of that one is that too few people want to do that for it to matter a great deal, so he might make some headway.

And Bob Day wants houses to be cheaper. Good call. So do I. Now can we think of a way of doing that without contravening the iron laws of economics? How about the Housing Great Leap Forward? It should work.