What is the problem with contemporary political debate?
There might not be a single, simple answer to this question. It could be a variety of things — some of which might be framed in several different ways — depending on what you think the purpose of political debate is. For my part, I think the problem lurks in the Outrage Economy. People don’t want to feel stupid, so public ideas have to protect the psychic construction of the self as intelligent(/commonsensical), savvy, and entitled to their opinion. So instead of having public debates where people engage with each other, we have public events where one party tries to confirm the prejudices of the audience while the other tries to outrage the audience. Because outrage is profitable, the cycle continues.
People might not agree with me on this, and that’s fine. Or they might agree with me that the Outrage Economy is a problem, but not as great a problem as something else. Continue reading
I’ve previously written that I’m in support of the ALP holding a leadership ballot. Here’s a quick revist of why:
But could a ballot be used to promote and communicate a sense of unity and stability within the ALP? Yes. […] The solution is to hold a ballot where the candidates ‘campaign’ for each other, rather than for themselves. Ordinary ballots have candidates striving to ‘win’ by promoting themselves and tearing down opponents. A ballot could instead have the message: ‘The ALP is overflowing with leadership talent. Here are three candidates that we think are excellent. Regardless of which is picked by the ALP membership, we will have a leader better than our political opponents. We believe this so much that our candidates will promote the alternative candidates rather than themselves.’
Since then, we’ve had the leadership ‘debate’ where the candidates, Bill Shorten and Anthony Albanese, have emphasised that the competition will be about policies and not personalities.
This completely misses the point of leadership debates.
The result has been a publicly civilised (though privately less so) conversation between two people who are struggling to show any sort of difference, any sort of disagreement, or any point of distinction from the other candidate. There has been some pressure — and, certainly, enough opinion writers have been braying for it — for the candidates to talk about differences in policies and opinions. The debate is slowly shifting into this area, with both candidates starting to discuss various quota systems and even asylum seeker policy.
But should a party’s policies be a discretionary matter for the leader? Does the ALP want a system where its leaders start arguing that they’ve got a ‘mandate’ to pursue a particular policy? Isn’t this one of the reasons we all criticised Rudd?
English: Photograph of Kelvin Thomson, Australian Labor MP. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Kelvin Thomson is on my television screen advocating for a leadership ballot. Following the defeat of the Rudd Government on Saturday, the chatterati have returned to discussion about the ALP leadership. ALP leadership has been a recurring issue throughout the past three years and, arguably, one of the reasons the ALP lost so decisively was because of the perception of division and disunity within the party.
In the twilight of the Rudd era, the ALP changed its rules for electing leaders. The idea was to prevent the situation we had seen in the Rudd-Gillard years of Prime Ministers being replaced overnight by the Caucus. Rigidity, inflexibility, and immutability is stability, so the argument goes.
This has caused an unusual problem in the post-election world. The ALP is desperate to show a united front, but ballots can show division and disunity.
But could a ballot be used to promote and communicate a sense of unity and stability within the ALP? Yes.
A number of my friends linked to this video this morning:
For the TL;DR crowd, GetUp has found a collection of Tony Abbott‘s more obnoxious quotes and filmed a diverse group of people reading them out to the sound of a slowly played piano. The message is that people should judge Tony Abbott by his words.
Leaving to the side that I dislike GetUp, this video shows that there’s something wrong with the Left’s strategy in this election campaign.
The tyre on my car was slashed last night. Thus, you get my PhotoChopping…
The first version had Rudd come back as Planet Rudd, only to be destroyed by the Death Star/Cabinet. The thought, alas, was too plausible and so I had to change it lest the reader be overcome with a haunting sadness.
Despite being on the other side of politics, I am looking forward to Monday’s RuddLetting. This is because I’m a mean and horrible conservative who delights in Schadenfreude. Very quietly, I would like to see Senator Wong as our Foreign Minister — and not only because I think Finance is a poor man’s Treasury portfolio (Swan will never give that one up).
It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of Abbott. The weeping sore of the ALP helped to create an environment in which Abbott’s style of politics — populist, vulgar, anti-conservative — was able to thrive. A better government has to result in a better opposition… I hope.