Politics by the rich, for the people

Modern politics has become farcical. Instead of sensible debate, the public is increasingly force-fed fantasies based on the slimmest of facts.

Australian politics has been colonised by post-modernism. This is the case not just in Australia and the colonisation is not just about politics. Nothing is true and everything is true. Everything is contested and every narrative is equally valid.

And there are thousands of narratives out there, especially in the digital universe, alternate realities, each one fiercely held, each one of equal value, each one equally valid. These are not, in the main, fact-based realities. Fact-based reality no longer exists.

Take the case of Julian Assange. WikiLeaks has done work which should be – and has been – supported and applauded by most mainstream journalists and by millions of people around the world. There was a time when many journalists thought that WikiLeaks had pioneered a new form of investigative journalism that would transform the way journalists gather information, employing tools that would help them get past the barriers of secrecy, spin and confiscation that characterises all governments including governments supposedly committed to openness.

Yet Assange, holed up in the embassy of Ecuador in London, has managed to paint himself as a political prisoner, a stateless political refugee seeking protection from governments who would throw him in jail and throw away the key if they got their hands on him.

Of course this is nonsense. Assange is wanted for questioning in Sweden for two alleged sexual assaults and has gone through the British courts with some of the best legal minds working on his case and those courts have ruled that he should be extradited to Sweden to face that questioning.

We are asked to believe, on no evidence at all, that Sweden is actually doing the bidding of the United States and once the Swedes have Assange in their clutches, they will swiftly send him on to the US where he will be put on trial on trumped up espionage charges and most likely be executed.

Assange has many qualities, but above there is his ability to retail compelling conspiracy fantasies in an age where every conspiracy theorist is an online publisher and where virtually anything is believable if you believe hard enough and long enough and skilfully enough.

Talking about non-fact based competing realities, in the US, the presidential election will be decided it seems not on the basis of whether Obama or Romney is best equipped to deal with the challenges that confront America, but on the basis of which camp has the most money to spend on advertising in key swing states.

The billions of dollars that will be spent during the campaign, much of it coming from billionaires in the grip of some lunacy or other, will be spent on advertising that peddles what can only be described as malign fantasies about Obama.

The Obama camp will have no hesitation in peddling similar fantasies but to a lesser extent – after all, the Obama camp has fewer billionaires than Team Romney.

There are no facts in a post-modernist world, just competing narratives, suffused with anger and a sense that the place in which people live is no longer recognisable.

In America, this can in part be explained by the fact that after five years of economic decline, the country remains mired in economic stagnation. Optimism about the future and about America’s place in the world has given way to a dull, helpless pessimism which challenges that most cherished of American qualities, a belief in American exceptionalism.

Economic stagnation cannot, however, explain the pessimism about the future amongst Australians, the rancorousness of the political debate, the sense that everything is contested, nothing is true, no facts are established, that there are just competing realities from which we chose the one that most fits our anxieties.

For the past five years, Australians have lived in a bubble unaffected by the GFC, by the deepest recession in most parts of the developed world since the depression of the 1930s. A government that has managed – with more than a little help from China – to keep the Australian economy out of recession and unemployment – even in the south-eastern states – at levels the EU and the US would die for, is almost certainly going to lose the next election in a landslide.

And not because Australians have any great faith in a Tony Abbott led Coalition but essentially because a majority of Australians, it seems, dislike Julia Gillard and find her not to be believed at best and a tricky dissembler at worst. Of course this has been a politically pathetic government and Gillard’s prime ministership has been marked by ineptness and timidity.

Look at the way Gillard has handled the education debate. Instead of embracing the Gonski recommendations, she has gone out of her way to reassure the private school sector, especially the elite private schools, that whatever the government decides on funding, these schools will be better off under her government’s reforms.

In reality, the impression she has created is the opposite of what Gonski recommended, which was a major injection of funding for disadvantaged state schools. That’s where the extra billions Gonski said would be needed would go. Yes, the political reality is that reducing funding for non-government schools is impossible, but the thrust of the Gonski recommendations are designed to address the fact that there is increasing education inequality in Australia.

And the current funding model, John Howard’s funding model, which was designed to boost private school education – Howard called it offering parents choice – is to blame.

Gillard can’t bring herself to say any of this. Instead, she lauds the top private schools as role models – every school a Geelong Grammar. Is that the education revolution she has in mind? So much sound and fury signifying nothing much at all because in reality, having sat on the Gonski report for months, the Gillard government is still wrestling with how much of it to implement. What a way to go about the process of major reform.

But this intense dislike of Gillard can’t be explained simply by her political ineptitude. The contempt, the verbal violence, with which she has been treated by some shock jocks, the virulent, mad hatred of her out there in the blogosphere, says more about the haters than the hated.

Which brings us to the controversy over the so-called Slater and Gordon affair. To a certain extent, this affair has been fanned by Gillard haters out in the blogosphere. This is not to suggest that The Australian has retailed the sort of vile rubbish that some of the bloggers have disseminated. It hasn’t. But its reporting and editorialising on the affair has been…well weird.

Reading The Australian closely it remains very hard to understand what this affair is all about. What questions does Gillard need to answer about her time as a lawyer for Slater and Gordon? What are the accusations that can – and have been – made against her? Is it about her choice of boyfriends? Are there accusations that can be made that she acted unethically or even illegally? Is it about her disagreements with partners at Slater and Gordon?

After a careful reading of The Australian’s editorial on Monday I remain in the dark about what specific questions she needs to answer.

Things have reached a state beyond farce. The independent MP Andrew Wilkie, can urge Gillard to make a statement to the parliament about the Slater and Gordon affair while readily admitting that he has no idea what it is about or what questions the prime minister might need to answer in parliament.

This is almost akin to Donald Trump continuing to urge Barack Obama to release evidence to prove that Obama was born in the US, evidence that Trump can’t specify, but that would be more compelling than Obama’s birth certificate.

So there you are, that’s my narrative. And I’m sticking to it.

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