How the Right wins by cheating

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In the first of his exclusive weekly columns for Independent Australia, the great Bob Ellis explains why conservatives adore the politics of smear.

By Bob Ellis

Because Labor has good policies and the Right cannot attack them on their policies, or the laws they enact, they instead go after individual Labor people. They say they are corrupt, mentally unstable, adulterous or dying. These are the charges they always make, and the rumours they always put about. They dare not fight on policy, or even the economy, because Labor’s record lately has been very good.

Corrupt, mentally unstable, adulterous or dying. ‘Adulterous’ got rid of Jim Cairns, Cheryl Kernot, Gareth Evans, Don Dunstan, Mike Rann, John Della Bosca, David Campbell, politicians of greater talent than anyone on the current Liberal front bench. And it was, of course, mostly true — though Mike Rann (I know this) was innocent as charged.

‘Corrupt’ was alleged of Neville Wran, Jack Renshaw, Laurie Brereton, Lionel Murphy, Brian Burke, Joe Tripodi, Bob Hawke, Graham Richardson, Paul Landa, Paul Keating, Kevin Rudd, Wayne Swan and Peter Slipper — and it was sometimes true, but hardly ever worked politically. These were big, big talents and they mostly survived.

‘Dying’ got rid of Beazley after he admitted to a leaking brain and he tiredly mixed up Karl Rove and Rove McManus when jet-lagged — as most Perth politicians are. It has also been used in the past against F.D Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Fidel Castro, Mick Young, Osama Bin Laden, Gough Whitlam, Wayne Swan and Bob Brown, unsuccessfully.

‘Mentally unstable’ has been used against almost everyone on the Left or the Centre-Left. It is the underlying message of the verb ‘lashed out’ — something only Labor people do (Craig Thomson ‘lashed out’ last week and Christopher Pyne merely ‘asserted’), and the nouns ‘dummy-spit’, ‘tantrum’, ‘meltdown’ and ‘rant’. It was used against Bob Brown for decades till history proved him sane and wise, at which point it was said he was dying. It is being used now against Bob Katter, whose policies are the most intelligent on offer in a troubling world. It is associated with almost any unionist. Bob Hawke was once called a crazy radical, and Bill Shorten, and Simon Crean.

This is because the Liberals have no policies to speak of (apart from giving Gina Rinehart even more money) and Labor, the Greens and the Independents have a lot of good policies. The Liberals have to vilify and mock and sneer, they have to cheat, because they can’t win legitimately, arguing policy.

In the case of Craig Thomson, they are using all four adjectives: corrupt, mentally unstable, adulterous and dying. He misused money with whores; he committed adultery with whores; he is ‘at breaking point’ now there’s a whore coming after him and he may kill himself tomorrow. Better for him he gives up politics, and takes a holiday. We’re only thinking of him. We only want the best for poor young Craig. He should take a holiday — now.

It’s interesting to reflect on the part Mal Washer played in all this. It was he who started up the rumour that Craig might be mad, and suggested he should quit, or take a break. He wasn’t being benevolent at all. He was just following the usual plan: say he’s mad and it’s best he gets out of politics — for his own good. And we take over.

And it was through this prism Craig’s brief press conference on Thursday was construed by the newly alerted media. He was actually quite normal — calm, concise and to the point. And all the media said he was mad, and ‘at breaking point’, and likely to kill himself. Abbott this morning pretended it was a kindness when he said he should he resign his seat and give the Liberals power. Just trying to help out, mate.

I’m not sure anyone has ever made this list of tactics in a published article before. It’s the Karl Rove method used here — Biden is crazy, Bill Clinton corrupt and adulterous, McCain dying, Teddy Kennedy adulterous and dying, Bin Laden mad and on dialysis with not long to live — and it’s significant I think that Barack Obama has not yet been smeared with any of these categories, not one of them.

And may, therefore, survive.

(You can read more of Bob Ellis’ brilliant writing at his blog: Table Talk.)

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